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Use your Amtrak points before Sunday to lock in prices before they change

by on Fri January 22, 2016 • 16 Comments
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Back in August, Amtrak Guest Rewards announced several major changes to its program that take effect Sunday, January 24, 2016.

Some prices will increase, others will decrease. That’s because Amtrak is changing the program to charge points based on how much the cash fare is at the time you book the ticket. Under the old program, there was a fixed menu of prices that never changed no matter what the price, which you can see here.

You’re going to want to spend this weekend deciding whether to book a trip under the old prices, which you can still do until Midnight on Sunday, but be aware there’s a 10% point penalty if you decide to cancel an award trip starting Sunday. You can use the calculator on this page to estimate how much an award will cost under the new system.

Awards that will probably be a lot more expensive

Sleeping card awards. If you like paying 15,000 points for a Sleeping Car Roomette, expect to pay more – as much as 25,000 points or more depending on the actual rail fare. Even worse, Amtrak is now charging more for an award if there’s more than one person in the room.

Last minute Acela and Northeast Regional trips. If you tend to use your points for last minute trips where Acela and Regional trains are expensive, you’ll have to pay more points in the new program, especially if you’re traveling between Boston and Washington, D.C., where fares are highest.

Awards that will probably be cheaper

Northeast Regional trips booked in advance. If you like using points on the popular Northeast Regional trains, you’ll generally pay less than the old 4,000 points with the new program. As long as a fare is below $116 one way you’ll pay fewer points. And you’ll earn just as many points as before.

California rides. If you use points for California and other special routes like the Pacific Surfliner from Los Angeles to San Diego you may be paying fewer points. For example the fare on the Surfliner from Los Angeles to San Diego is $37, which costs 1,277 points for a Guest Rewards ticket, lower than the old price of 1,500 points. And you’ll earn just as many points as before.

There will also be changes to how you earn points when you ride Amtrak.

The key changes are…

  • You’ll earn 3x points per dollar you spend on Acela First Class and 2.5x points per dollar for Acela Business Class fares. Previously you earned a minimum of 500 points in Business or 750 points in First Class, or 2x points per dollar you spend if that’s greater than those minimums.
  • You still earn 2x points per dollar spent on all other Amtrak travel. No change there.
  • The cost of awards is now based on the cash price of tickets. Every point will be worth 2.9 cents in value when redeeming for non-Acela trains, and 2.6 cents for travel on Acela trains. Unfortunately ‘Saver’ and other promotional fares are excluded, so you’ll get lower bang for your points if you use your points when those low fares are available.
  • There are no more blackout dates, and you can use points on all Acela trains (before trains during peak hours were blocked from Guest Rewards tickets)
  • For Sleeping Car awards, the award will also add the cost of the underlying train fare. Under the old system you could bring as many people as your room could fit for one single award price.
  • If you cancel a ticket, there is a 10% point penalty deducted from your refund. The same applies if you change your ticket to a train with a lower fare. Previously there were no penalties for a Guest Rewards ticket cancellation.
  • Doing the math, most award options will cost less for Amtrak travelers, especially Northeast Regional and Acela trains when you plan ahead

A look at some old and new award prices

Here’s a look at how some of the most popular routes will cost under the new program compared to the old using current fares for Amtrak routes. You’ll see in green examples that will become much cheaper, with 10% or greater savings over the old prices:

amtraknewagrprices

Getting 2.6 – 2.9 cents per point in value is one of the most consistently generous deals in travel, and will make the coming Amtrak Guest Rewards credit cards lucrative for everyday spending.

One catch is the point price isn’t calculated off of ‘Saver’ fares, which are sometimes offered on Northeast Regional trains, so if you’re on a train that offers those lower fares the point price is calculated off the ‘Value’ fare, which ends up getting you closer to 2 cents per point in value.

And here’s how many points you’ll earn for typical train rides as a base Guest Rewards member. There aren’t many changes here, other than expensive fares on the Acela earning more, and those who ride the cheapest Acela fares earning less:

amtraknewearning

On this front the combined earning power vs redemption value isn’t great for spending money on Amtrak travel, though it’s mostly better than or the same as before.

But if you primarily earn points via credit card spending you’ll probably like the value and flexibility of this new program.

How to play this

If you’re planning Amtrak travel this year, you should try to use your points at the old price if the fare for the trip you’re planning is higher than the below prices:

  • Acela First – $308
  • Acela Business – $205
  • Regional Business – $188
  • Regional Coach – $116
  • Sleeping Car Roomette – One Zone – $435
  • Sleeping Car Bedroom – One Zone – $725

At fares below those listed, you’re better off using your points under the new point prices that go into effect on January 24.

 

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16 thoughts on Use your Amtrak points before Sunday to lock in prices before they change

  1. cjf

    This new Rewards program is absolutely terrible. The prices are so extremely high. My husband and I have been saving points opening a charge card specifically for points for Amtrak. Now we’re thinking of closing it because it’s not even worth to try and save points through the rewards program as it is now. Myself and several other friends have wrote to Amtrak complaining about the new rewards and please change it back to the old Zone Program. I encourage everyone to take 15 sec send Amtrak a quick email asking them to change back to the Zone Program .. even most Airline flight programs do not go on the price. They use the points many times in first class. This is completely uncalled for. Amttrack is too expensive anyway and the rewards are the only way to be able to travel for some of us now we can’t even do that

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @cjf – It’s definitely a worse deal if you were saving for some of those long haul sleeping car trips. But not all of them are terrible – like the Coast Starlight – some of those roomettes / bedrooms are cheaper than they used to be.

