Bus travel continues to be one of the best transportation bargains during the holidays, according to a policy brief by DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development.
Both airlines and Amtrak enjoy significant pricing power over the Thanksgiving holiday on major routes between 150 and 450 miles. This has allowed these carriers to raise fares to levels significantly higher than during normal periods.
“The price of intercity bus travel is higher during the holidays than at other times,” according to the institute. “Yet, the price difference between buses and trains is now much larger than it was as recently as Memorial Day. This is no doubt encouraging more travelers to consider traveling by bus.”
The Institute makes several predictions for travel for the rest of the year:
Airfares will come down. The cost of flying is likely to come down after Thanksgiving because of lower demand during early and mid-December, as well as during most of January and early February.
“The business traffic that once compensated for the weakness in the pleasure-travel market during these periods is unlikely to materialize to the extent airlines had hoped several months ago,” according to the report. “The tendency for travel during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season to be spread out over a much longer period than Thanksgiving travel will also ameliorate fare increases. These factors will likely offset the high fuel costs facing airlines to the benefit of consumers.”
Amtrak fares will remain higher. Train fares may temporarily drop after the Thanksgiving holiday for the same reasons that airfares will fall. However, the difficulty Amtrak faces in adding capacity due to persistent shortages of rolling stock and the complexities of adding trains at peak times likely will result in prices returning to pre-pandemic levels and, inevitably, more sold-out departures.
Bus fares will continue to provide the best value. Intercity bus fares will remain relatively flat due to rising competition and added schedules on busy routes. Researchers say their analysis suggests that bus fares tend to be quite stable, fluctuating little in response to swings in demand.
“A sharp increase in the schedule options resulting from the expansion by Flixbus and smaller but growing carriers, like OurBus and RedCoach, together with a recovery of the network of routes sold on Greyhound.com, should foster a continuing recovery in bus travel. Over the past year, the growth of bus travel has lagged behind that of air and train travel,” the report said.