Need to know: FlixBus

flixbus

Sometimes you travel for the experience; other times it’s to try something new. And when you just want to get from A to B with minimum expense, that’s where FlixBus comes in.

AT A GLANCE
Covers: Western Europe, expanding into Eastern Europe
Pros: Cheap, free WiFi, extra legroom, extensive fleet, goes to smaller destinations
Cons: Can’t reserve a seat, can be confusing

With deals starting as low as €5, it’s a tough option to beat for the budget-conscious traveller. And, generally speaking, a bus is a bus. They take the most efficient route between cities and maybe let you browse the internet on the way. You may not get luxury service, but you’ll probably get there eventually. And ‘there’ is a lot of places, given FlixBus’ extensive service routes.

Why should I take FlixBus?
Honest answer: because it’s cheap. It’s not especially charming, but their fleet is extensive enough to cover a very large territory. Smaller destinations that may not easily be served by train are much easier to reach by bus. And their amenities, when they’re actually there (more on this later), are fairly good.

Bonus: If you’re concerned about the environment, you can pay a small additional fee to offset the carbon footprint of your trip.

Where does FlixBus go?
FlixBus has hundreds of destinations, mainly through Western Europe. Given that FlixBus is a German company, their highest concentration of routes is around Germany and its neighbours, but they’re continuing to expand. As of September 2017, they serve about 1,200 locations across 22 countries.
Here’s their current interactive route map.

How much does it cost?
Probably not that much. Their deals start around €5 for a one-way ticket, but go up closer to departure dates, all the way to €99 for a three-month, five-city pass. Some tickets may occasionally exceed that on longer or more popular routes, especially if you’re purchasing very close to your departure time). The further in advance you book, the better your price will be; and they send frequent sales emails once you’re on their mailing list.

How do I buy a ticket?
The easiest way is through the FlixBus website or dedicated app. If you’d rather book in person, check their list of offices and travel agencies. You might be able to buy a ticket from the driver, but you risk the bus being sold out, paying significantly higher prices and having to pay cash. Just book in advance.

There is an additional fee on their website for using a credit card or PayPal.

What kind of tickets are there?
FlixBus tickets are the general admission concerts of the bus world. You’ll get in, but getting a good spot is up to you. There is no option to reserve a seat in advance, and just the one ticket type. Because buses make multiple stops, the availability of seats will depend on where your stop is along the longer route.

You can opt for an overnight bus service on select longer routes; the seats may recline a little more, but it’s not guaranteed. And if you’re interested in longer-term flexible travel, the InterFlix pass is good for five one-way bus trips within 3 months. It does have stipulations, so make sure you check all the restrictions to be sure it’s the best choice for your schedule.

TIP: Flixbus also sells cheap train tickets on the Berlin to Stuttgart route.

How do I get on the bus?
This is likely the biggest hurdle you will face in your use of FlixBus. The bus stops aren’t always at designated stations, or even necessarily marked. Hopefully there will be some kind of FlixBus sign. If not, look around for the crowd of other confused-looking people with suitcases. Make sure you check the location of your stop on the FlixBus website beforehand. If you have mobile data or Google Maps offline, you can try to match the small map on your ticket to the corresponding GPS point on Google Maps. The FlixBus app also has maps to the stops.

Many FlixBus coaches are bright green with ‘FlixBus’ written in large letters on the side, but not all. If a bus comes to your approximate location, don’t assume that it’s not yours just because it’s not marked. Even if you don’t speak the language, show your ticket to the driver just in case.

You can present a printout of your ticket, the digital version you received via e-mail, or the digital version in the app. You should also make sure you have your passport with you, even if you are going between Schengen countries. Customers have reported being denied boarding without passports.

TIP: Be sure of where you are going and leave plenty of time to get there – both to the bus stop and your final destination. The bus may not arrive on time or it might arrive early, but you don’t want to be wandering the streets trying to figure out which corner is yours, 5 minutes prior to departure – or worse, miss a flight because your bus showed up late.

What’s it like on board?
You may get a double-decker or single-level bus depending on your route. Some buses sell drinks and snacks, but sales are at the discretion of the driver so don’t count on it. We recommend bringing some refreshments of your own as the bus won’t necessarily make any stops.

FlixBus claims that all its buses offer WiFi, but the reliability and speed of the service may vary greatly between buses. Don’t assume it will work, or even necessarily exist at all. The website also says that all buses have toilets, but this may not always be the case. Seats are usually upholstered and coach-style, sometimes with the possibility of a slight recline, but again, may vary by bus.

In short, there is the possibility of food, WiFi and toilets, but they are by no means guaranteed.

TIP: The FlixBus fleet is not standardised. One bus may have different amenities, levels or even labelling than the last bus you took. Not all buses are marked – if you’re at the stop and a bus arrives, it doesn’t hurt to check with the driver before dismissing it.

What can I bring?
There is no formal bag check system, so luggage storage is at the driver’s discretion. This can lead to lost baggage or issues with large or unusually shaped items. As you would on any other sort of transit, clearly label all your bags and make sure your important documents and medications are on your person, not under the bus. FlixBus provides printable luggage tags when they email you your tickets, if you have access to a printer.

FlixBus allows one item of hand luggage (max. 42 x 30 x 18cm, 7kg) and one larger bag (max. 80 x 50 x 30cm, 20kg). If you have larger items or more than two bags, you may be able to bring them for an additional fee if you discuss it with customer service first. Check Flixbus’ website for the most up-to-date baggage policy.

TIP: If you’re travelling with a child between 0 and 3, you’ll need to bring a car seat for them to sit in (secure it using the seatbelt on the bus).

What if I change my mind?
New friend convince you to stay a little longer? You can cancel your ticket on FlixBus’ website up to 15 minutes before your scheduled departure time for a €1 cancellation fee per passenger per trip. You don’t get a refund, but you’ll receive a voucher for the cost of your original ticket (minus the fee) that can be used towards your next booking. Keep in mind these vouchers do expire.

What if I need help?
You might be out of luck. Because some of the stops are in such unusual locations, there usually isn’t an office. Do not expect to speak to a human other than the bus driver, who also may not be able to help you or even speak your language. You likely will not encounter a kiosk or service counter, so make sure you show up with your ticket and don’t expect to be able to print it at the station (assuming your bus stop is at a station).

There is a customer service hotline and online form, but it’s only available in German or English. Some users have reported being kicked out of the customer service offices (if the bus station has them) at midnight or that the English-speaking service hotline is only available during certain hours.

What else might go wrong?
You’re still driving on the road with everyone else. If there is traffic, you’re going to be part of it. This means that the bus might show up later than scheduled to your pick-up point or arrive late to your destination. Make sure you leave plenty of time for any transfers.

There is also always the possibility of mechanical issues, which can cause additional delays. If things get too delayed, your bus may be cancelled and you may not find out in a timely enough fashion to make alternate plans. FlixBus claims to send notifications of schedule via text message, but these don’t always arrive on time – and that’s assuming you have a working data plan to receive the notification in the first place.

Users complain about lack of customer service as well, so if your trip doesn’t go as smoothly as planned, you may have trouble reaching a FlixBus employee or getting any kind of refund or compensation. Many reviewers have complained about their complaints being dismissed when they are answered at all. If something goes wrong, your options may be limited.

Main image: FlixBus

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