My 13-year-old daughter and I just rode the Bolt Bus from Washington D.C. to New York City. After checking prices on Amtrak and Bolt Bus, I found that two round-trip tickets on Bolt Bus was $100 compared with $276 on Amtrak for our travel dates, so we opted to save money and try out the bus.
The Bolt Bus operates in the Northeast and on the West Coast, offering a variety of city-to-city travel options for a reasonable price. The pricing structure varies based on time of day, weekend or weekday travel, etc. Bolt Bus offers at least one $1 fare on each bus, so one lucky rider gets a cheap seat. From my experience, the buses are clean, timely, and well organized.
If you are riding the Bolt Bus, here are some tips for your trip.
1. Join Bolt Rewards
Even if you are an occasional Bolt Bus rider, like me, you can get a priority seat assignment by being a Bolt Rewards member, which makes joining worthwhile. If you plan to use it often, it is worth joining because for every 8 trips you make, Bolt Bus will give you one free trip.
2. Arrive Early
The boarding process for the Bolt Bus was very similar to Southwest Airlines boarding process. Each ticket has a letter boarding group (A, B, C) and they board each group before they board standby passengers. We had numbers on our tickets (I was A2), but we did not line up by numbers. I arrived 20 minutes before our bus departed (Bolt Bus tells ticketed passengers to arrive at least 15 minutes before their departure time). We started boarding at exactly 15 minutes before departure time and groups A, B, and C were boarded in a few minutes. The driver then counted the empty seats, let on some standby passengers and gave us a short briefing before the trip. We pulled out just 90 seconds after our scheduled departure time.
3. Bring food and water
The Bolt Bus website says that on trips over 3 hours, the Bolt Bus usually stops for a 10-minute convenience stop. On my 4-hour bus ride to and from New York, we did not stop at all, and I was grateful I had brought a sandwich and plenty of water rather than planning to buy something at a stop.
4. Sit Near the Front
The restrooms are in the back and only a few passengers used them on my trips, but like any commercial bus, restrooms can get smelly and if you are sensitive to smells, you would prefer a seat closer to the front of the bus.
5. Check your Outlet When You Choose Your Seat
One of the perks of riding the Bolt Bus is that each set of two seats has an outlet you can use. If charging an electronic device is a priority for you, check the plugs when you sit down. On our first bus, the outlet didn’t work, but it worked fine on our second ride. Other passengers told me that the outlets usually work but not always. Bolt Bus is redoing the plugs and seats on many of their Northeast buses this year, so plugs will hopefully be more reliable for everyone in the future.
Bolt Bus advertises free WiFi, and I was looking forward to bringing my laptop and getting some work done on the bus. The WiFi worked some of the time, but I was consistently logged out and had to go through a laborious process to get logged back in. Riding the Bolt Bus will not be the same wifi experience as working in your home office. My daughter wanted to watch a show on her iPad and the only way she was able to do that was by setting up a personal hot spot. Bolt Bus does offer free wifi, but I found it more frustrating than reliable. Perhaps some wifi is better than no wifi, but I wouldn’t count on great wifi.
7. Is the Bolt Bus Good for Families?
I think the Bolt Bus would be a great experience for families who have children capable of sitting in their seats during the ride. This is a moving vehicle and our bus driver was clear in our safety briefing that we should remain seated or hold on to handrails if we needed to walk to the restroom. This advice proved crucial when a car accident happened right in front of us on the I-95 and our bus driver had to slam on the brakes to avoid it. I have bounced many a baby on the aisles of an airplane, but I was glad I was seated when we narrowly avoided this accident.
On our bus rides, my 13-year-old daughter was the youngest passenger, and most people chose to quietly sleep or read. I think I could have happily brought my younger children on the bus so long as they were prepared to spend four hours in their seats playing Minecraft and not disturbing the other passengers.
Disclosure: My daughter and I were given a complimentary ride on the Bolt Bus so we could review it for you. As always, my opinions are my own.