Saving Money and Earning Points on Amtrak

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We have a family trip to the Northeast coming up this summer, and as part of the journey we need to get from Washington DC to New York City.  There are tons of ways to do this including flying, car rental, bus rides, train rides, etc.  We wanted the easiest, most comfortable, and efficient way to get from one city to the other as we are trying to maximize my husband’s extremely limited vacation days, so we decided to take Amtrak.

One thing I love about the train is that train stations are often in or around the middle of town, as opposed to airports that are often way outside of town.  This cuts down on travel time both coming and going, which I appreciate greatly.  I also think my four year old will enjoy her first Amtrak train ride a bit more than yet another short and regional jet type flight.  I’m by no means an Amtrak pro, but here are a few lessons I learned when booking this trip.

Book in Advance for Better Savings:

Naturally I wanted the best deal I could get on our train tickets, so I started looking several months in advance and found some amazing rates at the Saver level for just $122.50 all-in for all three of us to travel one-way from Washington DC to New York!  Being the Amtrak novice that I am, I didn’t pull the trigger right away, and by the time I went to book (two months from the travel date) the only departures times that were still at that rate were in the middle of the night.  No thank you. 

However, all was not lost as they still had some “value” seats available at a reasonable price for a departure time that would work for our travel plans, so I locked some of those in.

Use Discount Codes on the Value Seats:

If you want to use a discount code such as AAA (10%) or Veteran’s Advantage (15%), you need to be purchasing a Value level seat or higher.  This worked out in my case since there weren’t any Saver seats left.  I was able to use the 15% Veteran’s Advantage code to save some money.  Note that the code only works for one passenger, not for the whole family the way it does on United (5% off United flights).

Amtrak Veteran's Advantage

Use Ultimate Reward Points:

I could have transferred 4,000 Ultimate Reward points per person to Amtrak from cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Ink Bold® Business Card or Ink Plus® Business Card and booked our Northeast Zone coach class tickets using points instead of cash.  You could use additional points for the business and first class options as well.  I opted not to do this in this case since it wasn’t going to give me a return for my points that I was happy with, but it was right on that line of being a good option.  It wouldn’t have been a bad use of points if I had gone that direction, and if the ticket prices were any higher I absolutely would have used points instead.  In this case though it mainly gave me peace of mind that I had a good fall back option if I wasn’t happy withe price we were able to get.

Amtrak Zones

Also note that The Deal Mommy reports that she was able to use 4,000 Ultimate Reward points transferred to Amtrak for her ticket, and then she was able to call in and add her daughter to the reservation for the 50% off kid rate using cash.  This could be a very good way to take advantage of the lower priced kid rates and use points for the more expensive adult tickets.

If you are at all interested in using Ultimate Reward points to travel in style of Amtrak, check out this post about a family who used their points to travel on the Auto Train!

Earn Amtrak Points:

Through Veteran’s Advantage I was able to join Amtrak Guest Rewards and get 1,000 bonus points for my first paid trip taken within 90 days (500 points if you don’t have Veteran’s Advantage).  That’s not bad considering the normal earn rate is 2 points per $1 spent (with a 100 point minimum per trip).  You can also refer friends/family for a 500 point bonus if they take a trip within 90 days (they will also get the 500 mile bonus when they take their first paid trip).  This means I could refer my daughter and husband for Amtrak Guest Rewards and end up with 2,000 total bonus points + the regular points I will earn from the trip and be that much closer to a free ticket next time.  I can top-up with Ultimate Reward points if I’m not quite to the threshold I need for an award ticket next time I take Amtrak.

All in all we spent a little over $190 for the three tickets from Washington DC to New York, and we will begin and end our journey in the heart of these cities without having to waste a ton of time getting out to the airports (woohoo!).  I will be over half-way to a free train ticket in the Northeast next time thanks to some bonuses from joining Amtrak Guest Rewards.  I didn’t use Ultimate Rewards transferred to Amtrak to help purchase my tickets this time, but I very likely will next time since I will already have some Amtrak points in my account.

Best of all, my daughter will get to experience riding the train in the United States for the first time!

What do you do to maximize your Amtrak trips while keeping the costs as low as possible?

 

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Comments

  1. Tips from a frequent amtrak rider:

    Booking in advance is key. Amtrak still lets you cancel tickets pretty close to departure (I think it’s 24 hours now) but depending on when you cancel they will put the ticket in an evoucher you can only use on Amtrak.

    Every once in a while Amtrak will have a 3 day sale where a ticket from WAS to NYP is only $39. Book quickly when this e-mail comes to your inbox.

    Many times Amtrak will have a companion fare sale to Northeast destinations where you will get 30% off the ticket price for people traveling with you. They are not advertised well but they are there!

    Also, the Chase Amtrak card gets you a 10% rebate on points, so a Northeast Regional Trip is only 3,600 points (you have to put 4,000 down, though)

    A lot of pre-tax commuter cards can be used for Any Amtrak ticket. I know it’s an ethics question and could be suspect, but it’s technically not illegal.

    An Acela ticket from WAS to NYP will net you 500 points (750 in first class) regardless of the ticket price.

    Personally, I ride Amtrak a lot being from the Northeast–I usually buy a ticket for myself and use points for my companions so I can make Amtrak status and get the points for traveling.

    Amtrak and United are pretty closely aligned (United runs a codeshare train to EWR from a few cities). United Club members can access Acela Lounges in WAS, PHL, NYP, and BOS (or if you have a same day united global first or business first ticket you can get in). The lounges aren’t fancy, but if you’re waiting a while it’s a nice place to get away from the crowds (especially in New York Penn Station)

    Keep an eye out for double points promos!

  2. I took the Amtrak from DC to NY a few weeks ago and it’s definitely the most convenient, hassle-free way to travel. A tip that may be relevant: although the train does offer WiFi, you can’t stream any video over it as that’s blocked. So in case you’re planning to provide video entertainment for your little one, you’ll have to download it ahead of time or provide your own alternate hotspot for the train ride. Have fun!

  3. Book early! I do this trip a few times a year, and if I book early enough, I can always get the saver one-ways for $49. That’s $98 round trip, city center, to city center. For peak times like holiday weekends, I book 6-9 months ahead of time to get that rate and a convenient time. For trips at off-peak times, 2-3 months early might still get you the $49 rate. It really makes sense to use points if your departure time is close, and the ticket prices are high.

  4. Book early and if possibly try not to travel on Friday and Sunday or at least don’t try to travel at peak times on those two days.

  5. we’ve streamed Netflix several times over Amtrak’s Wi-Fi, its a good way to kill some season episodes.

    Amtrak is funny, very old world revenue management thinking though.
    if you want to change the same day ticket to an earlier/later train, they will only let you buy the fares that are left (obviously high fares) instead of just moving your ticket even if the train is half full.

    they also have mechanical issues a lot, and since there is one track, this can lead to significant delays.

    but keeping these things in mind, it can be a great way to travel.

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