Update – Effective December 8, 2015 Chase Ultimate Rewards points no longer transfer to Amtrak Guest Rewards. And effective January 24, 2016, Amtrak will be changing the way award prices are calculated, which changes many of the award options mentioned below.
Chase Ultimate Rewards points are easy to earn quickly thanks to the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, and most of us earn them to save on flights. That makes sense – we tend to fly when we’re on vacation.
But you can also use them for free trips on Amtrak.
Amtrak ridership has been growing a lot the last several years, and fares are getting expensive, often more expensive than flights for the busy Northeast Corridor trains, while Sleeping Car tickets cost more than many long first class flights.
Yet the amount of points you pay for a free ticket is startlingly low, which is great since you can earn enough points for the best Amtrak rewards by signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and it’s easy to transfer the points to your Amtrak Guest Rewards account for free train rides.
Hear us out as we make the case that everyone should try at least one Amtrak reward. It could be the best 20,000 points you spend if you do it right.
First, Amtrak Guest Rewards points may not be sexy, but they work without a lot of the fuss you find with most airline miles:
There are however some blackouts which are pretty reasonable
But the real deal is in the value of the rewards. They’re particularly valuable if you live in the Northeast or California and the best overall values are:
Below are some examples of redemptions, with prices taken from typical peak travel days (remember you can use points even when fares are really expensive). The full Amtrak reward chart is here.
|Fare||Points||Value / Point|
|AutoTrain - Lorton - Sanford|
|Acela Express - NY - Washington|
|Pacific Surfliner - LA - San Diego|
|Coast Starlight - LA - Seattle|
|California Zephyr - Oakland - Chicago|
|Silver Meteor - New York - Miami|
Nearly every redemption has at least 2 cents of value per point, which is much better than popular Southwest flights at 1.4 cents, or using Chase points to book flights directly at 1.25 cents. And many Amtrak rewards have 4 cents per point in value, an incredible deal.
The only redemption you may want to avoid is the car surcharge for the AutoTrain. That’s about $186 in cash, but they’ll want 15,000 points for it, not a great deal for your valuable Chase points.
This is where things get really interesting.
Forget about hard to find lie-flat business class flight awards.
The Amtrak sleeping car is the original lie-flat way to travel.
One of the greatest reward values of all may be a full bedroom on the Coast Starlight up the West Coast from California to Washington, or on the California Zephyr from California to Colorado for just 20,000 points, which is the price for a one-zone bedroom reward.
That’s about $1,000 in value, and you can bring a guest along for the same price. If there’s a bedroom for sale, it’s yours with points.
You’ll max out your value per point, amenities, and the scenery only the train can provide. They could quite possibly be the most you’ll ever get out of just 20,000 points.
Sleeping car accommodations on Amtrak include all meals in the dining car as part of the ticket, you can bring a guest in your bedroom free, or if you reserve a Family Bedroom for the same price you can bring up to two kids. You’ll spend just one night on the train – the trips we suggest are 2 day events, not 5 day journeys. But you will have to pay for booze (maybe that’s what we’re missing). Good news is the bar is open all day and it offers nice government subsidized prices.
And the view.
Take your choice of views of the California coastline or winding your way through the Colorado Rockies. From points of view you can’t reach any other way.
Would you rather see this…
Your vacation every year shouldn’t involve the train.
But everyone should do it at least once. It’s about memories (where else can you bring a friend or family member for the same price – or even your kids if you get a Family Bedroom), the people you meet, and the things you won’t be able to see any other way. And doing it for so few points.
The signon bonus as of this post date for the Chase Sapphire Preferred can get you a round-trip in an Amtrak Superliner bedroom on the Coast Starlight, or on the California Zephyr from California to Colorado. That’s an incredible deal worth over $2,000.
You can also just hop the train from New York to DC and save $150 for 4,000 points.
And a way for you to get your fair share of the tax dollars spent on the train.
Leave a comment below -- we'll reply shortly -- no need to use your real name. Or, use the email form at the top of the page for private advice.
"These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered."