Quick escapes from New York City by bus

There’s nothing quite like stepping off the bus onto the street of a new city on a Friday night to face its new sights, sounds, and smells.

We like to get out of New York for the weekend from time to time, and the cheaper and quicker we can do it, the more time and money we have left to spend on food, sights, and the next weekend getaway. That’s why we often travel by bus. The bus has had a renaissance as of late, with cheaper tickets and more competition leading to a virtuous cycle of more and better service.

I have to say, I like the train, when it’s convenient and we can afford it, though the bus station is often similarly located and less expensive, with a wider variety of destinations.


In order to maximize our vacation time, our primary considerations for any mode are:

  • Trip time. We like to take trips that can be completed in a few hours, so that we can depart after work and arrive with some time to enjoy the evening.
  • Stops. If we can find a nonstop, that’s the best, though sometimes having an extra stop can work in your favor, e.g. on our way up to Syracuse, the 3:45pm bus always stops at Syracuse University, which saves time getting to our final destination.
  • Connections. We avoid connections if at all possible, since it’s one more thing to coordinate that could go wrong.
  • Local transit. The best destinations are either walkable or connected to public transit when you arrive. Luckily, we live in the Northeast, where the larger cities have both. If we have to rent a car upon arrival, we don’t travel by bus, we leave by car.
  • Cost. Generally, we like to pay $20-30 each way, per person. Any more and it’s something we feel the need to plan out and schedule instead of a spur-of-the-moment decision.
  • Reliability. Good transit has backup when something goes wrong. That’s why we tend to take Greyhound, which has spare drivers and buses, instead of Megabus or the Chinatown bus, which do not.


Given these considerations, we always return to a handful of places:

  • Philadelphia (2 hrs, $10-15). Great food and beer, cheap hotels, tons of history, and the closest big city to New York.
  • Washington, DC (4.5 hrs, $15-25). Amazing free museums and monuments, cheap hotels over holiday weekends, good food, beautiful neighborhoods, slightly better weather.
  • Syracuse, NY (5-6 hrs, $35-45). Great food, nature, and good people. My parents and a number of friends live here, though you really need a car or a bicycle, depending on the weather, to enjoy it fully.
  • Boston (4.5-5 hrs, $25). Walkable downtown, tons of Revolutionary War-era history though different than Philadelphia, beautiful university campuses and neighborhoods. Slightly harder to find a hotel, from what I recall.
  • Montreal (8-9 hrs, $60). Feels like you’re in another country because you are, interesting food (poutine), Canada’s curious use of the 20-oz imperial pint when serving beer, tons of arts and culture including weekly festivals during the summer months. No other city I know enjoys their short summer months more than Montreal. This also happens to be the longest direct bus that you can take from New York.

This is just an overview. I’ll be taking on each of these destinations in the future (as well as a return to Montreal).

Good luck planning your next escape from New York. Let me know your favorite destinations in the comments.



Greyhound Road Rewards offers great value

Greyhound Road Rewards may be the best value travel rewards program out there, yet it flies under the radar because it doesn’t have the high profile of its own credit cards and internet shopping portals. It offers plenty of free travel — companion passes, discounts, and free tickets — at a low entry point.

Sign-up is simple and online and will give you your Road Rewards number. You start collecting rewards immediately. I explain the fare types, rewards, how to earn free travel, and other considerations below.

Fare Classes

Greyhound offers three fare classes, which are:

  • Economy: 1 point for each one-way trip (2 points round-trip)
    • $20 fee to rebook
  • Economy Extra: 2 points for each one-way trip (4 points round-trip)
    • Free same-day exchange or $20 fee to rebook
    • Priority boarding
  • Flexible: 3 points for each one-way trip (6 points round-trip)
    • Fully refundable
    • Priority boarding

If you book as a group, you can enter your Road Rewards number for both on the booking screen and earn points for members of the party.

Road Rewards

Rewards are given according to the following schedule:

Sign-up: 10% off
6 Points: Companion pass, 15% off, 10% off food
10 Points: Companion pass, 20% off
16 Points: Free ticket anywhere

That means, conservatively, after Economy 3 round-trips you’ll earn a free companion fare, then again after your 5th, and a free ticket after your 8th round-trip, not even taking into account the periodic smaller 10-20% discounts given. Greyhound also offers periodic seasonal discounts via email.

Once you reach 16 points, you’ll start over at 0 to repeat the cycle.

