FlixBus Review: Should You Ride It? (2022)
November 23, 2021
A Comprehensive FlixBus Review
FlixBus is veryyy hard to miss; love it or hate it, that lime green and orange bus sure is memorable. Branding was something that the founders of FlixBus definitely got right. But did they also create a good method of transport to get around Europe and the USA? Let’s unpack this in our FlixBus review.
In a nutshell: If budget is your priority, FlixBus is a cheap, relatively easy way to get to your destination. But, if you value your time, don’t expect the bus to get you there any faster than the train that leaves an hour later. Even if the timetable says so.
And don’t let all of those 1 star reviews completely freak you out. Most people who are riding a bus to and from a destination won’t write anything. It’s the ones who have had horror stories – and those certainly do exist – that you are hearing from. But you also have to be realistic. You are often paying a ridiculously cheap amount to travel across country borders. Your expectations should be relatively low.
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What is FlixBus?
FlixBus was founded in Munich in 2011 by three German men. Their business model is quite interesting as the company doesn’t actually own any of the buses or employ any of the drivers. Instead, FlixBus contracts with local companies to provide and run the buses. This has allowed them to scale quite quickly both in the United States and in Europe. They have 90% of the market share in Germany. But, this also makes it difficult for anyone to predict the quality of service from FlixBus as it can vary quite drastically depending on the local buses and customer service of the staff.
That’s not the only thing the company does well. FlixBus has a seamless booking system on both their website and app. It is incredibly easy and straightforward to view the available options for planning your journey by choosing applicable ride times and dates and paying for the trip online.
Riding a FlixBus: The Experience
If you’ve never taken a bus to travel across long distances before, let me relay the process for you so you know exactly what to expect.
Once you book your ticket, make sure that you go to the appropriate bus station. In larger cities, there are usually quite a few, so you don’t want to go to the wrong one. I did this once in Barcelona; instead of heading to Estacion Nord, I went to the main train and bus station in the city, Sants Estacion. That’s what I get for staying up the whole night and then heading straight to the station in the morning to catch a bus.
From there, you’ll need ample time to find your bus. Pick up points can be difficult to find, so you really want to allow for enough time to find your bus. There are a myriad of reasons why this can be so difficult; there might be a lack of signage or the bus might even arrive at a pickup point adjacent to the station and not inside the actual bus station. You’ll want to get your bearings and have time to ask around before boarding.
Make sure you have your passport and ticket with you. You might not need all of that documentation, but it’s better to have it than not and risk being unable to board.
I actually love taking a bus as my means of transport. But, it’s not for everyone. To ensure the best possible experience, don’t book a bus that is longer than six hours. With delays, it’s a very real possibility that you’ll actually be riding that bus for longer than that. Also, don’t take an overnight bus to save money on a hotel or hostel unless you are completely broke and traveling on $30 a day. I’ve “been there done that” and it’s absolutely brutal, but worth it in your youth when saving money is critical.
Once you board, you may or may not have an assigned seat. If you do, I recommend sitting in that spot as it can be awkward to have to move if a passenger gets on at a subsequent stop and asks you to move because you are in their seat. When choosing seats during your online booking, try to sit a couple rows away at a minimum from the infamous Flixbus bathroom. No one should want to voluntarily smell those smells.
One of the most disconcerting things about carrying luggage on board a bus or a train is that once it’s in the hold, you don’t really have control over it anymore. It has never happened to me, but there is always that chance that someone getting off the bus at an earlier stop could grab your luggage either purposefully or accidentally. I imagine this is an extremely rare occurrence, but if you can get a window seat and store your bag on the side of the hold where your seat is located, you can watch what is happening from the bus. The most important thing though is to make sure that you keep your valuables with you and not in the storage hold.
Countries/states will usually have set rules about required rest stops for bus drivers so you can pretty much guarantee that if you are taking a long bus ride, your driver will pull over at a rest stop. The driver will usually tell you that you have about 10 to 15 minutes to go to the bathroom and/or get a snack from the shop before the bus leaves again. But here’s the thing. This isn’t an elementary school field trip. The driver doesn’t do a head count and wait to make sure that everyone re-boarded the bus. The driver will leave you standing there in the middle of nowhere if you don’t get on the bus in time. And that does mean that your belongings will make it to your destination and you will not.
So, the moral of the story is to always keep an eye on the driver at a rest stop, especially if the driver doesn’t speak the same language as you and you don’t know exactly what time the bus will be leaving. People do have horror stories where the driver left without them at a rest stop. Don’t let that be you! And it doesn’t have to be as long as you know where the driver is at all times.
