7 Tips for Riding the Bolt Bus

Posted By Katie on May 26, 2015

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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 were $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.

The Bolt Bus is similar to other commercial buses–clean, comfortable seats with more legroom than the airlines, overhead bins, luggage storage underneath, and restrooms in the back.

If you are riding the Bolt Bus, here are some tips for your trip.

7 tips for riding the Bolt Bus. Wowed by the affordable fares, I decided to give the Bolt Bus a try with my teen from Washington D.C. to New York City. We had a good experience. Here are our tips for families considering a trip on the Bolt Bus | tipsforfamilytrips.com

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.

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.

7 Tips for Riding the Bolt Bus | tipsforfamilytrips.com

The Bolt Bus line in Washington D.C. was clearly marked and well organized.

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.

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. If you are sensitive to smells, you would prefer a seat closer to the front of the bus.

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.

7 Tips for Riding the Bolt Bus | tipsforfamilytrips.comFree WiFi

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.

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.

Each way of our Bolt Bus trip, 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. 

Featured photo credit: GoToVan via Flickr

7 Tips for Riding the Bolt Bus | tipsforfamilytrips.com

How else can I help?

Need a place to stay? My daughter and I stayed at the Wellington Hotel in Manhattan and enjoyed it. Click the link to read my review. Check rates and read reviews at TripAdvisor.com. If you prefer a vacation rental in the city, we recommend HomeAway.

Want to save money on top NYC attractions? Allison used CityPASS on her family’s New York City vacation. It’s a great way to save by bundling admission on popular destinations like the Statue of Liberty, 9/11 Museum and Empire State Building.

Want tips for navigating the New York City subway with kids? Check out our ULTIMATE Guide to the New York City Subway.

Need some ideas for your New York City itinerary? Check out our New York destination page or New York City for Families Pinterest board.

Katie is a busy mom living in Northern Virginia with her husband and five children ranging in age from toddlers to teens. When she isn't traveling, she is planning her next trip. Katie loves all types of travel, but she especially loves beach vacations. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a favorite family destination.


  1. Amazing tips for riding Bolt Bus from Washington DC to New York City. Simply awesome!!!

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  2. when I boarded my Bolt Bus this morning, the driver announced that in the new coaches, the restrooms were designed to accept liquid waste only — no solids. I have never before heard such a thing in the US or in the developed world. Other than that, everything was fine.

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    • That does seem strange. Seems like the technology should be fairly straightforward…

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  3. My comment is Do NOT use Bolt. Had to pay $50 in cash – only cash – to the driver to get on our return bus for tickets already purchased. Was told by the bus driver that this is a common error by Bolt and I could call customer service to get a refund. Called and NOPE, no refunds, no question about how a driver is able to collect cash.

    Additionally, drain in bathroom didn’t drain so standing in a puddle of … something while using; our seat not BOLTed down completely so rock back and forth when stopping and starting (not a pleasant rocking); and electrical outlets that had no power. Oh, and don’t believe their claims of more leg room.

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