USA is a massive country and for the most part, knowing how to drive helps immensely in getting around. However, a big part of the country can be seen without knowing how to drive, but may need some upfront planning. Flying is the most common way to see the country. Buses and especially trains are not as developed as say Western Europe, but they are a good way to hop short distances before flying back from a different airport. An example is for a Florida trip : Fly into Tampa, hop to Orlando, Miami, Key West by bus and fly out of Key West.
When to Buy Tickets: As a general rule, book transportation tickets as far in advance as possible.
Where to Buy Tickets: Online for all modes of transport.
The following is my ranked list of airlines, full details can be seen at the “Flights” section below
- Southwest Airlines (Cheap, on-time, free bags, no change fees)
- Alaska Airlines / Hawaiian Airlines (Excellent West Coast airlines)
- Delta Airlines (Good network, moderately expensive, SkyMiles)
- United Airlines / American Airlines (Don’t take them unless you have to)
This guide will go through the 3 main transportation options (Flights, Buses and Trains) in decreasing order of utility.
- USA is too big to drive from 1 point to another in a time-efficient way, even if you want to go to the neighbouring state.
- The good news is that the country has a vast network of domestic flights.
- Compared to Europe, US domestic flights are expensive. For the most part, book your flights as soon as you know the rough time frame you’ll be travelling in.
- Honourable airline mentions go out to Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines if you live on the west coast.
- Southwest Airlines (no main hub, Secondary : PHX, DEN, HOU, ATL, MDW)
- Destinations wiki
- + Cheapest US airline in my experience. No frills and low fares = WIN
- + Seating is not pre allocated, this is an advantage as there are generally no queues formed due to people boarding out of order wrt seating.
- + Excellent performance metrics, no late flights in my experience.
- + Allows exchanging flights for free if the schedule needs to change. This is a massive source for happiness for me as other airlines wreck you in such situations. Also 1st checkin bag is free.
- – Does not have as extensive a network as other big players
- – Might take a bit longer to reach your destination due to its model where the same plane make 3-4 conscutive hops and your desitnation may be the 2nd or 3rd destination. Ex SEA -> DEN -> HOU
- – Similar to RyanAir, may take you to secondary airports. However US secondary airports are not a ridiculous as European secondary airports.
- Delta Airlines (Main hub : Atlanta GA, Secondary : LGW, MIN, SEA)
- Destinations wiki
- + Strong domestic network specially in the South East
- + Skyteam member so connections to INTL destinations are made possible in a ticket from a non INTL destination. Also SkyMiles
- – Expensive and the planes are sometimes not the best
- – Performance worse than Southwest in my experience but not as bad as some other airlines
- – Food in international flights was terrible for the longest time. But my last DL intl flight actually had some decent food.
- United Airlines / American Airlines
- – Flies through some of the worst airports I have transited through, Chicago being a prime example.
- – Customer service has always been lacking in my experience.
- – Don’t fly United / American unless you have to.
- Greyhound is the major bus provider in the US. I agree that the standards aren’t the highest but it gets the job done and is cheap. It’s also a nice way to see a non-urban side of America.
- Other companies that are regional and I recommend are BoltBus (PNW, NE, CA), Megabus (East Coast, CA), Trailways (NY state) etc.
- Signing up for Greyhound rewards is useful as trips add up to free trips.
- Sparse network and infrequent trains imply that the USA has a poorly developed rail system.
- Amtrak is the major rail company. I’d recommend it for very specific short trips. Examples Vancouver – Seattle – Portland and Philadelphia – NYC
- For rail enthusiasts though, it provides some epic length journeys. My favourite readup is “Across the USA by Train for Just $213” (SF-NYC)
- Quality is better than Greyhound but its infrequency makes up for it.
- 1 good thing about it is that it connects to some popular destinations with a Train + Bus journey, Ex Seattle – Portland – Cannon Beach is the basis for our Cannon Beach writeup (coming soon)