Best way to travel from NYC to DC?
July 24, 2007 3:18 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend lives in DC, and I live in NYC. We are both in school, but want to be able to see each other fairly often during weekends of the school year. What are some of the cheapest ways to travel back and forth many times?

I know the Chinese Bus is only 20$ each way. But would it be cheaper to rent a car and drive? Or buy a cheap car? What about deals on lots of train, plane or bus tickets? Thank you so much for your help!
posted by amileighs to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The amount of detail you have given is not enough for me to know if it can be helpful, but it's the best long-distance transportation solution I know: get a job with an airline.

A good friend of mine works for an airline while getting her BA. Different airlines have different employee benefits, but she is able to fly whenever she wants, wherever she wants (as a stand-by passenger) only for the price of tax. Her "domestic partner" is also able to fly like that. She is also given a limited amount of guest passes (I think 12?) per year for anyone else.

So, if you are going to be looking for a job on the side, the airport would certainly be a good place for you to look.
posted by Ms. Saint at 3:24 PM on July 24, 2007

The Chinatown bus is much cheaper than a car when you consider gas and tolls. In fact I'm sure it's the cheapest way.
posted by exogenous at 3:25 PM on July 24, 2007

On second thought, I think craiglist has a ride share section, though the site is down at the moment. Might be worth a look.
posted by exogenous at 3:28 PM on July 24, 2007

I can't imagine anything being cheaper than the bus (other than, on preview, perhaps rideshare, which I imagine would come out to about even with gas and all). Owning a car involves buying a car, parking it (which could cost money in either parking space rental or parking tickets), putting gas in it, taking care of it, fixing it when it breaks. It might be worth buying a car if you had a free place to park it and if you had other regular uses for it, but not worth it otherwise.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:28 PM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you've got the stones for it, nothing is cheaper than hitchhiking. My girlfriend and I hitchhiked to see each other extensively when we were first courting. It can get rough, but we always had something to talk about when we saw each other.

Check your local laws first though. Some areas disapprove of hitchhiking.
posted by lekvar at 3:41 PM on July 24, 2007

IvyMedia collects the schedules of the various $20 bus companies.

I know Vamoose bus has a deal for multiple trips, but that only brings the fare down to that of the Chinatown operations, plus Vamoose no longer serves DC proper. As a veteran of dozens of DC/NYC trips (plane, train, car, bus), I usually drive but that is because I already own a car, Amtrak is ridiculously overpriced, it is usually easy enough to find parking near my friends in Brooklyn. IIRC flying is cheaper than the train, but flights are often delayed which hurts a lot on such a short flight.
posted by exogenous at 3:42 PM on July 24, 2007

Driving from DC to NYC is $12 in tolls each way (taking 95), so the $20 bus is a pretty good deal.

Seconding the answer that working for the airlines is the only cheaper way. USAir or Delta, both have hourly shuttles between DC and NYC.
posted by BigVACub at 3:42 PM on July 24, 2007

It's more expensive than the chinatown bus, but it shows movies and is generally more pleasant: Vamoose bus. The pickup/dropoff locations may also be better for you.
posted by emyd at 3:49 PM on July 24, 2007

Practically all of the Chinatown bus companies are $35 for round trip. You may already know that though, but you only mentioned the $20 each-way price so I wasn't sure. We did it a few weeks ago and thought it was a good enough deal. Then we drove up there ourselves and paid about that much in gas and tolls. And we got a $65 parking ticket. Plus we actually had to drive instead of zoning out to music or reading.

Everyone I know recommends Washington Deluxe.
posted by ml98tu at 4:23 PM on July 24, 2007

My brother was in this same situation and used the Chinatown bus.
posted by salvia at 5:57 PM on July 24, 2007

Wow, I'm surprised you're even asking this. Renting a car is going to be really expensive, especially if you're renting from NYC. Driving is going to cost a crapload. $12 in tolls each way at least, plus prob. $30 in gas each way, plus the parking cost on either end. (And buying a car...well, the cost of that plus insurance is super high)

