Budget Travel

In case you were wondering, bus travel is still a lot cheaper, new study confirms

Not your grandma's Greyhound.

Not your grandma's Greyhound.  (iStock)

Riding a bus is usually a pretty cheap way to travel, but a new study confirms that it may be even more economical than previously thought.

Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development of DePaul University released “The Traveler’s Tradeoff: Comparing Intercity Bus, Plane, & Train Fares across the United States” that analyzed the cost of taking a plane, bus or train from Oct. 2013 to January 2014 between 52 pairs of cities that ranged in distance from 100 to 500 miles. Bus tickets purchased at least 28 days in advance were, on average, 50 percent to 55 percent cheaper than a ride on Amtrak.

Most surprisingly, the study also found that taking the bus was cheaper than driving a car, with tickets purchased the day before a trip costing an average of 30.9 percent less than getting behind the wheel.

Joseph Schwieterman, director of DePaul University's Chaddick Institute told USA Today that the surging popularity of bus travel is due in part to two main factors: cost and a generational shift in thinking. Young people are less attached to driving and bus companies are stepping up by adding new technologies and amenities for passengers. 

Could bus travel be seen as cool again?

"It has a stigma that's withering away,'' Schwieterman told USA Today. "It's no longer seen as a mode of last resort.''

Greyhound’s BoltBus and luxury liner RedCoach have sleek interiors, free Wi-Fi and power outlets at every seat.

Amtrak, another alternative to airline travel, is seeing rising numbers. The study found that a trip on Amtrak costs 55 to 73 percent less, on average, than an airline ticket between the same cities.

Bonus points for not having to take off your shoes when riding a train.

According to Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz, Amtrak has seen ridership in the northeast region increase 21 percent since 2006. Last year, the rail service carried 31.6 million passengers, the most in its history, Schulz told USA Today.

Yet, aging track is threatening some Amtrak lines that service small towns unless the track can be rebuilt. 

Yet, buses and trains are helping replace some previously reduced or cancelled airline shorter airline routes, according to Schwieterman.

While bus and train travel are often easier on the wallet, sometimes it doesn’t always make it the best option. 

Traffic is unpredictable on the road, which can significantly increase bus travel time. And for longer trips, the study found that “the premium paid for air travel diminishes sharply when trip distances are longer than 250 miles.” 

Many discount bus lines do not offer direct service between cities greater than 300 miles apart, making Greyhound one of the few long-distance bus options.