On our recent 4th of July trip to Washington DC and New York City we decided to get our family from DC to NYC by Amtrak train.  The points/dollars difference between flying and taking the train was pretty insignificant, but we decided that taking the train would be far easier than getting out to the airports (especially in NYC), going through security, dealing with delays into NYC, etc.  Train stations are typically in the heart of the city, there aren’t the security hassles, and it is a pretty time efficient way to get between New York and DC.  Plus, our four year old had never been on an Amtrak, so it was the clear winner in our planning process, and it worked out very well on our actual trip as well.

Amtrak Zones

Save Money on Amtrak:

In a previous post I covered how to save money or even use points to bring down the costs of taking Amtrak, so I won’t get into all those details again other than to re-emphasize the three main points which are book early for the best deals, be sure to get the kid’s discount for your little ones, and remember if you want to avoid a cash price entirely you can transfer points to Amtrak 1:1 from Ultimate Rewards earning cards such as Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Plus® Business Card.  As a point of reference, tickets on the DC – NYC route I took started at 4,000 points per ticket.

Amtrak Boarding Process and Lounge Access:

Just like you will find with airports and airlines, Amtrak has lounges in major stations that you can access a variety of ways:

  • Amtrak Guest Rewards members with a valid Select Plus or Select Executive member card.
  • Amtrak passengers with a same-day ticket (departing) or ticket receipt (arriving) in First Class or sleeping car accommodations.
  • United Club Members with a valid United Club Card may bring in two guests or their spouses and children under the age of 21. Additionally, United Global First or United BusinessFirst passengers with a flight coupon or boarding pass with a segment in United Global First or United BusinessFirst.
  • Complimentary ClubAcela Single-Day Pass holders. Same-day travel ticket not needed.
  • Private car owners/lessee and party between time of arrival and departure specified in the PNR. PNR number to be given to Club representative upon entry.

I do currently have a United Club Membership so theoretically could have gotten us in the lounge at Union Station, but we didn’t get to the station early enough to make use of a lounge.  We got there just early enough to grab some food to go from some of the casual restaurants and then trek to get in the back of the long boarding line.

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Several decent options for food in Union Station

When traveling as a family we rarely arrive anywhere early, and in this case we probably got to the station a little later than we should have given that seats together were pretty important to us.  The boarding line was pretty substantial when we schlepped to the back of it, and I mentally started prepping us for having to scramble to find seats.  I would estimate we got to the boarding area about 20 minutes before departure, but going with the recommended minimum of 30 minutes before is a better suggestion.

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Around that time a delay was posted for our train, so our moods started to deteriorate rapidly as we knew we would likely have drama getting seats together thanks to being a bit late ourselves, and now we didn’t know how much extra time we would be spending waiting for the train as an estimated departure was not announced along with the delay.  Oh and did I mention that our kid was very much in need of a midday siesta?

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By some miracle of all miracles an Amtrak employee must have saw how pathetic we looked and came up to us to ask if C was our daughter.  I immediately thought she must have done something naughty when we weren’t looking simply because of the tired and cranky mood she was in, but that was not at all the case.  Instead he motioned for us to follow him, which we did despite having no idea where he was taking us.

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In the “Priority Boarding” holding pen with nap blankie ready!

Turns out he was taking us to a Priority Boarding area that was occupied by one other family with an infant.  I have looked around Amtrak’s website and not found any official info about priority boarding for families with small kids, but this was a huge help for us, and truthfully for everyone as ultimately I would need seats with my kid.  Another seemingly officially unpublished option to get Priority Boarding is to simply use the Red Cap service to get assistance with your bags as that comes with Priority Boarding.  This is a free service other than the tip that I would happily supply in exchange for cutting the line!

Luckily for us the delay was pretty minimal so after a few minutes we were able to board the train first and had our pick of seats.  We got incredibly lucky to go from the back of the line with a delay of unknown length to the front of the line with a very short delay in a matter of minutes.

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Enjoying the Ride:

Our train car quickly filled up, and folks were giving dirty looks left, right, and center to try and keep other passengers from sitting next to them.  It wasn’t too long before people started having to go from car to car trying to find open seats together.  After we settled in it was time to enjoy the lunches we had quickly purchased at Union Station before boarding.  You can also buy meals from one of the cars on-board, but it was simplest for us to just bring our own.  Unlike on a plane, we were able to immediately put the tray table down and start chowing away.   Also unlike with air travel you could bring your own liquids to the station and onto the train.