Earning Free Travel

I generally purchase the Economy tickets and let the rewards build up slowly, 2 points per trip to be exact, but I have reconsidered recently, for the following reason — and this is an extreme example because upgrades often cost much less:


Given that 6 points will earn a companion pass, the extra $22 you’d spend above to upgrade to Flexible will give you 4 points or 2/3 of a companion pass, i.e. $33 for a full companion pass. Since one full-price round-trip ticket is around $70, paying $33 for a companion pass would be a savings of over 50% for that second ticket.

I went to purchase tickets for Thanksgiving, which were already quite expensive, and the price differential between Economy and Flexible was only $3! That means for an extra $3, I earned 2/3 of another free ticket, plus the added benefit of free exchange or cancellation.

While the New York to Syracuse route may be our most frequent, Greyhound offers frequent service to Washington, DC, Boston, and even Montreal, among other cities.

Companion or free fares can be earned via travel on less expensive routes and redeemed for longer or non-stop routes, as we did on our overnight trip to Montreal. While 6-8 hours is usually my limit in a bus, if you wanted you could even use your rewards travel to Florida.


The points and redemption structure is miles simpler than the airlines, though there are a few key caveats:

  • Tickets must be purchased online to receive the best rate
  • Points are only awarded after the trip has been taken
  • Any accrued points expire on the one-year anniversary of sign-up, so you’ll start over at 0, though you’ll keep your rewards
  • Rewards have an expiration date based on when they were earned. Details are available here
  • Greyhound’s ticketing policy includes an extra charge if the ticket purchaser isn’t part of the traveling party
  • Travelers on free or companion fares do not earn points


Greyhound’s Road Rewards policy is simple to understand and start earning rewards. Its structure allows some sweet spots, for example, earning rewards on shorter trips and redeeming for longer or more expensive routes.

It really shines if you take the bus often and tend to travel as a couple or with a friend, since companion passes are easy to earn and frequent. It’s also free to sign up and use.

In conclusion, sign up, you lose nothing and will receive great benefits.

Greyhound is underrated

If you’re like me and you consider getting the best possible price and route on trip tickets is a kind of game to “win”, then let me introduce you to the most undervalued choice on the travel market: Greyhound.

Greyhound. I know, the name conjures up dingy bus stations, panhandlers, and slow rides shared with dozens of strangers. I can’t promise to get around the “dozens of strangers” part, which is also part of air and train travel, though I can promise you won’t miss the security line or ride to and from the airport.

Greyhound’s negative brand equity is what has led to the boom of curbside bus operators like Megabus, Bolt Bus, and even the Chinatown bus. Bolt Bus, arguably the best-run curbside service, is in fact a rebranded joint venture with Greyhound and Peter Pan. But the ‘Hound has reformed, and in fact offers many overlooked advantages, including price.

This is not to say that I won’t take other services if they offer a great fare or convenient pick-up or drop-off location. My point is, all else equal, I’ll take Greyhound, and if the price is better which it often is, I’ll do so happily.

Back-up buses and drivers

If you’ve ever broken down in a Megabus or a Chinatown bus, I’m sorry. I’ve heard the stories of being stranded in a rest stop in New Jersey because the Chinatown bus broke down. About the worst I’ve fared is stopping in Jersey as the driver filled the tank with $120 of gas.

Greyhound has bus pools and spare drivers across the country. Other bus companies keep their prices low by skimping on this infrastructure.

Experienced drivers

You know the stereotype of the middle-aged bus driver with his sweater vest and moustache? Given the choice, it’s great that my driver has 20+ years of experience and a union contract that requires rest breaks.

Extensive routes

Ever need to go to Cortland, NY from New York City? Me either, but I’m glad that Greyhound offers service to less in-demand cities, should I ever decide to go there.

In-person customer service

Figuring out why discount bus carriers are late is a mess. They give you an 800 number to call if there is an issue. Greyhound has a ticket desk, where at least if they are unable to help, they can tell you face-to-face.

Indoor stations

This one has its pluses and minuses, as I mentioned the sad state of many bus stations is what scared many people off Greyhound in the first place. It is, however, really nice to wait for your bus indoors when its snowing or raining.

A truly great rewards program

The Road Rewards program, which rolled out last year, offers 20% off coupons, companion fares, food discounts, and even free tickets, all based on the number of trips you’ve taken. To date, I’ve earned and used two companion fares, one to go round-trip for two to Syracuse for $80, and the other to go to Montreal for $120 for two, with an upcoming trip for two over Thanksgiving for $99.

