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The Megabus Experience

Updated on February 19, 2013

Megabus

A double-decker Megabus.
A double-decker Megabus. | Source

The Megabus Experience

As a child, my cross-state mode of public transportation was Amtrak. While I still love the train, I switched to Megabus about four years ago and never looked back. Although my reasons for switching were essentially financial, as is probably the case for most Megabus users, my experiences traveling with Megabus have in general been very positive.

In addition to low prices, the company seems to value courtesy, efficiency, comfort, and service expansion/improvements. Of course, no one is perfect, and I will share my knowledge in its positive and negative aspects from booking tickets to reaching one's destination. My travels on Megabus extend from Boston down to North Carolina, along the East Coast, so it’s possible that certain “facts” I tell you are different for trips in other areas of the country (or outside of the U.S.). Now, let’s start your trip!


Booking Tickets

The key to getting the $1 tickets that Megabus constantly proclaims is booking early. This is because, as I understand it, the one prized ticket goes to the person who books a certain time first. My best advice comes from a fellow passenger I once met in line who traveled with Megabus every week. Since booking dates on Megabus.com show up to 45 days in advance, she would wait until a week “opened up” on the Website and book her ticket as soon as that happened; this woman always got $1 tickets.

Since it can be difficult to constantly check what’s happening online, I hope Megabus will at some point add such information to the E-mails they send out; for now, however, just keep checking. If you don’t travel regularly or are unsure as to what dates you need, try to go for the “odd” times; I find this very helpful in trying to get the lowest rates. If you don’t get $1, though, you are likely to find many $3 and $5 tickets even when you book close to departure date.

A word of caution: while booking early is important, backing out isn’t so easy. Megabus does not support cancellations, although you can change a ticket up until 24 hours before departure for a $1 fee. If you need to change a ticket, I suggest calling them instead of going online. I only tried it once, but the process online was unclear to me and resulted in my being over-charged. Megabus removed the extra fee, but it was an ordeal. Either way, be sure of your dates as much as possible before booking.


Packing

Nowadays, luggage requirements when traveling are important to keep in mind. On Megabus, each ticket allows for one piece of storage luggage and one carry-on. They don’t say anything if you have additional small carry-on pieces such as a purse and lunch bag, though.

The size of each main piece of luggage also matters. I have seen too many people with over-sized duffel bags told at boarding time that their storage luggage is too big and may not be allowed on the bus. While I’ve never seen how these situations ended, and I believe Megabus would have been as generous as possible, is it worth the risk?


Boarding Prep

If you want a good seat, get in line early! Although Megabus requests passengers to arrive 15 minutes prior to departure time, I have consistently seen people during all seasons come as much as an hour and a half early. If you want to get the best seats, arriving 45 minutes early is minimum.

Since you’ll be standing for a long time, dress accordingly and bring a book or call some friends. Once boarding starts, usually on time, a Megabus representative will check your ticket number against a list, so make sure to have your ticket out and ready for inspection. I’m old fashioned and have a print-out, but many people show the number on their phone.

So what are these “best seats”? For a double-decker Megabus, they are four seats upstairs, at the front. There you have huge windows that provide a spectacular view, and they are coveted. Second best are the couple of buses I’ve seen lately where one row upstairs was removed, greatly increasing leg room in that area. At 4’10, I don’t need or even want “too much” room, but I’ve often wondered how those 6 footers feel.

At the front and back stairs, there is also a row that includes a nice tray with cup holders – and a little more room. You can also sit at the back, in a seat that faces into the isle. Downstairs includes a couple of tables on platforms; some of the seats are set so low that at least short passengers can’t see out of the side windows.

I haven’t been on a one-story bus in years, but I would suggest not sitting in the back. Perhaps it was just me, but when I once tried sitting in the last row, I was not only exhausted/slightly unsteady upon arrival (my travels are typically 15 hours), but I also felt sick the next day. I decided that the engine vibrations had probably really bothered me.


Smooth Sailing

You’re likely wondering about the trip itself. Well, no refreshments, sorry. And although Megabus lists WIFI as one of their main features, it either works in short bursts or not at all. I am grateful to say that the single stall bathroom aboard is generally clean, but you’re often looking down into a hole with sloshing water and hand sanitizer is the provided soap. The seats are comfortable with reclining seatbacks and outlets nearby; there have been enough times that many of the outlets didn’t work to worry me every time I travel, but generally it’s fine.

The clientele is almost always very good, despite what people seem to think: lots of couples, young professionals, and sometimes a few families. It’s generally pretty quiet, too, since people usually sleep during the trip. Be aware that a travel pillow is essential in preventing neck pain while sleeping, and most people also bring a blanket since the bus is often cold.

The drivers, like the customer service and boarding representatives, are quite nice and fully capable. Rare exceptions I’ve experienced with drivers include lane weaving (twice), getting lost (once), and driver nastiness (once). Bus breakdowns are also uncommon, although there have been a few flat tires, etc. that caused wait times of 1-1.5 hours until a replacement bus came (and then you have to move all the luggage and board again). Like I said, nothing is perfect.

You’ll have a chance to stretch your legs at any intermediate destination stops that occur (some trips are direct) and the occasional break for the driver at a nice service area. Arriving at your destination is pretty straightforward; the driver will get your luggage, and you might even arrive early!


Transfers

If you have a stop over and get there early, the standby option can be very good. It means giving up a good seat and costs $5 (credit card only), but you might save a lot of time. Once you’re at your stopover destination, find a Megabus representative to direct you to the standby line.


Special Needs

I have only ever seen one wheelchair on Megabus, but I was very impressed with how the driver handled early boarding and seating arrangements.


Summary

Phew! That was a lot of information to digest, so here are key points to keep in mind when traveling with Megabus:

  • Book Early
  • Pack Light
  • Arrive Early for Boarding
  • Utilize Standby when Applicable
  • Enjoy your Trip



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