      Reply
  2. Sheila Rowntree

    We booked travel before we were aware of an award program. Can we now sign up and receive credit. We have not yet traveled.

    Reply
  3. Raymond Doherty

    I have a ticket booked under the old program. If I want to make a change to it, to a different day of departure, do the old rules still apply? And will I have a 10% penalty if I cancel it? I hope not, as they should not change the terms of my ticket after I booked it and entered an agreement with them.
    Thanks,
    Raymond

    Reply
  4. Steve

    If I’m using the 2016 Points Estimator right, the new Guest Rewards program is much WORSE for me.

    I’m a frequent loyal Acela business NYC-BOS rider — 10~15~20 round trips per year for the past 12 years — and I’am affected by TQP changes. (I managed to earn Select Executive last year.)

    Under the old program, a one-way Acela business class NYC->BOS trip earned me 500 points (TQP) plus my Select Plus tier bonus of 250 points (not TQP). So, 10 roundtrips would earn me Select Plus for the following year [and I’d have roughly 12,500 points to burn (I cash out every 10,000 points as gift cards)].

    Under the new 2016 program, my one-way Acela business class NYC->BOS trip costing an average of $150 will earn me only 375 points (TQP) plus my Select Plus Tier bonus of 150 points (not TQP, right?). So, I will now need 13 (!) roundtrips to earn Select Plus for the following year… or 27 (!) round trips to reach Executive instead of 20. UGH!!!

    The 2016 changes may be good for non-Acela riders but I think that they are much WORSE for Amtrak’s coveted Acela business passengers like myself.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Steve – Yes that’s where the earn hits hardest – because of that special bonus they had on Acela travel. Those aren’t cheap fares either.

      Reply
  5. Brian Youngerman

    Did Amtrak just do a bait-and-switch on their points valuation? They posted an online calculator before and just after their new points system went into effect in January 2016. They valued each Amtrak point at a generous 2.9 cents/point. Now, when I called to use my points, they told me I would only get the equivalent of 1.8 cents/point.

    Has anyone else noticed the discrepency?

    Brian

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Brian – Are you looking at a train where there are ‘Saver’ fares available? That seems to be the discrepancy. The price in points is based off the ‘Value’ fare at the 2.9 cent conversion rate. You’ll see some trains with lower ‘Saver’ fares available, but the price in points will only be based on the higher ‘Value’ fare at the 2.9 cent conversion rate.

      This week for example on Thursday, NY Penn – DC, only ‘Value’ fares are available, with the lowest price $88, and 3,036 points, which works out to 2.9 cents per point.

      But if you look ahead to March 17, there is a $49 Saver fare available, alongside the $88 Value fare, and the price in points is still 3,036, which is 2.9 cents per point on that $88 Value fare.

      Ironically, Amtrak is giving you better value on trains where it’s closer to selling out (where there are no cheap Saver fares left) – which seems to work against their interest.

      Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Rose – Yes Auto Train prices are affected, but not necessarily more expensive. For example a Roomette goes from 30,000 points for up to 2 people with a vehicle to around 20,000 points for a sample date in June (June 15). For the Roomette alone it prices around 12,000 points on that date versus 15,000 points today.

      Where it gets expensive is if the Auto Train date you want to travel is more than about $450 for the Roomette. For example in April there are dates where the Roomette costs over $500, and will set you back about 18,000 points plus the cash cost of your vehicle.

      So the increase isn’t too bad. Play around with the Point Estimator here to see how things price out:

      http://agr.amtrak.com/rideon/#

      Reply
  6. Jays Tump

    The average taxpayer subsidy per Amtrak rider is $100, or 40 percent of the total per-passenger cost.

    Since 1972 Amtrak has received more than $13 billion of federal subsidies.

    Reply
    1. Lena

      And the highways and airlines receive FAR, FAR MORE than Amtrak. Neither of those make a profit (after subtracting airline baggage and other fees). Amtrak’s north east corridor does make one.

      Not only that, but Amtrak is heavily involved in and owns part of the country’s biggest commuter lines.

      Amtrak serves many areas which don’t have airline service.

      The country can’t function without it.

      Reply
  7. Mike

    Not a huge deal, but you forgot the 100-point minimum on earning points that’s going away. Only trip on your chart that would be effected is SAN-LAX (a trip I make a lot), dropping from 100 to 74 points earned. Though I usually travel business class, so I’ll actually earn a few more points thanks to the new Business Class bonus.

    I actually planned a cross-country trip specifically because of the rumored changes, but once they were announced they weren’t nearly as bad as I had feared; I’m actually waiting to book SAN-WAS until after the changes take effect, as it’ll be fewer points for my particular day of travel.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Mike – Good catch yes. Good that SAN-WAS will be cheaper for you – it seems it’s the one zone sleeper car awards that are hardest hit. Hard to beat the views on the Surfliner though between San Juan Capistrano and San Diego!

      Reply
  8. Marilyn Sheck

    Will there be any change using points for a trip on Silver Meteor Washington DC to Orlando/Tampa? With bedroom…

    Reply

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