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How to use Amtrak Guest Rewards points – Sleeping cars, Acela, and more

by on Tue April 18, 2017 • 5 Comments
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Amtrak Guest Rewards points is one of the most valuable travel reward programs out there.

Whether you regularly use Amtrak for commuting, or consider crossing the Continental Divide in a famed California Zephyr sleeper car, there are lots of ways get great value out of Amtrak points without spending a lot.

When you use them well, Amtrak points are worth 2.9 cents per point – one of the best consistent redemption values in travel.

How to Book a Ticket With Points

Regular Trains

Booking an award ride with Amtrak points is easy on Amtrak.com. After you log in, you’ll see the “Search” window on the left. Enter your information, check off “Points” and click “FIND TRAINS.” For our example, we’ll search for a one-way ticket from San Diego to Los Angeles.

amtraksanlaxow1

As you can see, you have a choice between a Coach award and Business Class award. Choose the train you’re interested in, then click “ADD TO CART” and proceed with your payment.

You can book a round-trip journey the same way. Just tick “Round-Trip” instead of “One-Way.”

amtraksleeper

Sleeping Cars

Riding in a Superliner sleeping car (roomette or bedroom) is the most enjoyable experience for a train lover, and booking sleeping quarters on points is as easy as booking any other kind of seat.

Let’s take a look at what sleeping cars would cost us on the California Zephyr, which runs through Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Denver and Winter Park, Colorado; Reno, Nevada; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Sacramento and Davis, California.

The California Zephyr offers you several sleeping options.

This is the cheapest way to enjoy a sleeping car on California Zephyr, and on this date it only costs 24,357 points.

To get to other options click the right “CHANGE” arrow. That will take you to the “Family Bedroom” with a much higher corresponding price tag – 52,371 points.

amtrakzephyr3

You can find detailed descriptions of different types of accommodations here:

Note that we have priced our ticket for one person; however, redemption costs for sleeping accommodations will be higher for more people (on the other hand, your ticket includes all meals onboard).

In our example, 2 adult tickets for a Superliner Roomette will cost you 30,222 points, roughly 6,000 points more, which is the cost of a basic coach seat.

amtrakzephyr4

Auto Train

Wouldn’t it be great if you could take your car on a trip with you without having to drive all the way over?

Amtrak runs an Auto Train between Lorton, VA and Sanford, FL, and you can use Amtrak points to pay for you and your car to get there. You can choose a round trip or you can ride one way, and drive back home.

Just search for Lorton, VA to Sanford, FL and the Auto Train options will automatically display.

autotrain

Multi-Ride Tickets

You can also use points to buy multi-ride tickets, but you can’t redeem them online. For redeeming monthly and Ten-Ride tickets call 1-800-307-5000.

How Much Do Rewards Cost?

With Amtrak, the price you pay in points is based on the price in cash for a ticket.

You can get up to 2.9 cents per point redemption value, which means that Amtrak is still one of the most valuable travel loyalty programs, considering that most travel points, like Southwest Rapid Rewards get you just 1 – 2 cents in value for most redemptions.

With Amtrak, you can get $100 in train fare value for 3,448 points.

With Southwest points, which are worth about 1.5 cents each, you can get $100 in flight value for about 6,700 points.

So in other words, Amtrak points can be twice as valuable on a point by point basis than Southwest points, one of the most loved point systems around.

acelaamtrak

Northeast Corridor

The catch to the 2.9 cents per point value is that Amtrak doesn’t base point prices off its cheapest ‘Saver’ fares. So if you’re buying a ticket on a train that has a Saver fare available, your points will get you less than 2.9 cents per point in value.

To illustrate, let’s search for an award ticket from New York Penn Station to Washington, DC.

You can get your ticket for 3,140 points.

amtraknypwasoct

That works out to 2.9 cents per point compared to the ‘Value’ fare of $91. However, the same ticket would only cost $49 at the Saver fare, so you’re only getting 1.6 cents per point in value.

amtraknypwascash

Basically, Amtrak points are a great deal when trains are busy and ‘Saver’ fares aren’t available.

