Megabus Continues to Grow, Benefiting Travelers

By Sean O'Neill
October 3, 2012

Inter-city bus travel used to be the shabby domain of Greyhound, a monopoly (resulting from several mergers) that was complacent for years, as any whiff of one of their stinky buses proved. But things have changed. Since 2006, upstart bus operator Megabus has ferried more than 15 million passengers between major US cities. During Thanksgiving weekend, its passenger numbers were about a third higher than the previous year's—yet another record broken on its route to growth.

Another surprise: A huge share of Megabus's passengers are suburban and middle-American professionals, meaning older and wealthier customers than have typically been associated with non-airplane travel.

Take away its goofy yellow-jacketed cartoon mascot, and Megabus is a company about people who take budget travel seriously. The company maintains safe, comfortable double-deckers that have free WiFi and plenty of electric power outlets, video screens, headsets, and seat belts. Its coaches are modern, well maintained, and smell fresh. (The company has just ordered 100 more.) Best of all, Megabus carries passengers up to 400 miles a trip for as low as $1 advance booking. (Tickets are now available for booking through March. The early bird gets the deal.)

This friendly giant of US intercity coach services expects record traffic during the upcoming winter holiday season. That's partly because on November 16 it launched a hub in Atlanta, offering travel to 11 cities, according to a press release: Birmingham, Ala.; Charlotte, N.C.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Gainesville, Fla.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Memphis, Tenn.; Mobile, Ala.; Montgomery, Ala.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Orlando, Fla.

Rival BoltBus is smaller but also delivering good deals, as are some scrappy regional competitors. (See Budget Travel's recent story: 6 Best Budget Bus Companies in the U.S.) These companies are helping Americans travel, but they're also helping the environment: A bus only uses two pints of fuel per passenger to go a 300-mile distance, such as between Washington and New York City.

With fares rarely cost above $60 round-trip, the new inter-city bus trend passes the sniff test with us.


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Poll: Would You Use Social Media to Find A Better Seatmate?

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is rolling out a new service whereby passengers will be able to use Facebook or LinkedIn as social seating tools. The airline said the tool will be called "meet & seat" and will be available through Facebook and LinkedIn, but not Twitter. if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('529631f6-af43-4f42-9503-d13684195ae9');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info)According to KLM, the new tool will launch at the beginning of next year, but the airline didn't provide a specific launch date. It also did not reveal too many additional details as to how the tool will work, but CNN reported that the idea is for travelers to look at people with similar interests and then book a seat. Both passengers have to sign up to use the tool in order to make coordinating seat assignments. KLM told CNN that the service is not intended to be used as a dating tool (insert skeptical raised brow). Already, most airlines allow passengers to log in online or at the airport, see a seat map of the aircraft and choose their seat preference based on what's available. Purportedly, this would be a way to find out a bit more about the other people on the same flight. On the one hand, depending on the length of the flight, these are the people you might be spending upwards of several hours sitting inches away from. So, maybe making a more concerted effort at choosing these too-close-for-comfort seatmates through social media networks isn't a bad idea. On the other hand, knowing that you chose each other to sit next to could be awkward, no? Would you rather have more control over whom it is you sit next to or leave your seatmates to random chance? More from Budget Travel: It's Ski Season! Check Out Strategies for Cheaper Lift Tickets New Online Maps Reveal Heavily 'Checked-In' Spots 65 New Ways to Get Away This Season

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RentMix Maps the Best Alternatives to Hotels

Renting a vacation pad—where you typically enjoy more room and more personality, at a lower cost than a hotel stay—became the first choice travel method for more than a million Americans this year, according to surveys. But how to pinpoint the best spots near desirable locations and skip the lemons? Enter,, a site that pins on an online map vacant vacation rentals at your destination. It's like a Kayak for vacation rentals, fetching listings from services such as AirBnB, HomeAway, FlipKey. Say you're trying to stay in London for the Olympics and all of the local hotels are charging astronomical prices. Punch in your trip dates, budget, and preferred number of bedrooms, and Rentmix will fetch the houses and apartments in a district you specify. (For what it's worth, there are condos for rent from $59 a night in London during the Olympics, according to our recent search on the site.) The clincher: Rentmix brings together the broadest array of lodging options of any site, and its map feature enables you to make sure you're choosing a rental in the right location. Tip: When comparing listings, use the "Street View" feature of Google Maps to double check that the block matches the lister's description. ("Is it really only two blocks to the subway?") SEE MORE ON BUDGET TRAVEL Which Rental Is Right for You? Are Vacation Rentals Still Legit? Yes. A Service for Finicky Vacation Home Renters

