Student bus pass guide
On the lookout for a cheap student bus pass? Here's how to get the best deals and save yourself a fair amount of money on your daily commute.
Buses might not always be the quickest means of getting around town, but they're green, economical and don't leave you dependent on taxis or mates with motors.
Most university cities have local bus operators offering student passes and, depending on where you live, there could be massive savings to be had.
If you're not sure whether you need a bus pass or where to get one, read on for tips and tricks to cutting the cost of your travel.
What's in this guide?
Do you need a student bus pass?
If you take the same bus journey every day, and use it on nights out and other short trips, then you'll most likely be able to save money by getting a travel pass.
Arm yourself with at least a hazy notion of how much you typically spend on travel each week so you've got something to compare to later in this guide.
Things to consider before getting a bus pass
- Walking, cycling or running instead of getting the bus (if you live close enough, can do it safely and have the necessary equipment) would make your commute free. Here are our tips for cheap ways to buy a cheap bike if you don't have one yet.
- By paying up-front for a bus pass, it would make it easier for you to factor travel costs into your student budget.
- If you have a disability (physical or mental) you may be entitled to DSA travel support, or could be eligible for free or reduced fares – talk to your uni or service provider for more info.
- Some local bus services offer return journey fare savers which can save you some cash if you don't travel enough for a pass.
- Check if you could make a cheaper journey on any local trams, metro trains or river services (and apply this guide's advice to score savings however you get around town).
- If you're a student aged 18 or under you can probably already get discounted travel – get the details from operators in your area.
How much does a student bus pass cost?
Buying an annual bus pass may be a mighty initial tug on the purse strings, but it does come with the greatest potential for savings and the most flexibility for travelling when you want.
If you fork out the cash up front, you don't have to worry about it again for a whole year, and won't be stuck without a ride when times are lean (it could be worth allocating the cost from your first Maintenance Loan payment).
As an idea of costs, in North East England, an annual (academic year) Stagecoach student bus pass will set you back £280; in London, though, you can expect to pay much more – an annual student bus and tram pass from TfL costs £612.
Cheap bus tickets, term bus passes and university discounts
This won't always be possible, but if you can, try to get an academic year pass as it will likely be the most cost-effective choice if you're not sticking around in your uni town or city over the holiday periods.
Alternatively, if there aren't academic year passes available, it's worth looking into the costs of term passes (usually running from September – December and January – April/June). These tend to be the next best options, as again they mean you won't be paying for travel over the holidays.
Find out if your uni runs its own bus service as they may offer discounts or pass schemes. Otherwise, bear in mind that there could be more than one student bus operator in the area – stack up what each company offers to see where you can get the best travel deals and service.
And don't be too quick to assume you're priced out of the pass you'd need – you may just need to adjust your route slightly or start at a different bus stop, depending on the zone boundaries.
You may need to provide a student ID to get your pass, and you might even have to show it each time you travel. Operators all have different policies on replacing lost or stolen passes or refunding you if you want to cash in early – find out before you get stung.
Best student bus passes
Here are the best bus passes for students:
Where is Stagecoach available in the UK?
About Stagecoach bus passes
Stagecoach operates services in many university cities across a lot of England, Scotland and South Wales. Their Unirider bus pass is one of the best-value passes for students out there.
Like most bus passes, the cost varies from city to city (related to variations in single ticket prices) and you can book and buy online.
Note that, as well as the cost, the length of time you can get a Stagecoach bus pass for varies quite a lot across the UK, as well as the geographical size of the area covered by the passes.
As an example, in West Scotland, you can buy a Unirider pass for four or 13-week periods. Prices for four-week passes in West Scotland vary from £48.40 for travel within cities, to £101.30 for travel through the whole of West Scotland.
Comparing that to South Wales, you can get Unirider bus passes for each uni term – a Cardiff or Newport ticket for your second term in 2022, without a mytravelpass, cost £125.99. If you want to travel through the whole of South Wales, a ticket for the second term without a mytravelpass cost £303.99.
Have a look at their website to find the prices for your local area.
Where is First Bus available in the UK?
About First Bus passes
You'll find the pink and white buses of First Group in a number of university cities across mainland UK.
Annual, monthly and termly passes are generally available. Again, the prices and types of tickets on offer varies depending on whereabouts you're based, but in some parts of the UK like Aberdeen, Bradford and Leeds, you can get an annual or academic year bus pass for around £340. Visit their student site for current prices.
