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Top 10 Things to Know Before Chartering a Bus

  1. You can check a company’s safety rating at CompanySnapshot.aspx.
  2. You can check to see if the company has had any complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau at
  3. Unlike the airline industry, no site providing instant quotes and availability exists in the bus industry. (The best way to get the lowest quotes is to contact each company individually.)
  4. Most websites first found on the internet are national brokers or “networks” adding on average, a 38% commission to the cost of your trip.
  5. You can check to see how many buses a company owns by running a search on the DOT’s link above (see #1) and check the number of power units registered.
  6. The bus industry is made up of about 5,000 local and regional bus companies accross the US and Canada. There are no national services that own buses.
  7. Prices do not typically rise as the travel date draws near or in times of low availability.
  8. The average deposit to book a bus is 10% for trips over the road.
  9. Operators cannot drive more than 10 hours following 8 consecutive hours off-duty.
  10. Charters are typically priced by the hour for local use, or by the mile for out-of-state trips averaging more than 275 miles per day.

Top 10 Questions to Ask Before Chartering a Bus

  1. For trips over the road: How many local miles are allowed per day after reaching your destination? What is the charge for exceeding them?
  2. Does the quote include parking and tolls?
  3. What is your cancellation policy?
  4. Who pays for the driver’s hotel room and board? Is 10% the standard driver gratuity with your company?
  5. What is your procedure in the event of a breakdown?
  6. Can you provide proof of insurance? (The state requires a $5 million policy.)
  7. Does your company own the bus, or will it be brokered out?
  8. Is the bus available for inspection before chartering?
  9. Are you members of any associations? (ABA, UMA, MCC, NTA)
  10. Does your company have its own maintenance facility?

Why Travel By Bus?

Buses are safe. The bureau of transportation reports that buses are twice as safe as flying and 46 times safer than driving an automobile.

Fatalities per 10 billion passenger miles
Auto 140
Airlines 6
Bus 3
Train 1
(Bureau of transportation statistics, center for transportation analysis)
  • Buses reach more destinations. Buses take you right to the doorstep of your destination. Planes and Trains only take you to the nearest stop.
  • Buses allow mobility. Buses are available to taxi your group around for your entire stay.
  • Buses are the most fuel efficient. Buses only use 797 BTU’s per passenger mile compared to planes using 4847, trains using 2450, and autos using 3639 according to the US Department of transportation energy book data, 1999 (Bureau of transportation statistics, center for transportation analysis).
  • Buses are better for the environment. Because of their fuel efficiency, buses are better for the environment than most other alternatives.
  • Buses are inexpensive. Chartering a bus is typically half the cost of flying, not including benefit that buses provide local travel.

Frequently Asked Questions (when chartering a bus)

How much of a deposit is required?
87% of coach companies require a deposit when booking. The average deposit is 22%.
When is the final payment due?
Typically, final payment is due 10 to 30 days before departure.
What is the cancellation policy?
Most companies allow you to cancel without penalty 14 to 30 days before travel.
How soon do I need to book?
Ideally, you want to book at leat 3 weeks in advance to ensure availability. The earlier you book, the more options you will have.
Do I need to tip the bus operator?
The standard gratuity is 10%
Do I pay for parking, tolls and other fees?
A majority of bus companies include these fees in their initial quote, but some companies separate them and have you pay as the fees are incurred. Just be sure to ask if these fees are included or are separate before booking.
Do I need to book the hotel room for the bus operator?
Yes, for overnight trips, it is customary to book the operator’s hotel room, but most hotels will comp the bus operator’s room (provide the room for free) when you book rooms for large groups. Ask for someone in group sales at the hotel to ensure the operator’s room gets comped.
Is alcohol or smoking allowed?
About 80% of bus companies allow alcohol with a refundable deposit of typically $150 to $250 in the US. Alcohol is not allowed on buses in Canada. Only a small percentage of bus companies allow smoking.
Can I purchase just one or two seats for a trip?
No, only lists bus companies in its directory that charter the entire bus. provides single passenger tickets.
I have a CDL License, can I charter a bus without a operator?
No, the bus owner’s insurance policy doesn’t allow it.

Charter Bus Amenities

Qty. – Quantity of this type of bus the company owns.

Seats. – The number of seats available for your group.

BusType. – There are 8 types of buses. for descriptions and approximate rates.

Year. –The year of the bus model, frequently displayed as a range from oldest to newest.

OTR. – Is the company willing to take this bus “Over The Road” which is usually defined by traveling long distances out of state and overnight.

Rstrm. – Restroom on board.