However, if you are interested in a Business Class ticket, that can still be a good value. It’s just slightly more on points vs. Coach (3,278 Amtrak points vs. 3,140 points).

amtrakboswasbusiness

But it would cost you almost twice as much in cash: $95 vs. $49.

amtrakboswascash

So, redeeming your points on a Business Class ticket can still be a great deal in many cases.

Fortunately, Saver fares tend to be mostly on Northeast Corridor trains. You can often get the 2.9 cent per point redemption rate regardless of how soon you need a ride in other areas of the country. In our dummy bookings, we’ve discovered that cash fares and redemption rates often don’t change in different markets across the country. Here is a close-by search for a ticket from San Diego to Los Angeles on points.

amtraksanlaxfeb

And on cash:

amtraksanlaxcashfeb

We’ve found similar results for short travel distances between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth; Indianapolis and Cincinnati; Orlando and Jacksonville; and between Vancouver and Seattle. Cash fares and point redemption rates appear to be consistent for these routes throughout the year.

Not opulent, but a decent Amtrak dining car meal

Sleeping Car Redemptions

Redeeming Amtrak points for sleeping car accommodations can still be a great bargain.

Let’s check one of the most aspirational Amtrak redemptions we’ve already discussed – California Zephyr running between San Francisco and Chicago.

The old Amtrak points system was quite simple. You would pay 15,000 Amtrak points for a Roomette and 20,000 points for a Bedroom in 1 zone and 25,000 points across 2 zones. A bedroom used to cost 20,000 points in the Northeast Zone, but it somewhat lacks really scenic routes.

Nowadays, it’s all about the cost of the ticket. And if we know anything about the costs of long-distance Amtrak tickets it’s that they fluctuate.

Let’s take the most scenic part of the California Zephyr ride – between San Francisco and Denver. Since it covers one zone only, it would cost you 15,000 Amtrak points for a Roomette and 20,000 points for a Bedroom for any number of people, limited only by the size of the cabin. Here is what the same ride would cost you.

amtraksandenmarchroomette

As you can see, a Roomette redemption rate for 1 person off-season can be quite reasonable at less than 13,000 points. In fact, it’s 17% better than the old rate. A bedroom – not so much at over 45,000 points.

amtraksandenmarchbedroom

Here is what you would pay if you were traveling with a partner, though.

A Roomette for 2 would cost you 16% more than the old redemption scheme, which is still reasonable.

amtraksandenmarchroomettefor2

If you travel during the high season, however, prepare to pay more, like 18,000 points in the middle of July for one person.

amtraksandenjulyroomette

As you can see, you’ll pay 20% more compared to what you would’ve paid before the devaluation and 43% more than you would pay for traveling off-season. So, choose your travel dates wisely if you are flexible.

Unfortunately, whenever you travel in a Bedroom or/and with a partner or a family, you will pay more points than before the devaluation (regardless of the season). However, riding solo off-season in a Roomette can sometimes be a truly sweet spot in the current Amtrak redemption scheme.

autotrain

AutoTrain Car Add-On

As we’ve mentioned before, Amtrak operates an Auto Train between Lorton, VA and Sanford, FL, so you can save a few dollars on car rentals if this is where your travel takes you.

The rates for a car add-on are normally either $198 / 6,762 points or $248 / 8,556 points. Taking your car with you might not be worth it for a few-days vacation, but if you are going on a few-weeks trip, the savings may be substantial. In our research, we found that you should book 1-2 months ahead to get the cheapest fares or rates, although it can change depending on the season.

amtrakautotrainfebpoints

amtrakautotrainfebcash 

Good deal or not?

Upgrades – Great deal

Upgrades can be a great deal for your Amtrak points.

You can get four upgrade coupons for 10,000 points. The coupons are only available for upgrades from Coach to Business Class or Business to First class and  you can’t use them to upgrade to a Sleeper Car accommodations.

