The phrase “It’s like comparing apples and oranges” is often thrown around when comparing two things. While often abused, the expression is definitely safe to pull out when considering Amtrak vs. Greyhound!
Other than the fact that both get you from point A to point B, they both offer vastly different modes of travel. But which is better, Amtrak or Greyhound?
Generally, Greyhound surpasses Amtrak in only two areas — route availability and (sometimes) price. The two are roughly matched when it comes to travel delays. While Amtrak is drastically better when it comes to comfort, amenities, safety, and cleanliness, limited routes makes it unsuitable for all situations.
But don’t take my word for it. Let’s dive into each aspect and look at some hard data.
First, let’s examine the price difference between Amtrak and Greyhound.
While many people believe that Amtrak is unambiguously more expensive than Greyhound, this isn’t always the case. In fact, if there is an Amtrak station nearby in the destination city, the prices for coach are comparable — being within 20% of the Greyhound price.
Reserving a private room on Amtrak will naturally cause the price gap to grow, but this option isn’t even available for Greyhound buses.
Let’s take a look at some hard numbers about the two services for some common routes.
|Trip (One-way)||Distance||Amtrak Price||Greyhound Price|
|New York, NY to Washington D.C.||230 miles||$29-$257||$38-$58|
|Chicago, IL to San Francisco, CA||2,127 miles||$226-$1605||$214-$281|
|Memphis, TN to New Orleans, LA||395 miles||$51-$207||$42-$63|
|Philadelphia, PA to Charlotte, NC||540 miles||$92-$403||$92-$135|
|Seattle, WA to Portland, OR||175 miles||$27-$186||$23-$33|
As you can see, for these popular destinations the prices are pretty much identical. However, what if there isn’t an Amtrak station nearby? This is where things get interesting.
At this point, you’re pigeonholed into one of two situations:
- Amtrak simply doesn’t serve the area you’re trying to travel.
- You can get service via Amtrak Thruway, but the price will increase accordingly.
There’s not much we can do about situation #1 — you’ll just have to find alternative travel arrangements. But let’s take a look at a price comparison for situation #2. Let’s try to answer the question “How much more expensive is Amtrak Thruway than Greyhound?”
|Trip (One-way)||Distance||Amtrak Price||Greyhound Price|
|Portland, OR to Las Vegas, NV||968 miles||$175-$545||$172-$224|
|New York, NY to Bangor, ME||441 miles||$114-$265||$43-$61|
|Boise, ID to Seattle, WA||494 miles||$96-$341||$78-$110|
Generally, Amtrak will be between 30% and 100%+ more expensive than Greyhound in cities without an Amtrak station. When this is your situation, the choice between Greyhound and Amtrak is certainly less clear.
However, price is not the only metric to optimize for. Sometimes it makes sense to pay a little extra if it means an outsized impact on comfort and amenities.
Advantages and Disadvantages
I’ll go ahead and tell you — Amtrak drastically surpasses Greyhound in every aspect of comfort (even for coach passengers). When I discussed “apples and oranges” at the beginning of the article, these were the apples and oranges to which I was referring.
With that being said, there are pros and cons to each service. Let’s dive in and explore the details.
Greyhound Pros and Cons
When choosing to ride a Greyhound, here are the disadvantages likely to impact your comfort:
- You will be stuck on a bus for hours, usually with a complete stranger sitting next to you.
- No assigned seating is available — everything is first come, first serve.
- The only way you can stretch your legs is by going to the bathroom and back.
- When going to the bathroom, be prepared for a litany of unfortunate smells.
- You must bring your own food (or buy food at Greyhound stops).
- Greyhound stops can be in rough, high-crime neighborhoods.
- Customers report online that the Wi-Fi often malfunctions.
With that being said, there are a few advantages to mention.
- The leather seats aboard are comfortable and can recline
- Each seat has a personal power outlet to charge your electronic devices.
- The Wi-Fi, although spotty, is completely free.
- They allow you to bring food onto the bus to eat and some Greyhound stops have restaurants nearby.
- There are no middle seats, so you don’t have to worry about facing that discomfort.
- Ample overhead storage exists above each row of seats.
- At least a restroom exists on the bus, preventing you from having to get off unnecessarily.
For shorter trips especially, this list is often adequate. For folks who don’t mind roughing it, these spartan amenities provide just enough to make the journey tolerable. However, sometimes you actually want to enjoy the trip as you’re getting to the destination.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some pros and cons of Amtrak.
Amtrak travel is meant to be comfortable. It should come as no surprise then that the list of amenities and advantages is much longer than Greyhound.
- Amtrak offers reclining seats in each passenger car, at each ticket level.
- You can pick which seat you want when you purchase a ticket.
- There are also personal power outlets so you can charge and use your devices.
- They offer reliable, free Wi-Fi on every ride.
- The dining car offers meals three times per day, as well as a wide assortment of beverages.
- Private rooms with beds and bathrooms are an option, allowing you and another rider to have some privacy and get some rest.
- A dedicated “quiet car” exists, enabling riders to enjoy peace along the route.
- Observation cars have floor-to-ceiling windows and offer breathtaking views along the trip.
While there are disadvantages to train travel in general, there aren’t many things to mention when comparing Amtrak to Greyhound. Regular delays are certainly negatives, but they’re not unique to Amtrak.
Speaking of seating, let’s take a look at where you’ll be spending the hours depending on which mode of transportation you pick.
Amtrak vs. Greyhound Seating Comparison
Like most of the aspects of travel between Amtrak and Greyhound, there is no direct comparison when it comes to seating. The closest we can get is Amtrak coach vs. standard Greyhound seating. So that’s where we’ll start.
