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