BOOK: Autumn Escapes in the Pacific Northwest

I Took the Bolt Bus for $1

by Lauren Braden

in Trip Ideas

A few weeks ago, I awoke at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning. I packed a small overnight bag, got a lift to Seattle’s International District, and waited on a street corner. In my hand was a bus ticket that cost me a dollar. That’s right – $1.00. And then I boarded a shiny black bus and it took me to Portland.

Maybe you’ve already caught some of the buzz around the new BoltBus connecting Seattle to Portland and now Seattle to Vancouver. Fares range from $1 for a one-way ticket to $13 (the highest I’ve seen so far). I bought my round-trip ticket from Seattle-Portland online as soon as I heard BoltBus was making its Northwest debut. My fare for the first leg was $1 and my return trip was $6. Yes, I went from Seattle to Portland and back for seven bucks.

My Sunday morning departure time was 8:30 am, and they ask that you be there 15 minutes prior to board. I was, and so was everyone else, though the bus was only at half capacity. The driver was downright cheerful and definitely sober. “Welcome to the BoltBus!” he said with a smile. I stowed my bag in the under-bus storage compartment and boarded, finding myself a seat somewhere in the middle of the bus.

BoltBus is clearly going head to head with Amtrak, offering a comparable experience in comfort and convenience at a much lower price. The Seattle-Portland round-trip on Amtrak usually costs me around $40, so $7 on the BoltBus was a total bargain. As for the comfort and convenience? Pretty darned close.

I had a whole seat to myself, which was grand. The seats are black leather, have arm rests and recline. There are cup holders and foot rests on most of the seats, though I realized too late that the seat I’d chosen for myself had no foot rest. Nor did my seat have an electrical outlet, though most did. When my iPhone needed a charge-up (and iPhones always do) I had to bother the lady across the aisle to use her outlet. She didn’t seem to mind.

I’d say the BoltBus seats are roomier than airplane coach but nowhere near first class. My biggest complaint was that there was no tray table. The free wifi was strong enough to get some work done, but my laptop was literally on my lap. The BoltBus could really use some tray tables.

Unlike Greyhound (BoltBus’s parent company) the trip is a straight shot. On the Sunday morning of my trip down to PDX, we arrived downtown in just under three hours, and there were no stops along the way. On the return trip, however, the bus made a 15-minute stop midway back to Seattle at a gas station / convenience store. It was nice to buy some sweet-tarts and coffee, though I’m not sure the trip warrants such a long rest stop, especially because there’s a bathroom on the bus. That said, using the bathroom while the bus was doing 70 on the interstate was WAY more challenging than going on an airplane, so I suppose a rest stop is worth the time lost to some.

BoltBus says that every ride has $1 fares available. I imagine that the more time you allow when booking your trip, the greater chance you will have getting the cheapest fare.

Would I ride the BoltBus again? Absolutely, especially if I could get a really cheap rate. I hate driving, and gas is well over $4.00 a gallon in the Northwest. But if the BoltBus round-trip fare was within $10 of what it would cost me to take Amtrak, you’d find me on the train. I’m a sucker for scenery.

 

UPDATE: BoltBus launched service from Portland to Eugene and Albany in October 2013.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Lynne June 8, 2012 at 11:52 pm

I would have loved to hear what you did once you arriced in Portland. Where did you stay, how did you get there, and how did you get around to see the sights? I always enjoy hearing it all, makes it much easier to do it myself too.

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Lauren June 9, 2012 at 7:50 am

Hi Lynne, Thanks for your feedback. I will be writing more about my trip soon, including how I got a 4-star hotel right downtown for $69 using Priceline and how to use public transit in Portland. For now, you will find previous articles on where to stay, eat and things to do in Portland here: http://nwtripfinder.com/oregon/portland/

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Caanan @ No Vacation Required June 10, 2012 at 8:24 am

This is great news. We will certainly be keeping this in mind for trips to Portland. However, we will probably not take the bus to Vancouver BC again. Going through customs with a bus full of people can be excruciatingly slow.

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sha August 3, 2012 at 2:36 am

Unfortunately, I have been unable to reproduce your insanely cheap experience anywhere in the pacific northwest! I have looked for tickets as far as a month out ahead of time, and as little as one day (which by the way, is usually sold out, especially for weekends!). I was actually pretty surprised to see that the bus was sold out going to portland friday august 3rd, for example, given how relatively new the bus is as well as the fact that I had never seen advertisement for it, let alone heard of it!

Now down to prices: Looking out even a month ahead did not help. Really, the dates had very little to do with pricing, other than the fact that Friday pricing was generally most expensive, followed by Sunday, then Saturday, and of course weekdays after that. I still didnt find any tickets near $1…the cheapest tickets to portland that I found were $6.00 on a wednesday 2.5 weeks away, leaving at 8:30 pm and arriving near midnight!

Other than that, tickets basically felt like greyhound, around $20-40 depending on time of day, day of week, and [I'm assuming] how full or empty the bus was. But expect to not get the fare much cheaper than $20. One way. Not outrageous, but certainly not as great of a deal as I was hoping to find after reading this review.

I’ll defiintely keep bolt bus bookmarked, and check again the next time I need to go to oregon or BC. hopefully the trip will be cheaper when i really need it.

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Lauren August 3, 2012 at 5:51 am

sha, Thanks for taking the time to share your experience so that others can read about it.

I think the cheap fares on BOLTbus are very much a case of “the early bird gets the worm,” particularly so during the busiest travel month in the Northwest. BOLTbus promises a fixed number of low fares on every trip, and those are first-come, first-served. When the BOLTbus first launched here in late May, they stated “One-way fares start at $1, plus a booking fee. The highest fare will adjust based on market demand.” The fact that you are finding August bus trips to be full or near-capacity on weekends suggests that market demand arrived quickly for them.

The tricky thing is, BOLTbus only posts their schedule about five weeks out so to get those cheap fares you have to be on it. The latest date you could book today as I write this this is Wednesday, September 6th. There is a $6 fare available that day, so the $1 fares on that day’s trips must have already sold. It is market demand. I predict that come October it will be much easier to snag a cheaper fare less than five weeks out.

Like I stated above, if the fares were within $10 one-way of what it would cost me to take Amtrak, I would definitely choose Amtrak; it’s more fun, reliable, scenic and doesn’t get stuck in highway traffic.

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raul October 9, 2013 at 10:22 am

I don’t think they are a dollar any more.

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Lauren Braden October 9, 2013 at 10:35 am

Raul, They have absolutely reduced the number of $1 fares they offer per trip. It seems it was and still is a marketing campaign. Here’s Bolt Bus’s current official statement on the $1 fare:

How do I get a $1.00 ticket?
Every schedule will sell at least one $1.00 ticket. The $1.00 ticket will be sold at random and generally within the first handful of seats sold. The earlier you book your ticket, the greater your odds are of grabbing a seat for a buck.

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BOOK: Autumn Escapes in the Pacific Northwest