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Mega cheap not so mega customer service
Member Name: magenta23
Advantages: Low cost tickets, can book up to the last minute
Disadvantages: Poor customer service, delays, packed buses
For long journeys, I have up until recently been a loyal customer to National Express, finding their prices unbeatable compared to the train and other coach companies. However their prices have slowly but surely been rising and especially closing into summer. Those under £10 deals I used to snap up have been few and far between, for the routes I tend to take at least. That's why I started looking into other options again and after using megabus quite a few times now, I think my loyalty may have changed, though they aren't without their faults.
Who are they?
Megabus are a low cost travel company that offer bargain coach fares as well as deals on train fares too through megatrain (which is really the same company). They are heavily advertised and you have probably seen their £1 seat promotion posters and flyers over bus and train stations if you are a regular traveller. I have to say, I've never been lucky enough to ever get a £1 seat though I have found them the most competitive recently. They are part of the Stagecoach group and operate in the UK, US and Canada, though it's the UK I'm focussing on for the purposes of this review. Megabus was launched in 2003, and claims to have some of the country's most modern coaches and carries 2 million passengers a year.
Where do they serve?
This is where megabus' main competitor, National Express slightly have the edge. Megabus serve around 50 locations, from Aberdeen to Penzance, however these are only main towns, whereas National Express link smaller locations too. However if you want to go from main town to main town megabus is often a quicker journey time as it doesn't call as so many places along the way so it depends on your journey as to with company is more beneficial. If you are travelling using megatrain however, there are even fewer locations to choose from as they don't have their own service and only sell cheap tickets for certain providers.
I'll get on to prices in a minute, but as I said they only sell tickets from major town to major town on megatrain, however check with the train companies timetable what stations this service stops at. Often if you want a station in between two megatrain stations, it won't provide those tickets, and the train operators often charge more for shorter journeys in advance. So what I've done in the past is booked my megatrain as far as London for example, checking where the train service stops and getting off at an earlier station. You aren't supposed to do it of course but why should I pay more for going a shorter distance? The megatrain website will only show the services that it sells tickets from on any given service, however they show you which train provider runs the service so you can check other stops from the timetable on their website.
Megabus often only do one or two departures a day from most locations, obviously cities such as London, Manchester etc will have more services departing to all over the place but there's usually only one or two of any given service a day. This means that it won't always be at the time you would like and train or National Express have many more of the same service a day. With megabus you do have limited choices of when to depart and arrival times can often be antisocial too.
As I've mentioned, megabus heavily promote the fact they offer seats from £1, however these are only on certain main routes and are limited availability. As I said, I've never been lucky enough to bag one. Even without a deal though their prices are pretty good. Take a recent journey I did from central London to Cornwall. National Express wanted £40.50 (standard fare), the train on the day would have cost in excess of £100, in advance still £30+ but my megabus ticket was just £13. One way, I found these often work out the cheapest, however there aren't deals on returns like other companies do and booking a return trip is always just double the single fare. The is also a 50p charge per booking.
If you are booking a train journey in advance it's always worth checking through megabus first. They work with South West Trains, Virgin and East Midland Trains so if your journey is with any of these companies check their website against the train companies. I often find them cheaper, I recently got a journey for £5.50 with megatrain that would have cost nearly £30, even in advance fare going directly thorough the train company's website.
Where to buy
Megabus tickets can be bought at most bus stations with megabus stops, over the phone or online. Megatrain can only be ordered online, and as with all things it seems, this is where you'll find those cheap deals. In person and over the phone will usually only give you standard fare.
Megabus/train tickets are unusual in that they don't exist. Yep, you read that right, they don't exist. When you book you are given a code and that's all you need to board your vehicle. You can have this in a text message, print out or even write it on the back of your hand! This works just fine when boarding a megabus, especially if you are boarding at the first location on the service as the driver just ticks your code off his list. I've got on at a stop halfway along the journey before and they haven't even checked that! The flaw I guess, for megabus at least, is that you can book your tickets minutes before departure if you wish, meaning if you aren't already on the list when they leave point A, they'll have no idea they have to pick you up at point C for example. So best to get there early firstly, and I'd say print off your code from the website as proof you aren't winging it. Though the times I've done this and booked last minute, they have just believed me, meaning I could have winged it if I wanted...not that I would, obviously... I would advise also to print off your code if you are travelling by megatrain and also leave time for possible queues at the ticket barrier as you obviously can't get through with just a code and will need to show the code to the guard. It's also much easier for any inspections if you have the original page or email from megatrain printed out (although confusingly it will say megabus at the top) rather than just showing a confused ticket inspector a collection of numbers and letter written on the back of your hand.
As with all advance travel tickets, when you've booked you are committed to that service and unlike on the day tickets, your booking will not be valid on earlier or later trains / coaches.
When they say the have 'modern buses' don't read modern as meaning luxury. These buses are pretty bog standard. They all have toilets on board but I'd advise not to sit next to them as they will smell pretty quickly. On the last one I was on I had no choice but to sit near it as the bus was pretty full and the door was dodgy and it kept opening and wafting the coach with unpleasant odours.
The buses tend to be pretty full most of the time, and you may not have the luxury of an empty seat next to you if travelling alone or sitting next to your companion if travelling with one. All very well if you get a nice, non-fidgety quiet neighbour, but obviously this isn't always the case. They aren't the most spacious of seats so prepare to get cosy with your travel buddy if they are anything above an average size. That said the seats are fairly comfortable, but not so much that I can ever manage to sleep on them without waking up with severe neck ache.
Other than that they've always seemed pretty clean and well serviced.
Most of the drivers in megabus act like driving the bus is the last thing they want to be doing. I think megabus know pretty much that they are going to get a steady flow of customers just due to their prices so they don't think they have to try too hard with customer service. I've never had a driver I can say was that friendly, and as I mentioned with some not even bothering to check booking codes, they obviously don't care too much about their jobs.
Quite often you'll get to a certain stop and that will be a change over point where they will wait for another bus to come in so some passengers can change to a connecting service. This is all very well in theory however, when the bus is late you end up with a whole heap of people wondering why they aren't moving. I had this problem on a trip from London, we'd got as far as Exeter where they were waiting for another bus that some passengers needed to connect to. The bus was held up for some reason but nothing was communicated to the passengers aboard. The driver was very rude to anyone who enquired how long before we got moving, (clearly he had no idea) and no apology was made. An hour and a half later the bus got moving. We did contact megabus to complain about this incident but it seems their head office are just as good at customer service as their staff as we had no response.
I've had this a few times when I first started using megabus, with coaches being delayed. Never as bad as that incident though - often more like 20 minutes or so. I got so annoyed with them I almost stopped using them. I gave them one last chance though, and recently they are a lot better, even getting in early on occasion. Maybe I'm not the only one who complained.
The website is basic, but well laid out and easy to use. It's simple to search for tickets and buy. The only problem I've heard is that certain cards are rejected with out reason, a friend of mine had this happen to him several times even though it was accepted everywhere else, his other card worked fine. Megabus, of course were their charming selves and couldn't provide an explanation. Personally, I've had no problems but just in case your card is rejected, it's probably not your card but a flaw in their system.
Cheap travel, much more cost effective on long journeys than train or even forking out for petrol but you won't get much in the way of customer service and your are limited by their schedule.
Summary: No frills travel
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