VCR. – There are usually 5 to 6 TV monitors on board full-sized deluxe motor coaches with a VCR. Most buses do not receive any channels unless equipped with satellite, which is uncommon.

DVD. – There are usually 5 to 6 TV monitors on board full-sized deluxe motor coaches with a DVD player. Most buses do not receive any channels unless equipped with satellite, which is uncommon.

CD. – CD player on board.

PA. – Public address system on board to help make announcements to the group.

ADA. – Wheelchair elevator on board.

Alch. – Alcohol is allowed on board.

Trnsfr. – Any pick-up and drop-off typically from a hotel to an airport around 15 miles of travel (excluding 10% gratuity).

5 hrs. – 5 hour rates posted on are based on 5 hours of local use, low miles (excluding 10% gratuity). Bus companies most commonly have a 5 hour minimum of use with the exception of transfers.

Day. – Day rates posted on are based on 10 hours of local use, low miles (excluding 10% gratuity.)

Mile. – The rate per mile of travel. Quotes are calculated per mile or per day whichever is greater. Trips averaging over 300 miles per day are usually priced per mile and not per day.

Other amenities found on buses are cassette, tables, booth-like seating, convertible bunks, shades, carpeting, satellite and catered food. Minibuses have luggage racks and reclining seats.

The Components of a Quote

Local Use Charters

Hours of use – Local travel is most commonly based on hours of use. The national average rate per hour for a full size deluxe motor coach in March of 2007 was $90 (2004 was $83; 2003 was $68). Almost all companies have a 3, 4, 5, or 6-hour minimum charge-5-hours being the most common across the U.S.

Gratuity – The standard bus operator gratuity for chartering a bus is 10%. About a third of operator’s pay comes from the gratuity as an incentive to provide good service. The average wage earned by bus operators is about $12 per hour.

Sales Tax – There is no sales tax when chartering a bus in most states (CA has a 1% tax, and OH appx. 7.75%).

Over the Road Charters

Mileage – buses traveling out of the local area and overnight are quoted based on miles. The average charge per mile across the nation in March of 2007 was $2.94 (2004 was $2.66) with the company’s day rate as a minimum charge per day.

Day Rate – The minimum charge per day if the per-mile charge is not more than the combined day rates. The average day rate in March of 2007 was $821 (2004 was $769; 2003 was $703).

Fuel Surcharge – During periods of fuel price volatility, bus companies often charge a fuel surcharge to prevent having to change their primary rates (filed and posted) on a daily basis. Bus companies commonly link their fuel surcharge rate with the Department of Energy’s website:

Driver Change – for every 10 hours of driving, or 15 hours of stand-by time, law requires 10 consecutive hours of rest. If you plan on driving over 10 hours, an operater change has to be made. Bus Operator changes range from $200 to $900 depending on how far from the departure city the change has to be made.

Local Travel – The amount of local mileage allowed per day once the bus reaches the destination city.

Driver Hotel – Usually the customer books and pays for the operator’s hotel room, but most hotels will comp the operator’s room at no charge when you book several rooms for your group. Ask for someone in group sales at the hotel to ensure the operator’s room is complimentary.

Gratuity – The standard gratuity for trips over the road is 10%.

Sales Tax – There is no sales tax when chartering a bus in most states (CA has a 1% tax, and OH appx. 7.75%).

Other expenses – Depending on your destination, you may encounter other fees such as bridge tolls or airport taxes, most companies include these in your initial quote, and some have you pay for them as they are incurred.

Charter Bus Safety Regulations

The Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates the charter bus industry. Bus operators are required to carry a current DOT Physical Exam Card, be drug tested under DOT rules and regulations, and maintain a log for miles and hours of service. Coaches are not required by state or federal law to have seatbelts. Some states require that operators be certified for all school sponsored trips, grades 12 and under.

The DOT regulation 395.10 restricts the bus operator’s driving time. There are three parts:

1. 10 Hour Rule. The bus operator cannot drive more than 10 hours following 8 consecutive hours off duty (except in emergencies)

2. 15 Hour Rule. After 15 hours on-duty (driving and non-driving tasks), an operator cannot continue driving until 8 consecutive hours of off-duty time is taken.

3. 70 Hour Rule. On duty time cannot exceed 70 hours for any period of 8 consecutive days.

Bus Industry Slang

Deadhead. – Miles traveled without passengers before the pickup or after a drop off.

Live Miles. – Miles traveled with passengers on board.

Over the road. – Refers to longer trips out of the local area and typically overnight.

Pax. – A written abbreviation for “passengers”.

Pick and Drop. – Bus returns home after dropping passengers off at their destination. The bus does not provide local travel.