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10 tips for using the bus in Northeast USA

Updated on May 4, 2016

It all started with the Chinatown bus, which is currently suspended, but it sparked a new way of traveling between the major cities in the Northeast. Travel between the major cities has never been so convenient, economical and fast as the bus offers an alternative to the train, plane or hiring a car. The popularity has changed how people work and now use the service to commute. As gas prices soar, it is more economical and time efficient. Previously it was seen as a service for the poor, but now business people use the service and standards have improved with reclining seats, Wi-Fi and air conditioning to keep up with the clientele.

Tickets and deals

 
Ticket Type
Discounts
Bolt Bus
Paper or digital
Offers $1 fare
Greyhound
Paper only
Offers $1 fare, Senior, Student, Child, Military, Veteran, Friends and Family and web fares
Megabus
Paper or digital
Offers $1 fare
Peter Pan
Paper only
Offers $1 fare, Senior, Student, Child, Military, Commuter and web fares
Discounts are usually available only at counters and agencies. Web fares require the ticket to be printed.
An old Greyhound depot, make sure yours is still open if you arrive late
An old Greyhound depot, make sure yours is still open if you arrive late | Source

Competition is rife between the bus companies, especially on the major routes; New York, Washington D.C. and Boston. Prices can be as low as $1 and in some cases free, paying only the booking fee, (I have bought a few of these tickets) so it's worth signing up for email alerts, which often give promotion codes. Check carefully for the refund (if any) policy as many do not offer refunds, but a rebooking service with a handling fee. Sometimes the cost of a new ticket might be cheaper than the original, so check before you hit the checkout button. Pick up and stop off points vary by company and routes, so consider this if you have heavy luggage or are arriving late or leaving early. Traveling by bus isn’t only green, it's time efficient too as many stop in the center of town and is as fast as the train with more time options.

The $1 fare is worth booking early and being flexible
The $1 fare is worth booking early and being flexible | Source

The $1 ticket

Tickets prices vary according to the time you depart, so if you are flexible you can save more and the bus is less likely to be crowded at than at peak times. If you can book in advance, you may find the $1 fares, plus a booking fee which can vary between $1-$2.50 currently. Consider how you will get to your departure point, for example many of the New York departures are now by the Javits Center which you need either a lift or a taxi to get there if you have luggage, unless you want to chance a local bus. The over all cost is what matters, so weigh up the factors as a more expensive ticket with a departure point next to a subway may save you more time and money than a cheaper ticket that requires booking a taxi to get to the departure point. With promotions only visible once you input the date, it may be cheaper to buy two one way journeys than a round trip, so check first by seeing if there are only one way offers.

The $1 fares go quickly, so snap them up if you are flexible and work around the ticket availability. Most are issued 6-8 weeks before departure and mainly during the mid week. Look out for any offers by signing up to their emails newsletters or add them to your social media.


Main Northeast hubs

A
New York City:
New York, NY, USA

get directions

B
Boston:
Boston, MA, USA

get directions

C
Washington DC:
Washington, DC, USA

get directions

D
Philadelphia:
Philadelphia, PA, USA

get directions

E
Hartford:
Hartford, CT, USA

get directions

F
Springfield:
Springfield, MA, USA

get directions

G
Burlington, Vermont:
Burlington, VT, USA

get directions

H
Princeton, NJ:
Princeton, NJ, USA

get directions

I
Providence:
Providence, RI, USA

get directions

Bus, Train or Plane?

 
Bus
Train
Air + time to and from airport = 2 h extra
New York to Boston
4h 15 mins @$13-$30
4h 10 mins @$49-$192. Express 3h 37 mins @$109
1h 10 mins @$55-$360
New York to Washington D.C.
4h @$14-$30
3h 35 mins @$49- $125
1 hr 20 mins @$91-$450
Prices quoted are for the same day available at the time of writing with the lowest advance fare with the maximum fare. Airports are EWR , BOS, IAD.

What is the most important thing when traveling?

See results

I missed the bus!

Do not be late. Although the drivers don’t start checking tickets until 30 minutes before departure, lines form. Aim for at least an hour before hand as the departure points are not always clearly indicated or signposted. Look around for fellow travelers and ask, as not all stops will have staff manning the stops. The bus can arrive, load and go within 10 minutes. If you are late or miss your bus, your ticket may be sold to someone on standby. Many drivers are sympathetic if you have missed your bus and will let you on the next one if there is space, but they don’t have to, so don’t demand as they are within their rights to ask you to buy another ticket.

The small print

 
Refund Policy
Baggage Policy
Boarding Policy
Loyalty Rewards
Bolt Bus
Rebook up to 24 hours before with $3 fee
1 x hold and 2 x small on board. Must load and unload yourself
Driver calls A first who are loyalty members. Lettering system, then standbys and walk ups are boarded
Yes, free to sign up and allows priority boarding. 8 trips qualifies for a free one way ticket
Greyhound
Non refundable tickets can be rebooked for $20 fee before travel date
1 x hold and 1 x small on board. 1 extra bag at $15 is allowed
Numbering system based on how early you bought your ticket and is on your ticket. Has reserved seating from $5 on some routes
Yes, 10% discount on purchase after signing up. 16 trips qualifies for a free round trip ticket
Megabus
Rebook up to 24 hours before with $2.50 fee
1 x hold and 1x small on board. Must buy extra ticket to take more luggage
Currently in order of line, but now has reserved seating from $5 on some routes
No
Peter Pan
Depends on ticket type. Web tickets are non refundable, but if you buy another ticket they can refund the original with a 20% handling fee at their discretion
1 x hold and 1 x small on board.1 extra bag at $15-$25 fee depending on fare price
Currently in order of line
No

One bag or two?