However, Amtrak offers seating upgrades that may completely change a rider’s experience on the ride. We’ll include details about those afterwards so you can determine whether the upgrades are worth it for you.
Greyhound bus seats are made of comfortable leather and recline far enough back to be suitable for sleeping. Additionally, they have ample legroom and a footrest. Much thought has been given to make them as comfortable as possible given the constraints.
Unlike many airplanes, Greyhound buses lack a middle seat. This is great news, as Greyhound does not offer assigned seating — it’s first come, first serve. However, upgrading your ticket allows you to board first. An early boarding group means you’ll have your pick before everyone else gets on.
Amtrak Coach Seating
Seats in Amtrak coach are also made of comfortable leather and they recline far enough back to be suitable for sleeping. They have a comfortable amount of legroom and you choose your seat when you buy your ticket.
This means no worrying about where you may sit (or who may end up sitting by you!). Like Greyhound, there’s no middle seat to worry about.
Generally, Amtrak coach cars have 72-84 seats — about 30-50% more than intercity buses. While they fit more people in a single car, there is still ample space for stretching out.
However, riding Coach in Amtrak is not the only option. If you spend a bit more money, you can have greater comfort in business class.
Amtrak Business Class Seating
Business class on Amtrak is an attractive option for customers who want more amenities without incurring the high cost of private rooms or roomettes. But what extra amenities does business class offer you?
In addition to priority boarding, Amtrak business class gives the traveler extra legroom, complimentary non-alcoholic drinks, and discounted lounge access. This is all in a dedicated car at the far end of the train, ensuring a low amount of traffic. The added cost deters travelers with children from picking these seats, so they tend to be quieter.
But all of these amenities begs the question — how much more can a traveler expect to pay in Amtrak business class? Generally, business class costs between $30 and $100 more than coach.
But business class isn’t the peak of Amtrak amenities. Let’s take a look at roomettes.
Amtrak Roomettes and Private Rooms
Now we’re getting into the higher end of Amtrak travel. Roomettes and private rooms offer a cozy but comfortable and quiet option for travelers who can spend the extra money. Not only do you get a private space where you can stretch out, but there are many other amenities to note.
From the Amtrak website, roomettes and private rooms give you the following:
- Two reclining seats which convert to a bed and an upper bunk that folds down
- All dinning car meals included for roomette occupants
- Personal room attendant – turn down, coffee and bedding
- Reading lights
- Climate control
- Garment rack
- Fresh towels and bed linens
- Bottles of water
Private rooms have an even bigger landscape window while also adding on a toilet, shower, sink, and vanity mirror. You even get an arm chair!
The costs are very prohibitive though. Private rooms on longer routes can set you back thousands of dollars.
Availability is the one area on the list of comparison items that Greyhound truly shines.
As of this writing, there are 230 Greyhound stations with over 2,700 destinations. This nationwide network of possible destinations means increased flexibility for travel plans. For comparison, Amtrak only has 500 available destinations. In other words, Greyhound has over 5 times more locations to travel to than Amtrak.
Frequency & Travel Time
One other consideration when choosing between Amtrak and Greyhound is the frequency of departing trains/buses. This is mostly important for spur of the moment excursions, but frequency can also be a proxy for how healthy a given route is.
Unfortunately from my research, frequency is a mixed bag. How often a train or bus leaves from a station depends on a number of factors. Greyhound and Amtrak will both be better or worse than the other depending on the location at hand.
Travel time, however, is a different matter.
I’ll go ahead and lay it out — both Amtrak and Greyhound experience significant delays. The nature of the delays are quite different though.
Unsurprisingly, Greyhound delays are caused primarily by issues on the highway. Car accidents, traffic congestion, and road work can all prompt hefty delays in a route’s schedule. Less often, mechanical failures and bus maintenance cause delays.
Make no mistake — there’s a good chance that your bus will not arrive on time. The longer your trip, the more severe these delays will be. This is just an unfortunate truth of bus travel.
To prepare, I would schedule your trip with at least a day padding before any obligations. Do not schedule a cross country trip with you arriving a couple of hours before a wedding. There’s little hope of you making it there in time to see the bride and groom walk down the aisle.
Amtrak delays still occur often, but they’re caused by a different issue altogether. Passenger trains must yield to freight trains on rail lines. The more freight trains on a given route, the more your itinerary will be obstructed.
To get an idea of how common this is, check out the Amtrak Northeast Alerts twitter account and notice how often delays happen. Although it’s limited to the northeast, you can see that there are sometimes dozens of incidents per day.
The same advice goes for Amtrak trains — leave yourself plenty of breathing room in your schedule to account for the setbacks.
While Amtrak is generally regarded as safe, Greyhound tends to have a reputation otherwise. This is largely unwarranted, as very few incidents happen on Greyhound buses. However, Greyhounds do tend to attract a rougher clientele than Amtrak.
This isn’t to say that it’s any more dangerous, but the low price tag can often attract desperate people.
Many customers have reported thievery, drug use, and aggressive passengers. Unfortunately, this kind of thing does happen. If it happens to you, be sure to report the behavior to the driver. They can contact proper authorities and the situation will be handled.
With that being said, you’re unlikely to be in any sort of physical danger while riding on a Greyhound bus.
In conclusion, Greyhound is a fantastic choice if you need to get somewhere and you’re tight on cash. Amtrak tends to have more comfort and amenities and can sometimes (but not always) cost more in return.
Whichever mode of transportation you choose for your next trip, I hope that your travels are safe and memorable!