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FlixBus offers an affordable, flexible and comfortable alternative to plane and train travel in some parts of Europe. The Pros: A cheap, quiet ride from Munich to Stuttgart Airport. The Cons: No Wi-Fi or snacks for sale on our bus.
You might have already heard about Megabus and how it’s a cheap way to get between cities in the US and Canada. But what if you need a cheap way to get between cities in Europe? While the train system in Europe is superb — and you can usually get a good price if you book far enough ahead — there’s often an even cheaper option: bus travel.
There are many long-distance bus options in Europe, and one in particular — FlixBus — has rapidly expanded since its launch in 2013 and is now the largest intercity bus network on the continent. When TPG Points & Miles Writer JT Genter and I needed to travel from Munich to Stuttgart Airport (STR) earlier this month after Oktoberfest, we booked one of FlixBus’ 30 daily direct buses on this route. Here’s what our experience on the three-hour journey was like.
Booking and Rebooking
Two weeks before we needed to travel from Munich to STR, I began comparing prices and trip times for trains and buses. The train options at the times I wanted to travel took about three hours and either required four connections or cost at least 71.80 euros (~$85) for two seats.
FlixBus offered slightly shorter trips at a significantly lower cost: €27 (~$32) for two seats for a 9:15am departure or €39 (~$46) for two seats on a 10:45am departure — even the most expensive ones seemed to be capped at 51.80 euros (~$61) for two seats. Looking at other dates down the line, prices for this route ranged from 18 euros (~$22) for two seats to 51.80 euros (~$61) for two seats.
After comparing the options, I booked us on the 10:45am departure. Note that FlixBus does charge a 2.5% fee for using a credit card or PayPal. I used my Citi Prestige Card for the 39.97 euros (~$47) charge to gain the card’s excellent delay protection benefits, just in case.
One hand carry-on and one piece of luggage for storage under the bus is included with each ticket, while one additional piece of luggage may be added for just 2 euros (~$2). If the item is oversized — such as a bike or skis — it will cost 9 euros (~$11) more to add it to your booking.
A late S-bahn train made us worry that we’d miss our 10:45am FlixBus, and when I checked the company’s rebooking policies, I found a small cancellation fee of one euro (~$1.18). As long as the ticket is canceled at least 15 minutes prior to departure, the remainder of the ticket price is returned in the form of a voucher. I could see on the FlixBus app that multiple buses departing later that day still had availability.
Since the FlixBus app won’t let you cancel tickets, it directed me to the FlixBus website. I canceled our tickets for the 10:45am bus 20 minutes before our scheduled departure time and immediately received a voucher code worth €37 (~$44), which would be valid for up to a year — we used it immediately to cover part of our rebooking.
We rebooked for the 11:45am route 227 bus, which cost 51.80 euros for both of us (~$61). After applying our voucher for 37 euros (~$44), we paid the remaining 14.80 euros (~$18) with my Citi Prestige Card.
Munich Central Bus Station (ZOB) is centrally located and adjacent to the Hackerbrücke S-bahn station. There’s a shopping area with a grocery store and fast food if you want to grab a bite to eat before your ride, as well as a FlixBus ticket office if you need assistance. Beneath that is a covered area with bus bays, benches, left luggage lockers and a public bathroom that costs 0.50 euros (~$0.59) per person, so keep those euro coins handy.
Once the bus arrived, passengers calmly formed a line — it quickly became a crowd as the driver opened all the luggage compartments and passengers hurried to put their bags in.
Passengers then approached the driver at the door mid-bus after depositing their luggage. The driver scanned tickets with his phone — mobile and printed were both okay — before allowing us to board.
Once on the bus, passengers could select any vacant seat since there is no opportunity to reserve one. Since our bus originated at Munich ZOB, we were among the first to board and had our choice. The driver closed the luggage compartments and boarded the bus at 11:43am — two minutes before departure — and we left right on time at 11:45am.
Cabin and Seat
FlixBus has many different bus types since the company is growing frequently — oftentimes, they are acquired by buying out the buses of other companies. For this trip, we rode on a white single-level Mercedes bus with a small FlixBus logo.
