By: Josh - Josh@CheapInTheCity.com
November 25, 2008
So you live in the city and you’d like to go visit your best friend in Washington, DC for the weekend, but after looking up train tickets you find that even the “Redeye” leaving Penn Station at 1am, will put you out $60 each way. How can you get down to visit your friend without breaking the bank?
There are a number of discount bus services which go up and down the East Coast between Boston and Washington, DC. These services include the Chinatown Bus, which is actually several different bus companies run out of Chinatown. You load up in Chinatown in New York and are dropped off in Chinatown in DC, Boston, and Philadelphia or wherever else you may be going. Tickets range from $10 each way between New York and Boston, and $15 each way between New York and Washington, DC, if you buy round trip. They usually make a couple of stops along the way, in Philadelphia and/or Baltimore and the cost of a ticket to those cities varies between $8 and $15.
To get tickets, you can Google “Chinatown Bus” and select from the variety of bus lines which come up. Shop around a bit, as you may find a better deal. If you don’t want to buy your tickets in advance, you can simply show up at the loading area, and there are usually a number of buses waiting to pull out. If they fill up, the owners are usually pretty good about getting another bus there ASAP. Don’t be intimidated when you pull up in your cab and are bum rushed by the owners and their employees trying to get you to take THEIR bus. There are usually a few different companies there all trying to get people to get in their bus. Competition is good and I’ve even heard stories of people bidding the price down from $15 to $10. You can try it if you see the buses are not full and about to leave.
MegaBus & BoltBus
If you aren’t so keen on the idea of riding the Chinatown Bus, but still want to save some cash, there have been a number of discount bus services which have popped up over the past few years. Mega Bus is a good example. You may have seen them on the highway advertising $1 bus rides between New York and Washington, DC. This is true when you book well in advance and pay full fare one way. Most of the time, though, you won’t be buying your ticket months in advance. In that case, tickets cost between $15 and $20, one way, depending on where you are going. The buses are nicer and cleaner than the Chinatown buses, but cost a bit more. Be sure to book online!
The Train: Amtrak
If you have the cash, and want to travel to Boston or Washington, DC from New York, your best option is the train. Tickets on Amtrak run between $50 and a couple of hundred dollars each way, depending how far in advance you book the tickets, what time of the year it is, if there is a holiday and what time of the day you book the train for. The cheapest tickets are usually on Saturday evenings. If you book in advance, or with a few friends, you can probably get a ticket on Amtrak from New York to DC, for $55 each ticket, one way. Amtrak also has student discounts, but you have to pay $20 to become a Student Advantage member first. It pays for itself after a couple of trips, though.
The cost of a train ticket may sound kind of expensive, considering it will take you three and a half hours to get from New York to DC. I’ve heard people say “Why should I do that when I can pay $25 more and fly there in 45 minutes?” The main answers to that question are; you don’t have to show up at the train station an hour or two before departure. When flying, there are security check points you must go through and it is often advised to show up at LEAST an hour before your flight. With the train, there are no security check points. You can literally get to the station three minutes before the train leaves and walk straight into the train (if you already have your ticket) and if you don’t already have your ticket, it takes seconds to print them out at one of the Amtrak automated ticket booths. No more waiting in line. Second; the train picks you up from midtown Manhattan and drops you off in the center of your city of destination. No 45 minute, $55 cab rides, plus tip and tolls to the airport. Simply ride the subway to Penn Station and you are there! Not to mention other benefits like being able to stand up and walk around, go to the Café-Car and relax, while you travel. Want to bring food and a bottle of wine on the train with you? No problem! No need to buy expensive food and drink from the Café Car when you can bring your own at a fraction of the price.
If you book in advance and weigh your options, you will see that there are a variety of ways to visit your friends while not breaking the bank.