Megabus - Very Cheap UK Bus (And Maybe Train) Travel

Cross the Country for Less Than it Costs to Cross London

Ed Webster ccl

Megabus offers very low cost bus travel (and some very limited train travel) to some of the UK's most popular visitor destinations. You could travel to Bath, Salisbury and a clutch of other selected cities for as little as £1 plus a 50p booking fee. That's less than it costs to cross London on the London Underground.

But - and it's a big but - it's not easy to score the cheapest tickets this way and if you prefer train travel, the company's new website makes them almost impossible to book. 

Travel tickets can be booked, online. Bus services are in Megabus's own fleet, painted with a blue and yellow livery. Their cleanliness, promptness and general comfort seem to have mixed reviews but are apparently in line with low-cost bus and coach travel in general.

Train tickets - if you can find them - are in normal, standard class seats on regularly scheduled services operated by East Midlands, South West and Virgin Trains. Some trains operate in coordination with coach services and are offered as Megabus-plus.

So What's The Catch?

With such great prices, there have to be a few sacrifices, naturally. But if you plan ahead and you are organized you could be lucky. Most of the negatives are associated with train travel - not surprising, since Stagecoach, the company that operates Megabus, is a coach company. These are the main issues you have to look out for:

  • Limited schedule Such budget travel is only possible because the train operators that participate have surplus capacity on some lightly traveled services or routes. So the special fares may only be offered on one or two trains per day on the selected routes. And those may change depending upon the day of the week. Just because you can travel to your chosen destination at 7 p.m. on Monday doesn't mean the same service is available on Tuesday. You may have to travel very early - or late, or at a time you would not ordinarily have chosen, to get the lowest fare.
  • You have to stick with your chosen destination With a standard train ticket you can usually get off the train before your stop or, by paying an excess fare, stay on a bit longer. Not with Megatrain. Because of the way these low fares are handled at the station, you must leave the train at the booked stop. If you get off sooner, your ticket will be considered an unpaid fare. This policy, by the way, is not unique to Megabus. It is also the case with most of the of the lowest priced, advance fare tickets from the conventional train companies. It may not seem fair, but if you decide to travel earlier or later than your specially booked ticket specifies, you will probably have to pay the full, standard fare.

    That can be considerable. Recently travel to Birmingham from London was available for £23 when purchased in advance for a specific service. The standard fare would have been more than £140.
  • Fares are hard to find Some fares are really as low as £1 and some may be £8 or £10. The trouble is, you have to start the booking process, by selecting your journey, to find out. The good news is, whatever the fare, it will usually - but not always - be a big saving compared to standard available fares. But, if you can't find the exact journey you want, it's worth having a look at National Rail Enquiries and requesting the "Lowest Available Fare" - you could be lucky and find a special promotional fare that's cheaper.

Where Does Megabus Go?

If you want a quick answer, that would be, "Guess." In 2016, Megabus and Megatrain services were pulled together in order, the company said, offer a comprehensive schedule, and make the service easier to book. 

In fact, they've made it anything but. You have no way of knowing whether the journey you want to book is available by train or bus (coach in UK lingo) until you actually enter their booking process and have a go. If a service is offered on that route, you'll be given a list of available departures. If trains are offered on that route, the choices will also include scheduled trains.

If you want to travel by train, you could waste a great deal of time trying out one destination and date option after another only to discover the company does not offer train journeys to that place.

Or that the price of the train journey is not much better than normal advance train fares. And there is no other way to discover where Megabus goes or where it might offer the train option. 

Instead of creating a seamless approach to bus and train travel - which was the intention - the company's new website simply creates a time wasting nightmare for train lovers. 

One way to save yourself a little time is to go the the train company website first to see if they travel to your destination. If they do, there's a chance that there may be a Megabus train service available. But while you are on the train company website, you might as well check to see what their best fare for the route is. You might do just as well, or better dealing with the train company directly instead of through Megabus.

Bus, Train - Does It Really Make That Much of a Difference?

It can make a very big difference.

Some train journeys that take two to three hours can take five to seven hours or more by bus. For example if you were traveling from London to Lincoln by train, the trip would take between two hours 36 minutes and two hours 56 minutes.  Take the same journey by bus and the fastest trip is five hours five minutes with some journeys taking more than six hours. So Megabus only makes sense if you have unlimited time and cost is your only concern.  Even then, you might do just as well booking in advance with one of the national coach companies, such as National Express.

How to Book and Travel

Book online at the Megabus website.

Once you've booked your journey, print out your confirmation and take it with you when you travel. At stations with automatic ticket barriers, you'll need to show it to the barrier staff. They'll have a list of Megabus passengers and reference numbers to check it against. Make sure to arrive a bit early to allow time for this. You'll also have to show it to the conductor who collects tickets, so hang on to it until all your travel is completed.