As other travel rewards plans devalue their points, Greyhound has added value. The companion vouchers used to be ineligible for redemption within New York State and to/from New York City, but the policy has recently changed to include all stations, New York included.

Well-maintained buses

Has your bus company ever been shut down (twice) by a federal safety investigation? While they may not always have the promised wi-fi or plugs, they are often quite nice, usually with leather seats. 


On price, convenience, and safety, consider Greyhound next time you’re comparing your trip options. Quick, before the secret is out!

Not a Train: Taking Greyhound NYC to Montreal

Take the bus to Montreal. It’s direct, it’s frequent, and it can be done last-minute. While riding the Jazz Train is still on my bucket list, we headed up to Montreal over the Fourth of July long weekend by Greyhound, which was relatively efficient and a great deal. Here are the details:

Trip time: 8-9 hours
Cost: $120 round-trip ($60 if companion fare LINK)
Amenities: Wi-Fi, Power Outlet, seat with Paola (wife)

On the weekend we chose, July 1-4, the once-daily 10-hour Penn Station-Montreal Amtrak route, roughly $150 round-trip, was already sold out. Holiday weekend, it figures.

Greyhound it was, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as you’d expect for 8 hours in a vehicle, definitely an improvement over a car, since Montreal is more of a biking, walking, and transit city where I’d rather not search for parking. Here are the details:


Greyhound has 12 daily departures direct to Montreal from NYC, roughly on an hourly basis. We chose the 11pm departure, which arrived late at roughly 8am.

On the return trip to New York there are 13 daily departures on a Sunday, with most buses either before 9am (for daytime arrivals) or after 9pm (for overnight, arriving in the early morning). We chose the lone 5:15pm bus, arriving at 1am.


Port Authority is one of my least favorite places in New York City, but I will begrudgingly admit that it is convenient. Its dungeon-like bus loading areas enter and exit directly into the Lincoln Tunnel, saving time in traffic.

On this particular evening, which was Friday, July 1, i.e. Canada Day, we were roughly 45 people back when we arrived at 10:15, 45 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. As we waited the line behind us doubled, and then wrapped around the back wall and tripled. Amazing. There were about 150 people in line for Montreal.

Luckily, we caught a seat on the first bus after a lengthy process in which a Greyhound attendant checked each and every passenger’s passport and travel documents and stamped their ticket. He informed me that the bus company is fined thousands of dollars for each infraction at the border, so they carry out this a pre-departure check.


Paola bought us those funny travel neck pillows that everyone has these days, only ours were made of memory foam and fleece-lined. Bus seats aren’t the most comfortable, but they’re bearable if you can lean or sleep on your fellow passenger and have some neck support.

We stopped briefly in Albany at 2am to refuel, which was announced in advance, and I felt we had stepped back in time to the 1980s. Everyone filed off the bus, waited in the fluorescent glow of the bus terminal, and then filed back on.

At 5am, we reached the Canadian border. Little did we know, we would spend the next two hours there waiting to go through customs. Three customs agents in a little shack processing bus after bus of travelers, 50 passengers at a time. As the sun came up we waited, and waited. It took an hour and a half in line and then 30 minutes to get through at the border, after unloading all of our belongings and taking them inside.


The Gare d’Autocars sounds classy in the way that French can when you don’t speak it. It’s right next to downtown Montreal and on top of the Berri-UQAM station, which is the central node in Montreal’s subway station. It’s clean, light-filled, new and easy to reach from anywhere.

Departure from Montreal

Given the pergatory-like feeling you get in Port Authority, it’s never too fun to arrive early for a bus. Montreal’s station is light, clean, has amusement park-like line dividers, and is a pleasant experience. We arrived 30 minutes early for our 5:15pm departure and were in an even better position than we had departing New York. A quick document check and we were off, together with a dozen choice Canadian craft beers from Dieu du Ciel as souvenirs.

Return to New York

Believe it or not, the return trip only lasted 8 hours. We arrived at the US-Canada border and the new and well-staffed Customs and Border Patrol post processed us quickly and efficiently with 5 agents on staff and others standing by. We were asked to leave everything on the bus, which probably saved us another 10 minutes at the border.

If border crossing was a hockey match, Team USA won this one.

Our preoccupied bus driver, hoping to make it home to catch his last train home, brought us safe and sound into Port Authority at 1am, 45 minutes ahead of schedule. This left us enough time to rush home and get a normal night of sleep before work on Tuesday morning.