National Express Coaches UK
National Express is an ‘intercity’ (i.e. not international) coach operator that provides coach services across the UK. As the name might suggest, it is a subsidiary of National Express Group, with the majority of its services subcontracted to local coach companies. In other words, when you buy through the site, many – though not all – of the journeys will be handled by other companies.
The company’s head office is based in Birmingham, above the coach station.
The National Bus Company was formed as a holding company for a range of state owned local bus companies following the Transport Act in 1968. A number of these bus companies provided coach services, which were initially branded simply as ‘National’. The brand name ‘National Express’ was first used in 1974.
After many changes to the law and ownership, the company was eventually sold to Drawlane Group in 1991 and then was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1992. During all this time the company essentially existed without competition, offering low-priced coach journeys for long distance travel across the UK.
In 2003 though, Stagecoach introduced its competitor: Megabus. This highly affordable service promised £1 journeys, which began a price war with National Express.
In 2007, the company underwent some rebranding and the coaches were given a slight makeover. They still retained the famous red, white and blue color scheme, but now featured a lowercase logo. This is how the coaches look today.
National Express coaches provide a wide range of low-cost routes across the country and also provide a variety of other services such as shuttle and airport services. The same coaches are used for shuttle and airport services as for general travel however, with no obvious differences for the passengers.
Many National Express routes go through time centers. While these routes somewhat increase journey times compared with the likes of Megabus, they do also provide some benefits, allowing travellers to board and alight at useful spots.
The National Express coaches also offer journeys to a range of airports, including East Midlands, Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton and Stanstead.
As mentioned, many of the journeys booked through the National Express website are actually subcontracted to companies referred to as Partner Operators. These partners operate as Franchises and are required to use coaches with the National Express livery and minimal requirements. On some rare occasions though the companies may have to use their own coaches due to supply issues though, so don’t be alarmed if a coach shows up and it doesn’t look like a National Express coach!
Sometimes, one-off services will be provided by alternative companies that effectively ‘bid’ for journeys on the network. While these coaches won’t feature the National Express branding, they still are required to meet strict requirements.
The following is a list of partner operators, taken from Wikipedia:
- Ambassador Travel, Great Yarmouth
- Bennetts Coaches, Gloucester
- Bruce’s Coaches, Salsburgh
- Chalfont Coaches, Southall
- Chenery, Dickleburgh
- Edwards Coaches, Llantwit Fardre
- East Yorkshire Motor Services, Hull
- Epsom Coaches
- Galloway European, Mendlesham
- Go North East, Chester-Le-Street
- Go South Coast, Poole
- Johnson Bros Tours, Worksop
- Lucketts Travel, Fareham
- Llew Jones International, Llanrwst
- National Express West Midlands (Walsall Garage)
- Park’s, Hamilton
- Peter Godward, South Woodham Ferrers
- Selwyns Travel, Runcorn
- Skills Coaches, Nottingham
- Stotts Coaches, Huddersfield
- Stagecoach South East, Dover
- Stagecoach Yorkshire, Barnsley
- Stuarts Coaches, Carluke
- Travelstar European, Walsall
- Travel de Courcey, Coventry
- Travellers Choice, Carnforth
- Wilts & Dorset, Salisbury
- Yellow Buses, Bournemouth
Fares and Pricing
National Express tickets can be purchased through a variety of means and can feature a number of different pricing structures.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that Megabus tickets will always be cheaper. Megabus actually uses a system where the pricing alters depending on the number of other travellers and the demand for the journey in question. Thus you might actually pay over-the-odds for a ticket in some cases and should always compare the journey on National Express as well.
The most traditional way to buy tickets for National Express coaches is via ticket offices located at coach stations, or by third-party agents that are located at bus stations and travel agents. These will sell tickets at two separate prices: standard fares and advance fares. Of course, the advance fares are booked ahead of time and will usually be more affordable.
The advent of Megabus however provided some positive competition for the company and resulted in the introduction of online-only ‘Funfares’. These have stricter conditions usually, for instance they are often non-refundable or are restricted only to certain corridors, however they generally offer the most affordable options.
It’s also possible to get a number of ticket types for multiple journeys, which can provide more savings. For example, you can get season tickets which are aimed at frequent travellers, as well as multi-rides. It’s important that you don’t make assumptions though and once again always do your research prior to booking. IN some cases, online FunFares will actually be cheaper than Season Tickets!
Brit Xplorer tickets are aimed at foreign tourists and will offer an unlimited period of travel over a set period. This is to encourage people visiting the UK to use their services and perhaps to see a few different destinations.
If you’re looking to make savings, then there are a few ways you can do so. One option is to get a coachcard which will provide you with savings. These will of course be most beneficial for those making multiple journeys, in which case they can very quickly pay for themselves.
Some of these cards include:
Young Person Coachcard: These are for travellers 25 and under and they will allow full-time students of any age. The discount card allows one third off of standard fares and 10% off of events.
Family Coachcard: These can be purchased in 1+1 or 2+2 format. These enable a child to travel free with one full-fare paying adult, or allows two children to travel with two adults. Unfortunately, this does not cater so well to single parents with multiple children however.
Senior Coachcard: This option is of course for elderly passengers and follows the cessation of the Commissionary half price fares for over 60s. National Express responded by offering a Senior Coachcard to offer holders one third off of the standard fare. These tickets were previously not valid on journeys to and from airports, but that restriction was lifted in 2012.
Disabled Coachcard: After the government scrapped half-price fares for disabled individuals, the National Express introduced its own discounted coach fare, which provided one third off of the usual price.
Prices are generally comparable to those offered by Megabus. They provide cheap coach tickets one way from as little as £1.50, similar to Megabus. They also list offers on their site at www.nationalexpress.com/offers.aspx, so be sure to check that part of the site when looking for the lowest fares.
It’s also possible to find deals on a number of other sites. For instance, Money Saving Expert will often provide National Express Deals, so it’s worth checking.
As mentioned, you should always compare prices between Megabus and National Express. When considering which offers the lowest fares, factor in other elements such as the journey time that it will take you to get to the pickup point and how you will be getting there – a taxi might add to your overall expense for example.
Those travelling with National Express Coaches can expect a basic but comfortable experience. Previously, coaches would offer televisions which allowed passengers to watch their favorite channels on journeys. The aim was to further monetize these journeys by charging for earphones, however as most people had compatible earphones, the initiative was unsuccessful and the feature was eventually scrapped.
Today, most services will include WiFi and charging points, making it possible for you to use your devices and connect to the web and to get more power for longer trips. This is not guaranteed though, so it’s always worth bringing back up options such as a battery pack if you want to be on the safe side.
Air conditioning is also normally available, so you should be able to keep yourself cool and rest assured that you will be breathing clean air on journeys.
Most coaches also provide toilets. Again though, this is not guaranteed. Longer journeys do usually include rest stops however, which gives passengers a chance to use facilities and stretch their legs. Disabled access is available but passengers should call 36 hours in advance to make sure that arrangements are made for their travel requirements.
Overall, National Express is something of an institution at this point and has been providing reliable and affordable services for many years. Today, Megabus is offering some stiff competition for pricing but won’t always be the cheaper or more convenient of the two. Generally, National Express has the advantage of having more coaches and more journeys.
The best solution is to always check yourself and compare prices. Either way, you’ll get a basic but comfy ride that will cost significantly less than getting the train.