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Serious value in Amtrak rewards using Chase points – the best 20,000 points you’ll spend?

by on Wed April 16, 2014 • 3 Comments
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coaststarlight

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 no change fees
  • There are no taxes or surcharges
  • You can refund them right up until departure
  • Any seat available for sale in cash is bookable with points – there are no capacity restrictions

There are however some blackouts which are pretty reasonable

  • You can’t travel on the dates listed in this calendar, which basically includes most major holidays
  • You can only travel on the Acela Express for departures between 9 am and 2pm, and after 6pm.

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:

  • Sleeping car accommodations  - $500 – $1,000+ in savings for 15,000 – 20,000 points in one zone (there are 3 - the West, Midwest, and East)
  • Last minute tickets in the Northeast Corridor – $150 in savings for 4,000 points
  • The AutoTrain during Spring Break – $250 in savings for 5,500 points
  • Several  state-funded short haul lines for 1,500 points like the Pacific Surfliner in California, Wolverine in Illinois, and Cascades in Washington

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.

FarePointsValue / Point
AutoTrain - Lorton - Sanford
Coach$2505,500$0.045
Roomette$52815,000$0.035
Bedroom$99125,000$0.040
Car add-on$18615,000$0.012
Acela Express - NY - Washington
Business$1528,000$0.019
First$26812,000$0.022
Northeast Regional
Coach$844,000$0.021
Business$1256,000$0.021
Pacific Surfliner - LA - San Diego
Business$562,000$0.028
Coach$371,500$0.025
Coast Starlight - LA - Seattle
Coach$1155,500$0.021
Roomette$50115,000$0.033
Bedroom$1,15325,000$0.046
California Zephyr - Oakland - Chicago
Coach$1638,000$0.020
Roomette$79120,000$0.040
Bedroom$1,76040,000$0.044
Silver Meteor - New York - Miami
Coach$1415,500$0.026
Roomette$36815,000$0.025
Bedroom$69725,000$0.028

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.

The original lie-flat

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.

amtrak-bunk-family-room

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…

View from the California Zephyr through Utah

View from the California Zephyr through Utah

Or this…

Utah from 34,000 feet

Utah from 34,000 feet

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.

Equally respectable.

And a way for you to get your fair share of the tax dollars spent on the train.

 

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3 thoughts on Serious value in Amtrak rewards using Chase points – the best 20,000 points you’ll spend?

  1. Gary

    Did it once – glad I did. Didn’t realize they let you book any train outside blackout dates even if getting close to full.

    Reply
  2. Amy

    My boyfriend and I took the Starlight up to Seattle. Had a roomette which was tight quarters (would do bedroom next time) but was a great journey. Eclectic people on the train, friendly enviro. Scenery is the show.

    Reply
  3. William Charles

    I’ve done a fair bit of train travel overseas and really enjoyed it. Can anybody comment on their experiences in the US? I’ve found that some countries were better than others and it varied largely. It’s hard to get an unbiased opinion because all the reviews seem to be from train enthusiasts.

    Reply

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