Most only allow one bag in the hold and one on board and are very strict. A few allow more bags at a cost and only if there is room. Some companies for legal reasons require you to put your bag in the hold and remove it yourself, so make sure you can lift it. Others, especially with multiple stops will do it for you. Make sure you ask, as the drivers pull out all of the luggage for a stop and if you put it in the wrong compartment it may get left on the curbside. Padlock all your bags and if you have to load it yourself make sure the handle is facing towards you otherwise you may have to climb inside to get your bag.

Connections.

It goes without saying, don’t fall asleep and make sure there is enough time in case of delays. If it is the same company, the driver can radio the depot and ask your connection to wait if they are delayed. Some companies will wait especially if it is the last bus of the day, but is worth sitting at the front to get off as soon as possible. Companies generally will help you, as long as you aren't a diva.

Some may give you boarding cards, others will check you off as you get on. An 'A' card is given to those who have signed up for their loyalty rewards for priority boarding.
Some may give you boarding cards, others will check you off as you get on. An 'A' card is given to those who have signed up for their loyalty rewards for priority boarding. | Source

Loyalty schemes and discounts

Even if you are only traveling the once, it is worth joining, as members get priority boarding. Greyhound offers a 10% discount on your first ticket when you join. Depending on the scheme, you can get a free ticket once you have completed a number of journeys regardless of cost. A few offer military, senior, child, veterans and student discounts, but these can only in general be booked in person and not on the web.

Where to get the bus

Bus depots may have multiple buses going to the same destinations so check the time on your ticket
Bus depots may have multiple buses going to the same destinations so check the time on your ticket | Source
Not all have flag stops, so look out as they may not be obvious
Not all have flag stops, so look out as they may not be obvious | Source

Which is my bus?

Double check. Buses have a fast turn around, so ask to make sure you are in the right line and getting on the correct bus as they may make alterations and combine some routes on the spur of the moment. When boarding, don't listen to music or be on the phone. Many people get on the wrong bus because they aren't paying attention. Companies are beginning to operate a numbering or lettering system, and may organize the lines in that order or the driver will call out a certain letter number. If there are road works or the weather is bad in winter, they may have diversions or only have one bus making more stops

Good and the not so good

 
Pros
Cons
Bolt Bus
Some routes have double deckers. Seats have generous leg room and usually have staff at points to assist. Timetable has a good choice ot times
Lining up system is poor. Pick up points and drop off points can be difficult to locate. Some routes get delayed and buses merge. Must load and off load own baggage
Greyhound
Has some stations where you can wait. Shares routes with Peter Pan. Offers promotions and discounts. Has good choice of times and connects across the country. Allows extra luggage
Booking can be complicated with different fares and some routes requiring a change of bus. Some stations close early and passenger have to wait outside
Megabus
Some routes have double deckers and have staff to assist at points and with luggage. Lining system is clearly marked. Easy to book and competitive fares available throughout the day. Runs promotional fares and codes
Pick up and drop off points can be difficult to locate and can alter. Some points are curbside and cannot wait
Peter Pan
Has some stations you can wait. Shares routes with Greyhound. Runs promotions and serves colleges, local stations and tourist destinations. Serves rural areas including Cape Cod and has many connecting routes. Allows extra luggage
Booking can be complicated with long gaps between connections. Must have paper ticket

Rest stop

Most journeys will have a rest stop, but I have been on one where all the passengers voted for the driver not to stop and to carry on driving to get there on time. Take a snack and at least a drink, as there is no guarantee where or when you will stop and is usually for 10-15 minutes. It is up to you to get back in time and the driver will not come back for you if you get behind,

Wi-Fi

Nearly all buses offer the service, though it is unreliable and not guaranteed. The best place to sit is at the front, near the driver where the hot spot is situated. The same goes for power points, some will have them, but are not guaranteed to work either. Don’t forget to take headphones, as it obligatory on the bus as a courtesy to other passengers.

Changes and alterations

Check the website before you leave. There are several things to check; that your route is still running and that your departure and drop off points have not been changed as they may have temporary stops or have changed them completely since you booked. This company has no obligation to inform you of any changes, as it is your responsibility, but they do try to contact all passengers. During winter, some routes may get cancelled or cut short. Often the company will have a more lax approach and allow changes especially when there are hurricanes or nor’easters.

Not all buses will look like this, but many have been updated and are spacious with power sockets
Not all buses will look like this, but many have been updated and are spacious with power sockets | Source

Tickets please...

This varies by company, but in general you should print out your ticket and have a copy downloaded to your phone. Some will check off reservation numbers and names, others will check your ticket and some will take your ticket from you. There are a few companies that require a physical ticket only and some that accept either a physical or digital ticket. Make sure you print out the correct documents, if you book on line you will get a payment confirmation with an attachment that you must download. The confirmation is not the ticket, but lists the details the ticket. If you have booked a round trip, print out both tickets as you may need to surrender them.



Source

Try the bus!

Traveling by bus is more flexible than the train, (which you still have to struggle to get on with your luggage and run to get a seat) more convenient than getting to and from an airport and is a great way to see the country. You get to meet some interesting people and it allows you to control your time and adjust your plans without hefty cancellation charges and you can walk up on the day and still buy a ticket at a normal price. It’s a perfect time to read a book, watch a film you have never had time for or sleep if it’s a direct non-stop route. Like all travelers, be aware of your own personal safety and your belongings and enjoy the roadtrip.

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