Travel Tips

It's Ski Season! Check Out Strategies for Cheaper Lift Tickets

At certain U.S. ski resorts, you could pay over $100 for a single day's lift ticket. Do you really have to pay that much to ski? No way. The New York Times recently rehashed a handful of the best ways to trim lift ticket costs. The list includes classic advice such as buying a package with lodging and lift passes bundled together, skiing midweek rather than the weekend, and choosing multi-day passes over single-day tickets. The gist is that you'll pay through the nose if you don't plan ahead, and instead just arrive on a Saturday and stroll up to the ticket counter and ask for a day pass. Do that at a resort like Vail and you'll pay as much as $106! In fact, the way to save the most on lift tickets is by planning far, far in advance. As the Times points out, the ski pass-discounting website Liftopia works best for skiers comfortable booking months before they'll hit the slopes. The average discount through Liftopia is 33 percent for skiers purchasing tickets at least 14 days in advance, and it's possible to save a lot more by booking further out and being flexible with ski days. For a scant few days at Mount Snow, in Vermont, for example, a single-day lift ticket in costs as little as $24 via Liftopia. A standard midweek ticket, meanwhile, runs $75 at the resort. The downside with purchasing tickets through Liftopia, or similar services like, is that passes are totally nonrefundable. So if your plans change, or the weather doesn't cooperate, you're stuck paying for a lift ticket you don't use. That's the tradeoff for snagging lift tickets on the cheap. If you ski as a family, it's well worth checking out if your state, or a state where you plan on skiing, has a ski passport program for kids. With these programs, children in the prime ages for learning to ski (generally, fourth, fifth, or sixth grade) get free or discounted skiing all season long, so long as they're accompanied by a paying adult. Some processing and handling fee is usually required, but other than that, the savings potential is huge. With the "Winter Kids" program in Maine, for example, after a family pays $25, eligible kids can ski for free or at major discounts at 50 mountains and outdoor recreation areas for the duration of the season. Under the Passport program in Utah, fifth graders get three free lift tickets at each of the state's 14 participating resorts. Sixth graders, meanwhile, get one free day pass at each of the mountains too. Vermont, Colorado, and New York are among the states with similar programs. Among the other lift ticket savings strategies worth checking out is opting to ski only part of the mountain. Beginners rarely venture beyond a resort's novice areas, so why pay for access to trails you'll never see? At Alta in Utah, for instance, a lift ticket in the beginner area, with access to three different chairlifts, costs $38. By contrast, a full-access day pass costs $72. Finally, if you're traveling with skiers at either end of the age spectrum, choose your resort carefully. While many mountains offer lift tickets for free to skiers around 5 and under or 75 and older, some resorts are far more generous with freebies than others. At Big Sky Resort in Montana, for instance, up to two kids 10 and under skis for free when accompanied by a paying adult. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Ask Trip Coach: Ski Vacations Shut Up and Ski: 10 Best Old-School Ski Resorts in the U.S. In Search of the Perfect Ski Village


3 Affordable New Ways to See Europe's Quaintest Cities

Remember your brave, virgin trip to Europe? When you wore a backpack and lived on cheese, hot baguettes, and red wine? You were such a natural at loose-and-easy travel. You instinctively knew that the best budget travel tip of all is to take advantage of the Continent's affordable train and coach bus options, hopscotching around instead of staying put. It's time to go back to Europe. This week, three intercity train and coach bus routes launched, linking up some of the Continent's most charming cities (Prague, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Zurich, Paris). This is part of a long-term trend of train and bus service becoming more competitive, with cheaper tickets, faster service, and more frequent departures. In 2012, there has never been a better moment to realize: You had it right the first time. Go back to loose-and-easy travel. (Though grown-ups can leave the backpacks at home.) Here's the lowdown on the new train and coach service. In Austria, Vienna and Salzburg are charming towns only 200 miles apart, but it's traditionally been expensive to travel between them. This week, fares dropped when a new train operator, Westbahn, began service on the route, underpricing its competition, OBB. Now you can travel the 200 miles between the birthplace of "The Sound of Music" and the birthplace of Mozart for €48 (about $65) roundtrip on an advanced purchase ticket. That's half the former going ticket price. Trains depart hourly most days (from Wein Westbanhof in Vienna), and journeys typically take less than three hours each way. The two adorable cities of Prague, in the Czech Republic, and Munich, in Germany, are just 200 miles apart but the journey between them has traditionally taken about six hours by train. This week, new intercity bus service began on a fast and frequent schedule, beating the train alternative on both price on advance purchased fares. Trips are scheduled to take only four hours. Now you can book tickets for €29 one-way in advance. The bus service is, surprisingly, run by German Railways (Deutsche Bahn); is picked up in front of Munich's and Prague's train stations; and pops up in search results as one of your transportation options if you visit the company's website ( (Tip: On the site, choose USA as your country so you see English as your language, and enter your departure and arrival points just as if you were searching for train fares.) Like the train, coaches between Munich and Prague by the bus can be purchased in advance online. But prices quickly go up. If you're booking less than a month out—such as on only a day's notice before departure—the train may have cheaper last-minute tickets, so comparison shop. As of this week the amazing Swiss city of Zurich is only four hours from Paris by train. Hop a new high-speed train line route on TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse), shaving off about 40 minutes off the journey, and more departures per day. Zurich now becomes a do-able overnight or two add-on to a visit to Paris, with the French connection made at Paris's Gare de Lyon. See the new timetable on the Switzerland page. This ain't Amtrak. TGV's second-class coach section showcase stylish designer interiors by Christian Lacroix. Book-ahead fares from €27 ($35) one-way via TGV's website. Refundable tickets tickets can be four times as much, but are still cheaper than refundable plane tickets booked at the same short notice. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Riding the Train in Europe Just Got a Little Easier with Rail Europe's New App Italy by Train and Air: 9 Nights, From $1,739, Per Person The Secret to Flying Around Europe on a Dime