Megabus: No-Budget UK Travel (If You’re Tough Enough)

MikeachimThe Everyday5 Comments

Megabustop, by Daquella manera - Flickr

I’m hollow-eyed and bleary today, and I haven’t had enough coffee. A little later I’ll be pootling round York, picking up travel essentials and converting my Brit money into Euros before jetting off to Austria tomorrow afternoon. Tomorrow will be my second visit to London in 3 days, and yet again I’m using the train.

If you know what rail prices in this country are like, you might now be wincing. Yes, there are smart, effective ways to whittle your train fares down to something vaguely affordable, but even with forethought, research and expert haggling over the phone, there’s only so much you can do. And frankly, the amount you have to plan ahead is…irksome. I’ve taken the train from York to London, almost always exactly the same service, for prices ranging from £12 to £88, one-way (with returns anything from £28 to £infinity).

It’s a fickle, wearisome mess.

Yesterday, partly by bus and partly by train, I got to London and back for £10.

Megabus at East Midlands Parkwway - Mike Sowden

THE DETAILS

Name: Megabus UK / MegabusPlus.

Established: 2003 / 2009.

Nature of service: a yield management fare bus service / ….bus and train service.

Routes: 20+, the majority windmilling out from London, the rest connecting major cities by way of minor ones.

Prices: frequently absurd.

CASE STUDY

A gentleman (let’s call him ‘Chim) wishes to get from York to London on Monday the 11th of July. He’s on a limited budget (who isn’t? Apart from really rich people, and hey, who cares about those jerks? Apart from other rich people? Well, I digress).

He decides to travel as soon as possible after 6am.

‘Chim first decides to book a train ticket the traditional way. He could ring around and haggle, but for time’s sake he goes on TheTrainline.com

Single ticket prices: 6am-8am tickets = £83 (ouch)…8.20am ticket = £65the 9.29am to 11.29am tickets are down to £44and 2.01pm we have a winner, at £22. All the same journey, wildly different prices – madness. But at least that’s a fairly pain-free price. (If ‘Chim had booked weeks ago, it could be a lot lower). And the story could easily end there.

However,  ‘Chim knows about Megabus.

Departs – bus: York Leeman Road (6.55am) to East Midlands Parkway. By train – East Midlands Parkway to London St Pancras

Price: £9 (all inclusive).

Book more in advance, as I did for my tickets yesterday, and the price drops to £5.

East Midlands train, disembarking at Kings X St Pancras, London - Mike Sowden

THE CATCH

The brilliant airline aggregator Hipmunk allows you to sort your flight options by “agony” – the duration and the stop-overs combining to fray your sanity and numb your posterior. It’s this principle that needs to be uppermost in your mind when using Megabus.

By Trainline-booked train, your £22 journey will last a little over 2 hours. By using Megabus, that journey is double the duration – in fact, coming back from London last night took a total of 5.5 hours.

How much agony are you willing to put up with? Let’s say you’re lucky enough to get one of the £1 (yes, £1) tickets  available way in advance for a journey from London to Edinburgh? Are you willing to sit on a bus for 9 hours to save yourself roughly £50? Decide this in advance. No, really.

The other thing about Megabus is its regularity – which is far less than standard train services. York to London? Twenty or thirty trains a day. Megabus? Two services. Miss them, and you’re stuffed.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Megabus UK and MegabusPlus are stupendously affordable ways to get around the UK, particularly if your first port of call is London. Using them can save you a ton of money.

But they can be agony.

Decide how tough you are, and weigh that up against how tight your budget is.

Note: this post isn’t sponsored by Megabus. I’m not plugging them for any reason other than I think they’re a terrific resource for budget travellers. All visitors to the UK should consider the Megabus website their first destination when planning jaunts around the UK…

Images: Mike Sowden and Daquella manera.

  • Being back in the UK visiting family we are rediscovering the absurdity of the transport system. Luckily we knew when we were travelling so booked our trains 12 weeks (the maximum) in advance to get a cheap fare, but it is so expensive booking last minute. Megabus is a good option for those on a budget, although after spending 14 months in South America we were desperate for a nice smooth train journey.

  • Back in my impoverished, lovelorn, pre-drama-school days I had a boyfriend who I loved very much. He lived in Australia. I lived in London. This was pre-email, pre-Skype, pre-pretty much everything. We wrote letters. Actual letters, filled with biro-scrawled words in tiny script in order to fit as much as possible into a single airmail envelope. We scheduled phone calls for special occasions. Schedules which got messed up by time differences and inability to calculate the same. We looked forward to him coming home, when we could spend all our time together.

    But it wasn’t that simple. When he got back, we spent a blissful summer together in Dorset. He then went to university in Newcastle, while I moved to London. In a way, him being in Australia had been easier. At least then we knew there was no way we could see each other physically. London to Newcastle is a mere 3-hour train ride. 3 hours and £50, which is a lot of money when you’re 19 and have no money. Inevitably, it was me that ended up doing the lion’s share of the travelling. I was working, while he was a student. I will forever remember one visit, in which I decided to travel by coach to save money. I don’t think it was the Megabus (I’m not sure it existed in those days), but it was certainly far cheaper than the train at £9.99.

    Going up was tortuous, as I fretted about how long it was taking, but coming back was far worse. I had decided to take the overnight coach, which left Newcastle at about 11.30pm, and was scheduled to get into London at about 6am. I sobbed most of the way back, my heart breaking at having to leave him behind. The other passengers must have hated me, but nobody said anything. As we were travelling in the middle of the night, inevitably the journey didn’t take anything like as long as it was scheduled to, and we arrived in London in the dead hours of the morning, somewhere between 3 and 4am. The tubes weren’t running and I couldn’t get into my lodgings at that hour, so I spent another 2 hours sitting on the platform at Victoria, crying some more. Not so much for heartbreak now, but because I was too tired and cold to do anything much else. It was a miserable time.

    So yes – god save the Megabus, but don’t ever underestimate how utterly shitty it can be. Is £40 too high a price to pay for comfort and sanity? You decide.

  • Rich P

    Another shameless South Korea plug.

    I once took a taxi… A TAXI!!!… at 3am….. 3AM!!! From Seoul to Namjangju City, a distance of about 45 kilometers, travel time of an hour and 40 minutes, or roughly the distance from York to Leeds.

    This cost me 18 pounds.

    IN A TAXI.

    British transport is run by cretins.

  • Stacie Grooters

    The irony of this article was brilliant.
    As I am reading this twitter I am actuallly on a megabus in America from Minneapolis to Chicago with my husband and three tweenagers . This would be a 7 hour car trip that would feel like 70 due to the whining and arguing that would inevitably occur as soon as elbows touched in the back seat or iPads couldn’t be shared. Instead, each kid is happily hooked up to free wifi and power stations at each seat. The windows from he top of the bus make it seem spacIous and it will only take 8 hours. For$ 30 each roundtrip. At $150.50’this is simply the cheapest way to get sanely to the windy city from Minneapolis. Parking downtown Chicago at our hotel is $50 a day! A cab from the bus stop to the hotel will be about $10:) we couldn’t be happier! I’d say Megabus all the way. Get in a mindset to roadtrip, sit back, relax and enjoy he ride!!

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