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The Frequent Miler blog reports that Amtrak plans to completely revamp its Guest Rewards points program in January 2016, and probably not for the better if you know how to get good value out of your points today.
All of the details will be released on August 31st, according to a leaked presentation.
What we know is:
That last point is the bad news and may be the price of getting rid of blackout dates and times.
Today, the zone you’re traveling in and train type determines the price you pay in points, regardless of how cheap or expensive the prevailing cash fare is.
For example, you can ride anywhere in the Northeast Corridor for just 4,000 points one way on a Regional train as long as you avoid Amtrak’s blackout dates.
You pay that same price regardless of whether the cash fare is $59 or $189.
And because of that you can get some really good value out of your points during busy times. Using 4,000 points for a $189 fare gets you over 4 cents per point in value, which is an outstanding deal.
What we don’t know is how many dollars of rail fare a point will buy.
If it’s a basic one cent per point, it will be bad news.
A $59 ticket could cost 5,900 points, and a $189 ticket 18,900 points, all prices much higher than today for trains like the Northeast Regional.
Hopefully it won’t be quite that bad.
One alternative is for cheap trains to be cheaper in points than they are today (so a $59 train costs 2,500 points for example), with that offset by expensive trains becoming more expensive in points (so that $189 ticket costs 7,500 points).
That would be decent for shorter trains.
The real tragedy could be Amtrak’s long distance sleeping car accommodations.
You can book a trip in one zone in an Amtrak roomette, which is a private room with all your meals included, for just 15,000 points, and that covers 2 people. It’s one of the best deals in miles and points.
A roomette on the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle can cost almost $600, so spending just 15,000 points for that trip gets you a value of 4 cents per point.
It’s hard to fathom Amtrak will keep such an attractive rate for awards that cost so much in cash, which would be a real loss
Most of the long distance trains traverse the West, where regular Amtrak service is less frequent and it’s harder to earn points via rail travel. So it could be a lot harder for loyal Amtrak riders out West to earn a valuable award.
What to do?
If you have a stash of Amtrak points, try to book rewards now, especially if you’re considering a sleeping car reservation. There’s no penalty for changes or cancellations and you can book as far out as mid-July as of today. So it’s easy to hold something for your summer 2016 vacation.
Also on September 12 Amtrak plans to unveil two new credit cards with a new bank according to the leaked presentation. That was also confirmed by Amtrak last week on FlyerTalk.
The good news is the new cards will roll out before the new program prices kick in, so you should be able to earn a sign on bonus from the new cards and use the points before January’s changes.
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