One perk of First Bus is that you can get slight discounts on some tickets if you get them on their mobile app (which is also quite handy if you're prone to losing paper tickets).
Plus, in some cities in the UK, they offer special deals on bus tickets. If you decide against a bus pass, or you're visiting a new city for a couple of days, have a look at the First Bus website to see if you can get cheap tickets with them.
Where is Arriva available in the UK?
About Arriva bus passes
Arriva is another major bus operator in many university cities across England and Wales. They offer a student bus pass called Student Saver.
Daily, weekly, monthly, termly and yearly passes are available, though not for all areas.
As an example of prices, a full academic year pass for Durham University costs £120.
Prices are different for the Universities of Medways passes (for Canterbury Christchurch Medway Campus, University of Greenwich Medway Campus, University of Kent and MidKent College). For this area, the academic year pass costs £170.
And, it's worth noting that not all of the student tickets on their website are available for university students.
When comparing their tickets with other bus services, double-check that you qualify for the discounted prices first, as some Arriva student tickets specify that they're for school students, rather than people at uni.
Where is Translink available in the UK?
- Northern Ireland.
Key facts about Translink bus passes
For people aged 16 – 23, the yLink travel card from Translink gets you a third off the cost of train and bus journeys in Northern Ireland. And best of all, you can get this card for free.
You don't have to be a student to use this card, so you can keep getting the discount even after leaving uni.
And if you're 24 or older, you can apply for the 24+ Student Railcard. This card gives you a third off on single, day return, weekly and monthly NI Railways tickets and up to 50% off Enterprise fares.
Just note, however, that if you're planning to use a yLink card for rail travel, the one-third-off discount doesn't apply to off-peak NI Railways Day Return tickets.
Where is Oyster available in the UK?
Key facts about Oyster passes and travelcards
Buses in London are cash-free: to travel on one, you'll need to get yourself an Oyster Card from Transport for London, use a payment app on your phone or tap in and out with a contactless bank card.
Oyster cards can be loaded up with travelcards and passes (daily, weekly or longer). They can also be loaded with cash and used to pay as you go.
Bus journeys in London have some handy fare caps to help you save money on travel.
A single bus journey costs a flat rate of £1.55, no matter how far you're travelling. And, if your balance or travel card runs out, you can make one extra trip without adding funds so you won't get stranded somewhere.
If you need to switch to a different bus on your journey, as long as it's within an hour from when you first tapped on the bus, you won't get charged another £1.55.
You can bag 30% off travel cards and bus/tram passes with an 18+ Student Oyster Card. It costs £25 and you'll need a London address, proof of student status and a recent photo to get one.
If you've got a 16–25 Railcard, you can link it to your Oyster card, and combine discounts to get a third off some off-peak fares and daily caps.
Check out our London student city guide for more information on getting the most out of the capital.
10 ways to save money on bus tickets without a pass
If you only use the bus every now and then, you might not want to splash out on a bus pass, but it still pays to be fare-savvy. Here are the best ways to save money on bus journeys:
- Use free inner-city buses for all or part of your journey if there are local ones available.
- Research the price zones nearby and find the cheapest bus route (even if it takes a bit longer).
- Avoid travelling during peak times when tickets are pricier.
- See if you're eligible for discounted tickets, like for being a young person, in full-time education or registered as disabled.
- Similarly, look out for special deals (e.g. First Bus offer reduced-ticket prices to students in some parts of the UK).
- Compare prices of local bus companies and travel with the cheapest, even if the route's slightly more awkward.
- Check for university night bus services as these should be affordable and safe.
- Find out if a local bus service caps their fares – in London, for example, bus prices are capped at £4.65 per day (individual journeys cost £1.55) and the TfL Hopper fare means you can make unlimited bus and tram journeys within an hour for £1.55.
- If you need to pay for each individual bus journey in a day, see if you can take one direct bus and walk the rest of the way.
- Don't use the bus – this might sound obvious, but it's easy to fall into the routine of following the same bus journey each day, even when you could spare the time to walk. Whenever possible, avoid getting the bus as this is the ultimate way to save money on bus journeys.
Once you've sorted bus travel, find out how you can make real savings on your train tickets when you head back home.
*Prices were correct at the time of writing.