Travelling between all larger cities in Germany like e.g. Munich and Hamburg has never been as cheap as it is today. If you book online in due time you can almost always get a one way campaign ticket for less than 10 Euro, and that is for a bus trip of almost 800 km, which equals 1.25 cent per km. Even if you buy a regular priced ticket which is about 30 Euro, you will have a hard time finding an alternative which is cheaper.
Why are bus tickets so cheap?
Well, until the 31 of December 2012, it was legally (with a few exceptions) not possible to operate domestic long distance buses in Germany. The main reason for this was that the government wanted to protect the German railways (Deutschebahn), which at that time was the only land based mass transportation available for intercity travelling.
As of the 1 of January 2013 the market has been liberalized, which prior to this date had led to a large number of companies acquiring a licence for operating domestic long distance buses. Initially about 20 companies launched routes, some of them being “real” bus companies like e.g. Berlin Linien Bus and Postbus; these companies own and operate the buses themselves, other companies which started on 1 of January were “bus brands” or “umbrella bus companies” like Meinfernbus, Flixbus or Deinbus. These companies teamed up with local bus operators. The “bus brands” role was to take care of branding, sale and marketing and the local operators then managed the driving and bus maintenance.
The competition between the companies was fierce from day one; with low ticket prices and campaign prices the companies tried not only to take passengers from the railways and other means of transport, but also from each other. As a result of the fierce completion, several companies withdraw from the market in 2014. One could assume this would lead to a market stabilization with higher prices from the remaining companies but, on the contrary, the remaining companies intensified the fight for passengers. Companies like IC Bus (Part of German railways) and Postbus invested in a large number of new buses, new routes and more cheap tickets.
In 2015 Megabus announced their entry into the long distance bus market. As an introduction, they sold ticket on routes like Hamburg – Berlin, Hamburg – Frankfurt and lots of other destinations for only 1.5 Euro which is insanely low. Megabus has since then continued with low offers for early bookers on selected routes. Today you can be lucky to get a ticket between e.g. Berlin and Munich for as little as 1 Euro (50 cent and 50 cent booking fee).
How many passengers travel by bus?
The first year after the liberalisation (2013) there was about 9 million passengers travelling by long distance buses. In 2014 this number increased to 16 million and in 2015 over 20 million (which is more than 10% of market for long distance trips). Most of passengers have been “stolen” from German railways, but a considerable amount are passengers who used to travel by car or did not travel at all.
Where are the cheap tickets sold?
All companies which entered the market from the liberalisation focused on the Internet as their main sales channel which is why almost all of them worked with a concept of cheap tickets being available on the Internet only and regular priced ticket could be bought at travel agencies or on the bus. The result of this has been that an estimated 70% of tickets is bought online. Also most companies use some sort of field management, which means the prices are adjusted as the bus is filled; usually the cheapest tickets are the first ones sold for each departure, so it pays out to plan ahead.
Please note: Some of the companies also sell cheap tickets at agencies, but in most cases these agencies charge a service fee which in some cases is relatively high in relation to the ticket price.