If the driver doesn’t speak your language, I’d recommend using Google Maps to get a general sense of where you are and if you are close to your intended stop. You can also get up and ask once the driver pulls over at the stop, but I tend to follow along on the journey so I have an idea of where we are and approximately how close I am to my destination.
Before I even begin my journey, I always look up exactly how to get from the bus station to my accommodation so that upon arrival, I know exactly what route to take and what method of transport: metro, uber, by foot, etc. will get me there.
Is FlixBus safe?
Per statistics published by the company in February 2018, 60% of the company’s customers are female and 33% are between the ages of 18 and 25.
The fact that customers traveling via FlixBus are most commonly between the ages of 18-25 is to be expected given that traveling by bus is a cheap, yet not entirely comfortable way to travel. But, I was surprised to hear that in 2018, more of the clientele were female.
I personally have never felt unsafe traveling by bus around Europe. Regardless, if you are a female traveling solo, you need to remain vigilant one hundred percent of the time and always be aware of your surroundings.
The biggest safety concern I have around taking the bus is actually surrounding luggage in the storage hold. As people get on and off, no one is really monitoring or paying attention to what pieces of luggage are being taken off the bus. Someone could grab your luggage either by accident or on purpose and just walk off with it. This has never happened to me, but I am always on edge when I do take the bus and try and peer out the window at the various stops to make sure that doesn’t happen. Realistically though, this isn’t strictly a bus issue. It can happen on a train as well.
The company purports to have Wifi available on all FlixBus rides, but don’t count on it. In fact, you can pretty much guarantee that the Wifi won’t actually be strong enough for you to use on every FlixBus trip that you take. So while this might seem like a nice amenity, it usually doesn’t work. And if by some miracle it does, there is a limit and it will usually run out quickly. You will absolutely want to download Spotify playlists or podcasts before the journey or bring a book to read (if you don’t get incredibly motion sick like I do).
As we discussed above, not every bus is equal so the amenities will vary. But, most buses will have a usb charging outlet for your devices although I always recommend bringing your own portable Anker charger with you at all times while traveling. There should be a reading light and air vent above your seat, and of course, a toilet.
FlixBus Europe vs. FlixBus USA
While FlixBus operates in both Europe and the US, FlixBus is more of a fixture in Europe. When traveling between major cities or countries in Europe, you’ll almost always have an option to take a FlixBus.
Here’s my anecdotal story about my one and only experience with FlixBus USA:
Driving like a maniac down the 101 toward Union Station in Los Angeles, California, Waze told me I would arrive at 12:34 PM. The problem was that my best friend’s train to Anaheim was at 12:36 PM. Realizing that she probably wasn’t going to make it, she started to look up alternatives.
The next train wasn’t leaving until 2PM, but there was a FlixBus leaving from the bus station next to Union Station at 12:55. She ran out of my car and hopped onto the electric vehicle of a kind employee at Union Station who tried to get her to the train in time. Unfortunately, two minutes just wasn’t enough and she missed the train by mere seconds. She asked the employee about using FlixBus as an alternative and he did not recommend it.
Nevertheless, she walked the .2 miles to the bus station and bought a ticket. Welp, I got a text at 1:49 PM saying that the bus just left. When all was said and done, she got to Anaheim at almost exactly the same time she would have had she taken the 2:00 PM train. It was significantly cheaper in price though which was a huge plus, but having to wait for an hour on a crowded bus for it to depart was not her favorite.
All in all this was pretty much the FlixBus experience you should expect. The bus was so delayed that it arrived at the same time the train that left an hour and five minutes did. No crazy horror story, but not an ideal situation. However, you could not beat the price for a very last minute ticket.
One of the best things about FlixBus is the company’s lenient cancellation policy. You can change your booking up to 15 minutes before and it only costs up to 5 euros to do so. If you cancel 30+ days before departure, it is completely free. But, let’s be honest, who is actually booking a bus ride that far in advance? Cancellations between 14 and 29 days before departure cost 1 dollar/euro to change, and cancellations between 3 and 13 days before departure cost 3 dollars/euros. If you cancel fewer than 3 days before departure, you’ll pay 5 dollars/euros.
Have you ridden on a FlixBus before? How was the experience? Share your FlixBus review in the comments below! And don’t forget to check out these other posts on WOAW!