When you think of taking a bus in the U.S., the picture’s not always a pleasant one. Crowded coaches, long delays and sketchy stops have long given bus travel here a bad rap.
But is the perceived shame of hopping a bus behind us? Luxury bus operators are banking on yes. From wine service to private suites to motion-canceling seats, the emerging luxury bus industry is working to defy the stigma of bus travel in America.
"It really is a different experience than what people are used to with coach and with ground transportation," explained Daniel Aronov, founder and CEO of Napaway, a new luxury sleeper bus line that runs from D.C. to Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee.
On the Napaway, riders are treated to a suite with a privacy shade and two seats that convert into a single bed. They’ll also get pillows, blankets, wifi and onboard entertainment. The bus departs from D.C. around 10 p.m. and arrives in Tennessee the next morning. Tickets start at $125 each way and fluctuate based on demand.
Napaway sleeper bus (Napaway)
On board The Jet, another new luxury bus line that runs from D.C. to New York City, you’ll find the world’s first "motion-canceling" seats, originally designed by BOSE Audio using the same technology as their noise-canceling headphones. For $99 one way, riders of The Jet will also get food and beverage service, luxury bathrooms, extra legroom and fast wifi, among other amenities.
"We like to call it the very first true first-class motor coach company, very much like a first-class experience on an international flight or private jet ... but because it’s still a bus we’re able to do it at a very affordable price point," said Chad Scarborough, The Jet’s founder and CEO.
The rise of luxury bus lines
RedCoach luxury bus (RedCoach)
For companies like RedCoach, which operates routes in Florida and Texas, the concept of luxury bus travel is nothing new. RedCoach opened in the U.S. 12 years ago, and its parent company has been in business in Argentina for more than 50 years.
"In the beginning, it was really hard, because people didn’t quite get the concept of luxury bus travel. You would think luxury and bus would never go together; it was a last resource," said Florencia Cirigliano, vice president of marketing and sales at RedCoach. "We came in trying to change that mindset."
Today, RedCoach is one of numerous operators, each offering a little something different. In Texas, RedCoach runs in Austin, College Station, Dallas, Houston, Katy, Richardson and San Antonio. In Florida, you can ride a RedCoach in 16 cities, including Orlando, Tampa and Miami.
On RedCoach, it’s about affordability and comfort, not the amenities you’ll see on Napaway or The Jet. There are fewer seats than a standard coach, and all of them are custom-made, recline 140 degrees and come with leg rests. Tickets start at $29 one way and have three tiers: economy, business and first class.
"We focus on a bigger audience," Cirigliano said. "We believe the most important part of the service is the seat, to be comfortable, to have reliable wifi, and for your outlets to work. Pretty much that’s all you need for just a few hours. We focus on safe stops, cameras on the buses, things like that."
‘Not just a trend’
The Jet luxury bus line from DC to NYC (The Jet)
So why is bus travel becoming more socially acceptable now? There are several factors, operators say. With the headaches and cost of pandemic-era air travel, luxury bus lines bill themselves as a more affordable and more convenient alternative.
"We have new generations," Cirigliano said. "People don’t want to be in their cars. They’re more open to other options. If you give them quality options, most of the companies, the way they grow is word of mouth, like, ‘oh, if you took the bus I’ll give it a try.’"
Operators also credit international, low-cost lines, like German-based FlixBus, that have expanded to the U.S. in recent years.
"They opened up perspectives, more people were trying it," Aronov, said. "That opens the door for the higher-end and the premium services."
All three companies said they have plans to expand in the near future — The Jet has its sights set on Philadelphia and Baltimore — and they all welcome more competition and more routes.
"I think the more companies that get into this space the better off we are, because we still have to get past this stigma people have against buses," Scarborough said. "What you’re able to do with a motor coach is very unique with the high level of service you can provide at an affordable price point ... I think that’s why you’re starting to see them catch on nationwide."
"We believe that luxury affordable bus travel is not just a trend," Cirigliano said.