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Shortly after the meal, C was ready for a much needed nap.  Like with most kids, the long days of travel catch up to her before too long and naps become a priority.  One thing I loved about riding the train is that she was able to just like down and make herself comfortable with my lap as the pillow.  She was not confined to just her seat thanks to an armrest the way she is on most planes.  She got pretty comfortable and slept the majority of the 3+ hour trip from DC to NYC.

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This meant I got to take advantage of the free internet on board and get some work done on the trip.  The internet service was not fantastic, but it was so much better than none!  Between the on-board WiFi, the sleeping kid, and some pretty decent scenery along the way, the trip went by very quickly.  Before I knew it we were pulling into Penn Station in New York well rested, caught up on work, and ready for another leg of our journey.  We opted for the regional service over the Acela simply to keep costs down, but we could have booked the Acela Express if we wanted to shorten the trip a bit by not stopping at multiple stations along the way.

I would absolutely use Amtrak again the next time we needed to get between geographically close cities in the Northeast

Posted by Mommy Points | 11 Comments

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11 Responses to “Riding Amtrak with a Family – Big Success!”

  1. Greg says:

    We took Amtrak to NYC last year with 4 kids ages 9-19. It was a VERY HOT weekend in NYC. The train trip each way was a highlight for everyone. It was air-conditioned with free WI-FI, plenty of room and great scenery along the Hudson River. We used Capital One rewards to pay for Amtrak. Oh, and kids are half price with an adult (2 kids per adult).

  2. Lynn says:

    Ticket prices go up the closer to travel on Amtrak so plan ahead. Fridays and Sundays tend to be more expensive on the East coast. Also the “named” trains on the East Coast tend to be more full for passengers getting on in DC because they start in the southern part of the US making it harder to finds seats together. If you want quiet try the quiet car. With families this may not work as people expect it to be quiet. I almost saw two passengers get into it over one guy talking to his neighbor. I travel to NJ or NY once or twice a year by train from DC

  3. MrChu says:

    You should have used the club because they board directly from the club about a few minutes before the regular riff raff line.

  4. Corey says:

    http://www.vox.com/2014/3/31/5563600/everything-you-need-to-know-about-boarding-an-amtrak-train

    In that link, Vox explains how to avoid the ridiculous train queue in DC, Phila, and New York. Those are the only stations in the world that board trains this way, and there’s no understandable value in it.

  5. Emily e says:

    When we lived in DC, my 2yo and I took the amtrak to meet my husband in NYC for a weekend and it was a fabulous trip. Amtrak can be pretty unreliable but when it’s running its a great option with kids between the two cities.

  6. Vicente says:

    Did you ride on points? The fabulous value of Amtrak is using points for bookings. You need to book 3+ days ahead to get AAA rate. On the other hand, points bookings are always the same redemption. AND you cancel for a full points refund until the train departs.

    We recently did ATL-NYP with 2 adjoining full bedrooms (suite) and it was great. One member of our party needed to head back from there, so we did a last-minute points booking for them coach. The rest of us continued to Boston after a few days. The Boston station is great, and makes up for what a dump Penn station is.

  7. Allen says:

    One of the most memorable trips I have taken was with my wife, daughter, and parents from MSP to SEA aboard the Empire Builder. First class sleeper tickets using UR points. Sleeper compartments are like a mini camper with bathroom, beds, etc. Meals in the dining car are included with FC tickets. Amtrak even had wine and cheese tastings mid afternoon for FC ticket holders. The scenery passing through Glacier National Park was awesome. A park ranger even gets on the train and narrates that part of the trip.

  8. G says:

    You were literally right next to my office when you were in DC.

  9. StacyShine says:

    Thanks again Mommypoint – I love reading your blog! So much of the information is relevant for me and my little family. :)

  10. Ryan S says:

    Glad you had a good experience – Amtrak can be spotty, but overall I’m a big fan.

    For something completely different, you should all pile into a bedroom and make a cross country trip. It’s amazing to see the country go by from the RR tracks.

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