What’s the Difference Between InterCity Backpacker Bus Passes?

© InterCity

FlexiPass and TravelPass: Budget-friendly Travel Around New Zealand

How are you going to make your merry way around New Zealand? As backpackers, we know that money can get pretty tight when travelling to the other side of the world so being able to reach far and wide in New Zealand without breaking the bank is always a bonus! That’s where the New Zealand bus network comes in, and the biggest one at that is InterCity.

The nationwide coach service is popular with locals and backpackers alike, reaching as much as 600 cities, towns and small communities. Although you can use InterCity for one-off bus trips, they also have two types of multi-trip backpacker bus passes, the FlexiPass and TravelPass, so you can cut down the cost of travel and take advantage of all those bus locations.

What are the FlexiPass and TravelPass and how are they different? Well, oh my, you might be reading the right article to find out more.

Before we begin, don’t forget to bookmark Travel by Bus in New Zealand: The Ultimate Guide for even more tips.

8 Things We Like About InterCity

  • A huge amount of stops InterCity has the widest bus network in New Zealand with more than 600 bus stops
  • Less time waiting for bus departures They have more than 140 daily departures. (Tip: book each trip at least one to two week’s in advance during the busy summer season. Otherwise, just booking a couple of days in advance is early enough to secure a seat on the bus)
  • Super flexible You can cancel a booking up to 2 hours before a bus departure with both the FlexiPass and TravelPass
  • Free WiFi nationwide They are the only national network to have free unlimited WiFi
  • Easy online booking system Compliments the free WiFi
  • Modern buses Lower fuel emissions to save the planet!
  • Bus driver commentary On some services, the bus driver will share their knowledge of the areas the bus passes through with some commentary
  • If you don’t end up using all of your hours on the FlexiPass (see below), you can pass or resell your remaining hours on! An easy way to do this is through the backpacking Facebook Groups like this one.
InterCity - GOLD class© InterCity

What is the InterCity FlexiPass?

This one is for the completely independent traveller. You decide where you want to go and when you want to hit the road. Perhaps you have perfected the ideal itinerary around New Zealand and all you need is a means to get to each location. On the other hand, maybe you have no plan what so ever and want to be free to make travel plans as you go along. After all, the great thing about a long backpacking trip or being on a working holiday means you have the time to be spontaneous and go on unexpected adventures.

The FlexiPass

InterCity’s FlexiPass gives you the freedom to travel between any of the destinations on the InterCity bus route. You purchase a number of hours then spend those hours on the bus routes you want. You can easily work out how many hours a bus route takes between some of the main bus stops on this FlexiPass Network Map. If you don’t know how many hours to buy, you can always add on hours to your pass later easy. Don’t worry if you end up buying too many hours. Unused FlexiPass hours can be sold-on anytime within the life of the pass. You’ll often see hours for sale on InterCity’s Facebook page.

Not only is the Interislander ferry between the North and South Islands included in the bus pass, but you can also spend your hours on a number of activities, such as cruises in the Bay of Islands and Milford Sound, and day tours to Cape Reinga and Aoraki Mt Cook. The full list of activities and tours can be found on the InterCity website.

Booking is made pretty simple with this bus pass. Manage your bookings, see how many hours you have, plan your routes, and add on activities all on the InterCity website. Nevertheless, if you prefer to speak to a human being, you can always book via InterCity’sfreephone number or book with agents all around the country (usually in information centres, i-SITEs and hostels). You won’t receive a physical bus pass, because, let’s face it, we live in a digital world, but you will receive a pass number and will choose an access code, like a password or secret phrase. You will need this information to access your online account and make a booking.

InterCity© InterCity

What is the Intercity TravelPass?

Sometimes, we feel a lot better with a base plan a route to follow but the ability to fit your own timeframe around it. That’s what the TravelPass is about. The TravelPass allows you to follow one of the 16fixed routes with lots of inclusions, such as a dolphin cruise here and a Hobbiton tour there. What’s more, you can travel your chosen route at your own pace, as the bus pass is valid for 12 months.