Some of the other FlixBus buses we saw at Munich ZOB had a green FlixBus wrap. We also noticed there were more single-level buses than two-level buses.
Our bus had 13 rows of black seats with green trim arranged in a 2-2 configuration. Each seat had a seat belt and could recline a few inches. The aisle seats have armrests that fold away under the seat.
Most seats had a pitch of 32-32.5 inches, but row three strangely had a pitch of 35.5 inches. The seats were narrow yet comfortably cradled my body. Each aisle seat has a button on the aisle-side that could slide the seat slightly into the aisle — increasing the amount of room between seats. Once the seats were separated, we found we could each work on our laptops without bumping elbows.
Each seat had a small fold-down tray table and a mesh pocket — the ones for the bulkhead were shared between two seats. The trays had indentations to keep drinks and other small items from sliding.
There was a small storage area above the seats, but it was thin and shallow and could only hold a purse or a small backpack at most. Above each pair of seats were a speaker, two air vents, two reading lights and a call button. At one point, another passenger pressed the call button and a stop sign lit up — but the driver didn’t stop or otherwise respond.
Each row had one European power outlet. There was a clock at the front of the bus, but it showed a time that was more than two hours ahead of the actual time. There was also a screen in the front of the bus, but it remained blank throughout the trip.
We opted to sit in the first row of the bus, which provided ample room for using our laptops as well as a nice view through the large bus windshield.
The FlixBus website proudly claims that “on board all our buses you will find free Wi-Fi.” An email I received the night before the trip was a little more cautious, noting “Wi-Fi with LTE-speed is available on most buses.” Unfortunately, the email’s hedged statement was necessary, as there was no Wi-Fi network available on our bus. An email from FlixBus the night before departure reminded us that we’d have free Wi-Fi on board.
There was a bathroom in the middle stairway of the bus. It was nice to have a bathroom on board, but it was poorly lit, smelled strongly and didn’t have running water or soap.
The website states that “You will always be well looked after with FlixBus: low cost snacks and drinks can be bought on board. You can purchase these easily from our friendly drivers.” The email from FlixBus I mentioned earlier said that “The selling of snacks and drinks is at the discretion of the bus driver.” There were no menus for snacks or drinks inside the bus — and the driver had nothing to sell — so it seems he chose not to this time around. There was also a large self-serve coffee maker by the bathroom, but it wasn’t functioning properly.
Although many people were celebrating the last day of Oktoberfest about a half a mile from Munich ZOB, our bus was very quiet, with about half the passengers sleeping throughout the ride. The driver quietly listened to music and talked on his phone using headphones and a mouth piece, but even sitting in the first row, it wasn’t distracting.
The bus departed Munich about 40% full. The first half of the trip was on interstate highways, while the last half was on winding country roads. Even then, the ride was relatively smooth — but there was a section where the bus took up the entire road as it bounded along. Check out the video below for a closer look.
The bus made two stops — at LegoLand Germany and Ulm — before arriving at STR. The bus arrived at both stops about 10 minutes early and left both stops early. If you’re going to be boarding at an intermediate stop, make sure you arrive 20 minutes early as is suggested by FlixBus to avoid being left behind. When we departed from Ulm, the bus was about 80% full.
Those who ride MegaBus in the United States may be used to the driver making announcements shortly after departure, but the driver on this bus made no such announcements until saying — in German only — how long the bus would stop in Ulm. We arrived at the STR bus terminal eight minutes late. Luckily, it was just a few minutes’ walk from the airport terminal.
FlixBus advertises free Wi-Fi on all of its buses, so getting one without Wi-Fi was disappointing — the state of the bathroom less than two hours into the ride and the lack of snacks or drinks for sale weren’t helping either. For passengers traveling the entire 13-hour route from Munich ZOB to Dortmund, these issues would likely become quite frustrating.
We found FlixBus to be perfectly fine for our three-hour trip. The ride was quiet and our journey was timely. The seats were comfortable, especially once we figured out how to slide the aisle seat into the aisle. Plus, the budget-friendly cancellation policy prevented stress and allowed for relatively low-cost last-minute rebooking.
Have you taken a ride on FlixBus before? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.