Take the bus. Greyhound runs an express bus almost every hour. If you buy it online it costs $35 roundtrip, (same as chinatown) and you can even print an E-ticket. This is more preferable to me than the Chinatown buses, which in my experience are less reliable. It will take about 4.5 hours each way, and is MUCH MUCH better than stressing over the drive between the two cities, especially if you hit rush hour in NYC, DC, or Philly and Baltimore (which are inbetween)

The train is somewhat quicker (3.5 hours), but runs about $67 each way (the Acela express gets there in like 2.5-3 hours, but is more expensive)
posted by jare2003 at 6:28 PM on July 24, 2007

I was going to recommend getting a cheap flight by scheduling well in advance with Southwest Airlines but I see they make you leave from "Long Island - ISP" (wherever that is), and even so only go to Baltimore (BWI) not a real DC airport. Damn. I'm tres disappointed by that myself. (Was I even reading that site right? My results sound odd.)

I recommend picking whichever bus company had the schedule that suits you best and that's easiest for you to get to. I will say that Greyhound tends to get a little grungy (avoid using the "rest room" in the back of the bus if you can), and that I'd want to try a Chinatown bus just because it'd be new to me.

(I'm also disappointed that IvyMedia/GotoBus does not have an entry for anyplace near me in Louisville, KY; the closest they come is Chicago. WAAAAHHH!!!!)
posted by davy at 9:23 PM on July 24, 2007

As someone who has taken buses throughout the US and Canada, repeatedly, I just want to say that Greyhound's DC-NY route is probably my least favourite thing in the entire goddamn continent, transportation-wise. If there is any chance that the Chinatown bus, or Vamoose, is alright, do that instead.
posted by blacklite at 9:25 PM on July 24, 2007

ISP is Islip/MacArthur Airport. Which I've flown into a few times and find pleasant, though I've never had to get there myself.

If I can get between Chicago and NY for $39 each way on Southwest, I'm sure the prices between DC and ISP are even better.

And you'll earn (whatever they call their frequent buyer points)!

But I'd only pick that over the bus if there were some good reason--timing or whatever.
posted by rhoticity at 9:59 PM on July 24, 2007

The Chinatown Express is a great bargain, but you get what you pay for. My sister and I bought tickets online in advance to go from DC to NYC. When we got to the "station" (aka street corner), there was a HUGE mob of people waiting for the bus. They sold far more tix than there were seats available, so we *literally* had to fight our way onto the bus. Lots of luggage was left behind and it was a total nightmare. We stopped in Philly on the way and it was the same situation. There were tons of people waiting outside to get on the bus and there was screaming and pushing to get inside. Maybe the company was having a bad day, but it seemed to me like a systemic problem. There was no organization and the employees did absolutely nothing when people begged for help, refunds, etc. The employees brushed people off and were totally indifferent to our suffering. We decided to take the Greyhound back to DC and nix the Chinatown Express. When we got to the Port Authority bus terminal, it was like a dream. Organized, clean (relatively), and no hitches. Pay the extra bucks and do Greyhound. Chinatown Express is a nightmare waiting to happen.

Oh yeah, one more thing: there was shit and pee all over the toilet seat and walls inside the bus lavatory. No joke. Bring Lysol wipes and seat covers if you do decide to take the CTX.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:46 PM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Check Grehound's specials page, currently there's a $35 round trip to DC:
A quick scan of Chinatown lines show fares from $20-$40.

I used to do this same trip several times a month. While you might save a few bucks with one of the Chinatown bus companies, it was rarely worth the added hassle of oversold, unkept busses making unscheduled pit stops and dropping you off far from any convenient metro stations.
posted by sonofslim at 5:43 AM on July 25, 2007

I agree that a bus (whichever service you choose) would be your best bet for cheapness, scheduling (these things leave CONSTANTLY), and ease of use for you. I've heard both good and bad things about the Chinatown busses. If it were me, I'd go with Greyhound/Vamoose.

