Why you shouldn't sleep on bus loyalty programs
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Before I jaunted across the U.S. in business class, I was a big fan of bus travel.
I’m from southern Virginia and went to college in Washington, D.C., and I didn’t see a point in flying home for winter break even after I started to fly. That meant I relied a lot on buses -- Megabus and Greyhound -- to get home. Even after graduating from college, I still took advantage of cheap fares between D.C. and New York City, where I visited often.
Bus travel is nothing fancy. It’s often cramped and frequently late, and bus terminals are also pretty grim. But even with all of its issues, I still find myself drawn to buses. There’s something about getting to see the world from the ground that I’ve always enjoyed.
Here at TPG, we’ve spent a lot of time on airline and hotel loyalty programs, but we haven’t devoted much time to bus lines and their loyalty programs. Is it time to pay more attention? The pandemic has completely changed how we think about travel. Million-milers have effectively been grounded as travel slowed to a halt. And travelers uncomfortable with inconsistent social distancing policies on airlines are now looking for other modes of transportation.
Here’s what you should know about the major bus carriers with loyalty programs in the U.S.
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Greyhound Road Rewards
Whether you love it or hate it, Greyhound is a major player in the interstate bus industry. Greyhound has 2400 destinations across North America and serves nearly 16 million passengers annually.
Greyhound has a rewards program called Road Rewards. The number of points you earn depends on the type of fare you buy:
- 1 point for each one-way trip for Economy fares
- 2 points for each one-way trip for Economy Extra fares
- 3 points for each one-way trip for Flexible fares
You’ll earn points each time you travel, with a round-trip fare earning at least two points. Award redemptions start at six points and offer several options:
- 15% off a one-way or round-trip ticket
- A companion pass to bring a friend along
- 10% off food at a Greyhound station
- 20% off a one-way or round-trip ticket
- Companion pass
- A free round-trip ticket anywhere Greyhound has a stop
The companion pass seems like the best deal here, as you simply have to buy a full-price ticket to get another one free. I’d avoid the other two options: Greyhound tickets are already pretty cheap, and I’ve had food at a Greyhound stop before -- it’s not great. If you’re a true road warrior, you should be able to earn a free ticket quickly.
Like all loyalty programs, you should never hoard your points. Every 12 months, your points balance resets to zero.
BoltBus is owned by Greyhound Lines and serves destinations on the East and West coasts and Vancouver, British Columbia. Like Megabus, you can frequently find cheap fares as every schedule has at least one $1 ticket. BoltBus has suspended service in the Northeast due to the pandemic, while Greyhound continues to operate in the region.
The Bolt Loyalty program is much simpler than Greyhound’s but offers fewer perks. After taking eight full-fare trips (greater than $1) on BoltBus, you’ll earn a free one-way ticket (excluding taxes and fees).
While there are no elite benefits, Bolt Loyalty members get to board the bus first. Make sure you’re logged in when you make a BoltBus reservation, as you’ll only get credit that way.
Peter Pan Perks Rewards
Peter Pan was a Greyhound Lines company until 2017 and currently serves the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
Its loyalty program is called Peter Pan Perks Rewards. Signing up is free, but the perks are pretty slim. You’ll get $1 in Perks Reward for every $50 spent. After becoming a member, you can get monthly travel deals sent to you and emails about sales for rewards members only.
If BestBus seems familiar, that’s because it was formerly named DC2NY. The company serves stops in New York City, Washington and Northern Virginia.
BestBus rewards program
BestBus has two membership tiers: free and VIP, which costs $49 per year. The free membership earns 1x per dollar spent while the VIP membership earns 2x. As a free member, you can reschedule your trip up to 12 hours before departure, while VIP members can reschedule within two hours.
Redeeming points is easy. You will need to redeem 8 points for every dollar of the ticket price. That means a $34 cash ticket between New York and Washington’s Dupont Circle would cost you 272 points.
Keep in mind that third-party bookings through Groupon, Amazon Deals, or LivingSocial don’t earn points.
Go Buses Rewards
Go Buses serves destinations along the East Coast, including smaller communities like Tysons Corner in Virginia and Greenbelt, Maryland. Its loyalty program, Go Buses Rewards, is one of the most comprehensive bus loyalty programs around.
Go Buses Rewards has four elite tiers: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. You can become a Bronze member after spending just $1, while top-tier Platinum requires $301 or more. As a rewards member, you’ll get free wi-fi and bottled water, no luggage fees and emailed offers.
Go Buses members can also make changes to their itineraries, and Silver, Gold and Platinum can use points to pay for part of their trip. Platinum members also have access to priority boarding.
Every time you book a ticket with Go Buses, you’ll earn 100 points for every $1 spent, and you can redeem starting at 1,000 points per $1. That means you’ll have enough points for an award redemption after spending just $10.
Unfortunately, the company paused service in August due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s unclear when Go Buses will resume operations.
FlixBus is a popular bus service in Europe launched in the U.S. in 2018. It doesn’t have a loyalty program, but fares are pretty cheap with seats on routes like Los Angeles to San Francisco, starting at $20 one-way.
Virtually every major bus company has adopted COVID-19 protocols requiring passengers to wear a mask during transit.
Megabus says it cleans buses daily and guarantees an empty seat next to all customers through the end of September. OurBus has capped capacity at 50 percent and will participate in contract tracing if a person on its buses tests positive. Meanwhile, BestBus is conducting temperature for riders.
Additionally, Greyhound and BoltBus won’t accept masks with valves or vents, bandanas unsecured under the chin, and plastic face shields without a mask.
Peter Pan, on the other hand, isn’t capping seats on its buses.
Best cards for bus travel
Before you book your next bus trip, make sure you’re using a credit card to maximize your purchase. Here are the best cards to use for bus purchases:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: 2x points on travel
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: 3x points on travel
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: 3x points on the first $150,000 in combined spending (including travel) each account anniversary year
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: 3x points on travel, dining, gas stations and select streaming services
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: 2x miles on all purchases
The Wells Fargo Propel card is no longer available for new applicants. The information for this card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
As I said above, bus travel isn’t for everyone. Buses can feel cramped even if companies are instituting social distancing policies. Many routes are nonstop, but those that aren’t can involve long periods at grim rest stops along the highway. Some rewards programs won’t offer much value outside of the occasional discount, while others like Go Buses or Greyhound offer substantial perks for its most loyal customers.
But if you’re looking for a cheap alternative to air or train travel, and you’re fine sacrificing comfort to get to where you need to go, bus travel could be a reliable method of transportation.
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