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Thinking of Taking the Bus? A Comparison of International Bus Companies in Europe
International bus travel
Many people will not travel by long distance coach. It takes a long time and can be uncomfortable. However I have done it a number of times and generally I have found it a useful way to catch up on my sleep, while travelling. It is always less expensive than the train and you get to see more of the countries that you are travelling through.
If you normally travel by train, you will probably be used to a certain level of customer care on and around your journey. You may be surprised to find this missing on your bus journey. The best companies may provide a high level of personal service, but others treat your international journey as if you were just catching the local bus to go shopping downtown.
Interior of a typical coach
Who is good and gives good value?
I have travelled with Sète, Flibco, Eurolines, Alsa, Megabus, Ouibus, Monbus and Flixbus, of these, I would say that Flibco was the best and second most expensive, while Flixbus was the worst and most expensive.It does not seem at first glance that Flixbus is expensive: I am always receiving emails from them, like the following, which arrived in my inbox last week:
“Visit Europe's most beautiful capitals from €5!”
Invariably, when I click on their link, the “special offer is nowhere to be found. The only Flixbus discount voucher I have ever been successful in obtaining was the Interflix voucher but the small print and unreliable customer care has ended up with me over fifty euros out of pocket!
I have also been unable to get any advertised discount by Alsa.
When Flixbus took over budget international travel from Megabus, the fares tripled overnight.
Vote on international bus travel
What do you think of travel by bus?
Tip: take a book to read
The journey by bus is a little longer. As well as my sleep I also take the time to catch up on my reading. Bill Bryden's adventures always have me in fits of laughter. They make my travel mishaps more bearable.
Here's a great, funny travel tale to keep you company!
When things go wrong
Apart from Flixbus , only with Sète have I had an experience that needed to be dealt with by customer service. Sète answered their phone and dealt with my problem speedily, even though English was not the operator’s first language. In the case of Flixbus, however, things went wrong from the start and as soon as one problem had been brought to the attention of the customer care team, another problem reared its head. The reason may be that Flixbus has grown too far too fast.
As a passionate supporter of international bus travel, I would like to see Flixbus succeed, but that would entail a much greater understanding of passengers needs than is currently the case.
For looking after customers while they are actually on the road, Eurolines is the clear winner. They maintain numerous offices at every major stop along the way. You can go in there and sort out any problems you have quickly and efficiently. There will often be a small waiting room attached, sometimes, even with a free public toilet. Flixbus again comes out worst. They have one or two small kiosks here and there, but the staff in them can only sell tickets and are unable to help with any other problems you may have. In general, you will find neither an office nor a kiosk and you will have to try to solve your problems yourself, probably with an out of date timetable.
If you are travelling to Portugal or Luxembourg, have no hesitation in taking the bus. Flibco with look after you, provide you with frequent stops, friendly, helpful, polite drivers, including food and drink on board. If the destination of your choice is served only by Flixbus, think twice. Also, bear in mind that I have found Alsa impossible to book online and I am not alone in this. If you are travelling in or around Spain, try the lesser known carrier, Monbus.
Tip: check the schedules
It is well worth checking the schedules displayed around you, while you wait for your bus. Some companies do not advertise anywhere other than their home country, for example, Italian carrier, buscenter.it , so checking at the station will literally be the only way of finding out about what may well turn out to be a really useful connection.