MacArthur Airport is all the way out in Ronkonkoma. LIRR does stop there, but it's an hour and 20 minute ride each way, and its $20-25 round trip (depending on if you're traveling during peak times or not). If you have a friend that can drive you, it's exit 60ish off the LIE, about an hour from midtown with no traffic (and you'll probably hit traffic.) Add that to the extra time you'd have to get there early to check in/get through security, and then actually flying (less than an hour, but still) and being picked up from the airport down there, and I'm pretty sure that it'll take about the same amount of time/longer than a bus, and be more expensive. Unless you can somehow get a free flight, I don't think its worth it.
posted by AlisonM at 6:10 AM on July 25, 2007

Islip in the ass end of nowhere. Don't even think about it. And even if you did, you'd then have to get from BWI to DC.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:13 AM on July 25, 2007

The bus will be the cheapest. The train is frequently more expensive than flying, although it is a nice ride and it drops you right near Times Square.
posted by electroboy at 7:14 AM on July 25, 2007

Or, you know, what AlisonM said. Gah. Sorry. Take Greyhound. It's longer than driving but miles cheaper.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:14 AM on July 25, 2007

Even better than Greyhound: Peter Pan Bus!

If you take the bus a lot, though, you should splurge now and then and take the train--it's like five times more enjoyable.

You could probably shave off a few bucks by taking NJ Transit to Philadelphia and then SEPTA to Newark DE before catching the Amtrak fare.
posted by mattbucher at 7:29 AM on July 25, 2007

I've heard good things about the Washington Express.
posted by taliaferro at 8:03 AM on July 25, 2007

Even slighter cheaper than the bus: Each of you take one of the buses to AC and meet there for the day. Costs you about $10 and they give probably $10 in chips.
posted by poppo at 9:34 AM on July 25, 2007

If you buy your tickets for the Delta Shuttle a week or so in advance, you'll most likely be paying $165 roundtrip. (That's what it's cost me every time over the past year).

Alternatively, instead of a car buy a motorcycle. Cheaper price and insurance ( and a nicer ride in my opinion ).
posted by zap rowsdower at 9:39 AM on July 25, 2007

Even slighter cheaper than the bus: Each of you take one of the buses to AC and meet there for the day. Costs you about $10 and they give probably $10 in chips.

Last time I did this it was $25 roundtrip and I got a coupon for $18, redeemable at the dollar-changing machine. So yeah, $7.
posted by mattbucher at 9:42 AM on July 25, 2007

I've taken the Chinatown bus to Boston from NYC multiple times and it's really not that bad at all. They drive super fast, the buses are generally clean, and assuming you're not taking the 6pm Friday night bus, it's usually not hideously crowded. YMMV depending on your co-passengers and where you live (I live in Chinatown so it's extra-convenient). I've also heard the DC bus stops multiple times compared to the Boston bus which only stops once. Maybe there's an express and a local.

You can get to Islip via the LIRR + a shuttle to Ronkonkoma but it really is in the middle of nowhere convenient.
posted by alicetiara at 10:06 AM on July 25, 2007

With a StudentAdvantage card you'll save 15% on Greyhound and Amtrack (and others). According to the site, it's $20 for the card for one year, plus $10 each additional year. That might be worth looking into. There's other discounts too, like Target, etc.

Just a follow-up, I went Greyhound and it was totally fine. Nicer than I expected even. I'm pretty sure all of the lines, including Greyhound, do the over-sell, first-come first-serve thing. What I liked about Greyhound was that they had a bunch of buses in a row at each pickup, so if we didn't get on one, there was another 30 minutes later and we would be closer to the front of the line at that point anyway. I don't know if the other lines do that. We went Saturday morning instead of Friday afternoon/night, which probably made a big difference too.

I have a colleague that took the Friday afternoon one leaving from the Tenleytown Metro with no problems (not sure what line). Her departure was around 4 p.m. - not so late in the day that it was a zoo. She was really happy with it.

One of my friends was in Ronkonkoma this week for work and bitched about how far out it was. Probably not a good bet.
posted by ml98tu at 3:22 PM on July 25, 2007

ml98tu: Vamoose used to stop at Tenleytown/AU metro but no longer.

The Atlantic City idea is pretty nice, though if you want a, uh, conjugal visit, you might have to get creative, or spring for a hotel (which would probably eliminate the savings).
posted by exogenous at 3:28 PM on July 25, 2007

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