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Later this spring, I will probably travel by bus from Mount Pleasant to Iowa City (I'll be arriving by train from Denver). According to Burlington Trailways, there is a ticket counter at the Mount Pleasant bus stop. I could buy a ticket in advance for $18.50. Is it worth booking this ticket in advance? In general, I can think of two reasons to book in advance:

  • Buses may get sold out. Is this a significant risk? The complete route is Chicago–Burlington–Mount Pleasant–Iowa City–Des Moines–Omaha. How full is this bus, typically?
  • Tickets may get much more expensive. The same bus is also listed on Greyhound, but out of Advanced Purchase, Web Only, Standard, and Refundable, only Refundable is listed. The total distance is 50 mi / 80 km and the listed price is $18.50. Will I pay much more if I book at the counter just before departure?
  • Thirdly, do I even gain anything? Does booking in advance guarantee a seat?

One argument against booking in advance is that I hope to meet someone on the train who's also travelling to Iowa City, and that I can possibly share a ride. Then I won't need the bus and will be in Iowa City much more quickly (it's five hours between the train arrival and the bus departure — that's good if the train is late, but a waste of time if it's not). If I book a ticket and not use it, I still need to go through the effort of cancelling it. Even if I can do this after the fact (that would surprise me), it's likely more effort than buying a ticket just before the bus departs.

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I'm not sure if you can provide any facts unless someone travels this route regularly or works for the company and has statistics on the number of passengers traveling on the route. Secondly I don't see any reason why you wouldn't buy a ticket in advance, do you? –  Karlson Mar 13 '13 at 16:24
    
I'm more curious about something else. If you're traveling to Iowa City using Amtrak you're boarding the train in Chicago. Why not board a bus directly? Why the complications? –  Karlson Mar 13 '13 at 17:43
    
Well if the ticket is refundable, you can get a refund if you don't use it. And if you go to a Greyhound office to buy it, I suppose the validity is longer (I think Greyhound tickets are valid for a year) so you can get a refund even after you're back. Plus, using the booking link, I could get the same price for a ticket for tomorrow, so the price will likely not change. –  Vince Mar 13 '13 at 22:25
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@gerrit Vote to close is mine. The issue is the way you wording your question makes it subjective. There are reasons to make advance purchase and there are reasons not to as you listed. So your question of Is it worth booking Burlington Trailways buses in advance for medium distance travel? is your choice to pick which is not for community to decide. –  Karlson Mar 14 '13 at 1:20
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@gerrit You may have to do that anyway. I take Martz Trailways to work daily. The rules are that people get on the bus while there are seats available and you can take any bus going to your destination not just one particular schedule. RT and OW tickets are valid for 30 days from the date of purchase if bought at the counter. The policy may be similar for Burlington but neither one actually publish this particular policy. –  Karlson Mar 14 '13 at 14:43
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1 Answer

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I've traveled extensively by bus through this region, and while I'm aware that you've long since completed your travel, I'll answer this for the benefit of anyone who comes here in future...

As opposed to Greyhound, the largest US bus company, Trailways buses do not typically have reservations, and booking in advance does not guarantee you a seat. Seats are first-come, first served, at the time the bus arrives at your stop.

In this case, booking the ticket online makes no difference, though if you were starting or ending your trip here and it continued onward or if you transferred to/from Greyhound or another line, then you would want to book in advance due to the seating restrictions of those other carriers.

This bus shouldn't often be full, as it departs from Chicago westbound, and even if it is full leaving Chicago, it will typically discharge more passengers than are picked up, as most people in Iowa are traveling to and from Chicago, rather than points west. It's extremely unlikely that the bus would be full on arrival in Mount Pleasant. Furthermore, most people are taking the somewhat more direct Greyhound buses, which travel through Davenport (the much larger Quad Cities area) on the way out from Chicago.

There shouldn't be any significant difference in fares between booking online and at the counter, though the latter may be higher. It's worth calling the actual station in the departure city about this, as far as in advance as is practical, as fare prices change frequently and sometimes radically. You might also see a difference in fares between the Trailways website and the Greyhound website as well as buying at the counter.

Overall, I'd book in advance if possible, though if not, I wouldn't worry much about it. You'll still get where you are going.

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