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The $1 road trip

I traveled from Philadelphia to New York City for a buck via Megabus.com. If you find a cheaper fare, let me know.

By Donna_Freedman Apr 6, 2012 11:49AM
Image: People waiting for bus (© Image Source/Getty Images)While visiting family last summer, I bought several tickets for travel on Megabus.com: Philadelphia-New York City, New York-Washington, D.C., and D.C.-Philly. I paid $3.50 total -- $1 per ticket with a 50-cent booking fee.

Yes, $3.50 for three tickets.

How could it be that cheap?

For starters, Megabus.com doesn't have its own terminals. Passengers get picked up and dropped at other companies' facilities, such as 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, or on city streets. Tickets are sold online, so the company doesn't have to pay ticket agents.

Not every seat is a dollar, and fares rise gradually as the vehicle fills up and/or the departure date gets closer. I bought my tickets well in advance, because I knew when I'd be traveling. (Post continues after video.)
Even a same-day fare can be pretty cheap, though. I wound up canceling the D.C. leg of my trip due to Hurricane Irene. With just a few hours' notice, I got a ticket from New York City back to Philadelphia for $15.
A frugal traveler who's not on a tight schedule (more on that later) can really stretch a budget this way. During a trip to the United Kingdom last spring, I traveled by Megabus from London to Cardiff, Wales. It cost just over $10 USD round-trip. A train ticket would have cost as much as $262.

A British import

Megabus.com originated in the U.K. and now provides service in the United States and in two Canadian provinces (Ontario and Quebec). In the U.S., it operates along the East Coast from Portland, Maine, down to Orlando, Fla., and as far west as Omaha, Neb.

The average cost of a ticket is $20, but you may pay less than that depending on when you make your reservation and what time you leave. The D.C.-Philly ticket I got for a buck would have cost $6 if I'd decided to leave an hour earlier. Since I wasn't on a tight schedule, I opted for the cheaper seat.

Scheduling is an issue. Buses travel on highways, and traffic jams happen. Two of my trips were 20 to 25 minutes late. I wouldn't count on bus travel to be absolutely on time.

But I don't expect that from airlines, either. Just the competition for overhead bin space, and the need to get unstowed luggage gate-checked, can make a flight leave late. Don't get me started on other things that make air travel stink, such as thunderstorms and equipment failures. One of my 2011 trips, from Los Angeles to Phoenix, was so late that the airline put me on the next scheduled flight.

Megabus.com isn't the only dollar ride in town. BoltBus provides service to eight cities on the East Coast, as far north as Boston and as far south as Washington, D.C. However, this company promises to sell only "at least one" $1 ticket on every trip. On the other hand, its loyalty program gives a free one-way ticket after you've taken eight one-way trips.

Bus travel has a seedy reputation in the U.S. Both Megabus.com and BoltBus are sprucing up the image with more comfortable coaches and free Wi-Fi.

On the NYC-to-Philly trip, the Wi-Fi went in and out. I also found the seat on that particular bus to be not as roomy and comfortable as the British ones. Given what I'd paid for the seat, I wasn't inclined to complain about it, though. I've been on airline trips that felt cramped, too.

More from MSN Money:

3Comments
Apr 12, 2012 3:28PM
avatar

Great article as usual Donna.   To answer MoneyLink......check out Lonely Planet guide books and also the Thorntree forum at their website.....Lonelyplanet.com/thorntree

Another site is Hostelworld.com

Apr 10, 2012 11:05PM
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Donna,

How do you find all of these tips i.e. places to stay so cheap? My husband and I want to go to Europe (London, Germany, Ireland) but don't know where to go or how to travel frugally.

Apr 10, 2012 2:16PM
avatar

This information is great!  Thanks so much!

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Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.

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