The TravelPass

Choose the perfect itinerary from the 16 routes available on the TravelPass. You can complete these bus passes in the minimum amount of days and up to 12 months, so it can really suit any timeframe. Plus, feel free to jump off the bus at any of the stops along the route, not just the main towns and cities seen on the map. Getting to that obscure WWOOFing destination or hopping off the bus to do a job for a couple of months is totally doable.

If your chosen route goes between the North and South Island, then you get the one-way ferry included, as well as activities to look forward to. Perhaps a day trip to the iconic Milford Sound or a trip on what’s been described as one of the world’s most scenic rail journeys, the TranzAlpine Express. However, note that this is not an all-inclusive tour, so accommodation and food will have to be arranged for yourself.

Should you want to add any extra bus trips or activities at an extra cost, you can do it on the InterCity website. You’ll be given a pass number and choose an access code to make bookings and manage your TravelPass online. Managing your pass online also allows you to pick your travel dates. Booking over the phone or with an agent(information centres, i-SITEs, hostels, etc.) is also an option.

InterCity © InterCity

So Which Pass Should You Choose?

Both bus passes provide a budget solution to travelling the country. But deciding which bus pass to take depends on how much time you have in New Zealand and how much you prefer to plan when travelling. It’s a personal choice!

As the name suggests, the FlexiPass is the most flexible, which is ideal for travellers who like to make their own arrangements. It’s no wonder why the FlexiPassis New Zealand’s most popular transport pass for independent travellers. Getting a FlexiPass is cheaper than buying individual bus tickets, so you’ll be getting good value for money. If you have a lot of time in New Zealand, perhaps three months to a year, then the FlexiPass is a good option for travelling between destinations. A lot can happen in a year and changing your travel plans is something most backpackers are grateful for.

The TravelPass has a few different scenarios which make this pass more preferable. You should consider the TravelPass if:

  • You don’t have a lot of time in New Zealand but want to see as much as possible. The set itinerary with a few activities included allows you to get a good taste of New Zealand before jetting off.
  • You simply don’t know what route to take to travel around New Zealand and would like a bit of guidance using your chosen itinerary as a base for travel, no matter what your timeframe is.
  • You have found a bus route itinerary that fits perfectly with your own plans and budget.

How Are the Bus Passes Different from Kiwi Experience or Stay?

First of all, the FlexiPass is extremely different from Kiwi Experience or Stray, giving you ultimate flexibility to choose any route around the country. The closest pass to Kiwi Ex and Stray is the TravelPass, offering a set route around the country. However, there are a few subtle differences to be aware of.

InterCity bus journies are shared with a mix of locals and international travellers, while the Kiwi Ex and Stray buses tend to just be fellow international travellers, usually of the 18-30 age group. Another difference is that Kiwi Experience and Stray are “hop-on-hop-off” buses, whereas you can only get off the InterCity TravelPass at scheduled stops. Finally, the TravelPass is often much cheaper than Kiwi Ex and Stray, especially in the summer season, giving you more bang for your buck.

Learn more about the difference between these buses in What is the Difference Between the Buses in New Zealand?

Still Not sure?

No need to panic, it may just mean that these kind of big bus passes are not for you. Although they are great options to save big on your trip, they are just not for everyone. Luckily both InterCity and its cheaper sister company Skip Bus offer bus rides individually, so just head to their website and book each leg of your trip one by one when you feel like it and enjoy true freedom. Ultimately, it may cost you a little bit more, but can you really put a price on freedom?

Find Out More About Travelling New Zealand

What’s it like taking a backpacker bus in New Zealand? Find out with these articles lovingly written for you.


Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before calling New Zealand home. He has now spent over a decade in the New Zealand tourism industry, clocking in more than 600 activities across the country. He is passionate about sharing those experiences and advice on NZ Pocket Guide and its YouTube channel. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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