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Travel on a Bus? You Bet!

I travel from Orlando to Miami periodically for business. Sometimes I drive the 250 mile route, especially if I plan to travel around the area or make stops along the way. Driving takes a little more time than flying, assuming the flight is not delayed, but driving also is less expensive. My cost for gas and tolls is about $125 round-trip, less than airfare and avoids an expensive rental car fee. Driving or car rental, many hotels (especially in Miami Beach) charge for parking, typically in the $20-35/day range.

If I am just attending a conference or meeting, most often I fly this route but there are downsides here as well. For example, air travel requires a 45-minute ride to the airport, long lines once there (ticketing/TSA/boarding), hikes to ticketing and TSA lines, then the trek to the gate. For most travelers, more pain awaits in the form of narrow seats for cramped flights to your destinations. If you also need a rental car, add that to the budget.

In my book, Business Travel Success: How to Reduce Stress, Be More Productive and Travel with Confidence, I talk about using motor coach as an alternative transportation method but frankly, had not done it myself. On a recent trip to Miami, I decided to give it a try. Since I had no planned stops, I used the opportunity to try out the Red Coach bus line. Billing themselves as “the ultimate ride,” I booked a ticket with this two-year-old company based in Orlando.

The first thing I did was sign up for their loyalty program, which they call Red Riders. All passengers begin at the Red level. The next level, Gold, requires 30,000 points. That’s the equivalent of $3,000 in bus travel. Since my ticket was about $50, the opportunity to reach their Gold level would be remote.

According to their website, Gold gets you “free trips during the month of your birthday, priority boarding, etc.” Okay, free trips could have value but in truth, you do not earn “free trips.” Instead, you earn only one free one-way trip during your birthday month. Priority boarding on a 27-passenger bus with reserved seating is not much of a big deal – and I can’t imagine what the “etc” is – but I suspect there will be some tweaking to this program in the future.

Hardcore bus travelers might make it to Red Coach’s Platinum level, a worthy achievement with few peers since it requires $6,000 in bus travel. Better news, the Red Coach Frequent Rider program is based on a rolling 24-month period (waived for Platinum members). Also, every 5,000 points earns a $50 travel credit voucher.

Their website is splashy but has much room for improvement. For example, when talking about their Red Rider program, a sentence says “Up to 5,000 points you can exchange them for trips.” In another site location, they talk about “Exclusive tool [sic] free service line.” They have a FAQ on their website but unfortunately it wasn’t working; you can see the questions but not the answers.

The bus terminal does not come close to matching the luxury coach but it isn’t seedy either. It is air conditioned and there is some seating available. Snacks are available in a vending machine and they have two restrooms. There is a free water fountain but according to another rider, it is always broken. Bottled water as well as other drinks are available for purchase.

After these flaws, it is mostly uphill. You can expect a full size motor coach with only 27 leather seats that recline approximately 140 degrees. This is far more recline than nearly all first class seats on airlines, except the lie-flat versions. Throw in other amenities like footrests, amazing legroom, free Wi-Fi, onboard movies, power outlets, and a seat table, and you have luxury first class travel.

To keep their prices down, Red Coach had to sacrifice something. If you enjoy having flight attendants bring you food and drink, this bus will be most disappointing. There is no food, water, or snack service at all. Also, don’t expect blankets or pillows.

This bus makes three round trips daily between Orlando and Miami, and there are other routing options available. Tickets can be booked easily online and they allow 24 hours to cancel reservations. After that, it is non-refundable. Somewhat surprising, they do not allow confirmed passengers to change to earlier routes on the same travel day even if seats are available. In other words, no traveling standby or having same day confirmed privileges.

Because their seating is only 1-2 instead of the more common 2-2, each seat is at least as wide as an airline first class seat. There is a lav in the rear of the coach but it is tiny. You would not want to use it more often than necessary but after all, this is only a four-hour trip with at least one stop.

Of course, this is not a perfect form of transportation either. Movies are shown on a few stationary screens but unfortunately, there is no way to control the sound. This is fine if you want to watch the movie. That is, if the sound is loud enough. On my trip down to Miami, I couldn’t understand everything they were saying in the movie because the sound was a bit too low. Of course, if it were louder, some would complain it was too loud. No way to please everyone here.

An advantage for some travelers is no restrictions on phone use. Indeed thanks to the power outlets, you could talk on the entire trip without losing any battery power to your phone. Of course, this may be a disadvantage to other travelers on the bus who really don’t want to listen to someone else’s conversation for hours. Since I was not interested in the movie, I used the time to get some work done. My own headphones were perfect for background music while drowning out the movie and the loquacious passengers on their phones.

The ride down the turnpike was bumpier than I expected, kind of like nonstop moderate turbulence when flying. The only reason this was irritating was when trying to type. Otherwise, it was simply a mild rocking, not too different than what you may feel on a cruise ship.

There were three stops in South Florida before arriving at my final destination, Miami airport. The first was the Ft Pierce rest area on the turnpike. We drove in, stopped for about five seconds, then got back on the turnpike. I asked the driver why we would even bother to get off the turnpike if no one was getting on or getting off. He said it was a marketing thing. Just pulling through the rest area means more people now know about the bus service. Makes sense, I guess.

We did actually stop at the West Palm rest area. The driver said it would be only three minutes but of course, that is not even enough time to walk to the restrooms. The actual stop was about ten minutes. Later he told me the reason he said three minutes was because if had said ten, passengers would take twenty minutes or more. This worked out well for everyone.

The surprise here was that the stops were at the turnpike rest areas and not in the cities. To get here means a ride from to the city, which can be a pretty expensive taxi fare since it will also include the required turnpike tolls to get to the rest area. Nevertheless, the driver claims they often pick up or drop off passengers at these rest stops.

Wi-Fi was a little spotty. At times it was fantastic, a few times it disappeared but overall, pretty good. And I had to try out this 140 degree seat recline. Well, it was as they described. There was ample legroom and the recline did not slide so far into the passenger behind you that forces their knees right up under their chin. Very impressive.

Power outlets on the one-seat side were spaced every other seat. My seat didn’t have one but the seat behind me had two. The laptop cord easily reached the outlet and I used the laptop USB to charge up my phone. Both were fully charged upon arrival. Tip: If you sit on the single-seat side, select an odd-numbered seat to have the power outlet at your feet.

Arriving at the Miami airport, I took the escalator downstairs, jumped into a taxi there, and was on my way to Miami Beach, my ultimate destination. No hiking through the airport from the gate and no waiting for luggage at baggage claim.

However, the bus arrived 45 minutes late. This was due mostly to rush hour traffic and road construction. Both of these factors should have been taken into consideration by Red Coach, but apparently were not. This could be a major problem for those who had flights. My suggestion, allow lots of extra time if you plan to take the bus.

Overall the trip was quite pleasant, taking about the same amount of time as if I had driven myself. However, the bus gave me more time to get work done than I would have had by either driving or flying, with an added bonus of being more comfortable and less expensive than the alternatives. Another nice bonus: Saying goodbye to my husband right at the door of the bus instead of outside an airport. For those on tight budgets or just looking for something different, this definitely should be considered as an optional mode of transportation.

It is currently estimated that business travelers make up only about 15% of bus passengers. As word gets out that bus travel can be this nice, convenient, and inexpensive, I would expect more business travelers to try this out as an alternative way to get around on the ground. Look for more luxury coach services to spring up around the country and try out one of them. There are quite a few advantages.

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