Can a Bus Beat a Plane?

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While bus companies aren't likely to compete with airlines anytime soon, they're carving out a niche for short-distance travel that can save both money and stress.

The next time you’re planning a short-haul trip, consider taking the bus. It could save you over $150, without costing you the amenities you’re used to.

Luxury and style aren’t words we usually associate with a bus ride, but bus companies are trying to change that — without raising fares. Instead, they’re drawing in riders with new models for both their business and their buses.  Several lines have added extra legroom, free Wi-Fi, and power outlets for laptops to their list of reasons to ride rather than fly.

This summer, Greyhound purchased 70 new buses equipped with all of the above, plus leather seating. And the extra comfort means less crowding on the buses, too: They made the extra leg room by cutting out five seats.

You can even catch an “in-ride” movie on a line like RedCoach. Buses are starting to sound like planes — or rather, like planes used to be, before crowded overhead bins, checked baggage fees, security hassles and impossibly little legroom.

Here’s a couple things to consider when you’re facing a bus vs. plane decision:

Location. Although Greyhound runs all over the country, their “bus of the future” is currently only running in the Northeastern United States, like BoltBus. Meanwhile, MegaBus covers the Northeast and ventures into the Midwest. Red Coach serves the east coast of Florida from Miami up through Atlanta. For now, the rest of the country doesn’t have many options that combine “cheap” and “luxury.”

Distance. Planes are obviously still the fastest way to travel long distances. If your trip is time-sensitive, a bus might not make sense. But if your destination’s less than three or four hours away, a bus might be the smart option. You’ll save time avoiding the nightmare that is airport security and can instead use it to relax or work on your laptop. You’ll also save money. Here’s a quick fare comparison:

  • Cheapest air fare from Baltimore to New York City: $181 on US Airways, according to CheapTickets.com.
  • Cheapest bus fare, same trip: $20 on Bolt Bus, according to BusJunction.com. Bolt Bus also offers an unbeatable $1 fare to the lucky customer who reserves the first seat on each bus.

And if you’re in the DC-to-NY corridor where bus services are most popular, The Washington Post has a good review comparing prices, service and amenities on 10 different bus lines.

Stacy Johnson

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