One of the best uses is for upgrading to First Class on the Acela Express in the Northeast Corridor.

A First Class ticket on Acela Express gets you a more comfortable chair, more leg space, a decent meal with free booze, and access to lounges along the way. For a long 7+ hour trip between Boston and Washington, DC, the expense might be quite worth it.

Amtrak often charges $150 or more extra to sit in Acela First Class, so using just 2,500 points can get you 5 cents or more in value for your points, probably the most lucrative value possible with your Amtrak points.

Tip: The catch is you can only confirm your upgraded seat within 12 hours of your departure time, so you won’t know in advance whether you’ll be upgraded.

Multi-Ride / Ten-Ride Tickets – Good deal

The Ten-Ride Ticket can be a lousy or outstanding deal depending on your travel patterns. Depending on the origin and destination, it’s valid for 45, 60 or 180 days, and there are a bunch of restrictions you should know about, as well.

For example, the 10-ride ticket isn’t valid on Acela Express, some Northeast Regional trains (on certain routes), California Zephyr, Coast Starlight and many others. Check Multi-Ride Tickets Restricted Trains for complete information, but you can purchase them for these routes:

amtrak10pack1

For illustration purposes, let’s check a simple route between New York and Philadelphia.

The 45-day 10-ride ticket will cost you 20,493 Amtrak points, or about 2,050 points per ride (you can only check prices for 10-ride tickets by calling Amtrak on 1-800-307-5000).

Is it a good deal or a bad deal?

Well, if you don’t buy tickets last minute, it might not be worth the points. You can get a Saver ticket between New York and Philly for as little as $39, which yield less than 2 cents per point in value.

amtrak10pack2
On the other hand, if your pattern is a bit different, the 10-Ride ticket can be a fantastic deal.

What if you are not flexible at all, need to buy last minute, and you have to be at your destination at a certain time? If your recognize yourself in this pattern, the 10-ride ticket can give you big savings.

Here, a train eligible for a 10-ride ticket costs $91 in cash.

In this example, the 2,050 points per ride of a 10-ride ticket gets you over 4 cents per point in value, a great deal for your points. It you travel often on last minute fares, saving your points for a 10-ride ticket can stretch them very far.

amtrak10pack4

ClubAcela Passes – Bad deal

You can buy a pack of 5 Single-Visit ClubAcela passes for 5,000 points. You will get access to ClubAcela at the following locations:

  • Boston South Station
  • New York Penn Station
  • Philadelphia 30th Street Station
  • Washington, D.C. Union Station

You will also get access to Amtrak Metropolitan Lounges:

  • Chicago Union Station
  • Los Angeles Union Station
  • Portland, Oregon Union Station

You will find comfortable seating and simple free beverages and snacks, but no alcohol or substantial food. You’ll also get early notice of what tracks trains are departing, so you can position yourself to board early.

It’s hard to say whether or not these coupons are a good deal. If you are planning to spend a long time at the station and need to catch up on your work, they might be. Remember, however, that at the fixed 2.9 cent per point value, it’s like paying $29 per lounge visit, which is steep for so few perks.

Car Rental Certificates – Bad deal

You can redeem Amtrak points on a Hertz Gift Certificate.

  • 6,000 points for a $50 Certificate
  • 10,000 points for a $100 Certificate

Unless you have no interest in redeeming Amtrak points for rail travel, these are not good redemptions. They only give you 1X maximum (10,000 points for a $100 Certificate), while Amtrak can give you 2.9X.

Hotel Certificates – Bad deal

Amtrak is partnered with Hilton HHonors and Starwood hotels. You can redeem Amtrak points for Hilton in the following ratio: 10,000 Hilton Honors Points for 5,000 Amtrak points.

Redeeming for Starwood hotels works a bit differently:

  • Category 1 Starwood Hotels One Night Stay Certificate – 10,000 Amtrak points
  • Category 2 – 15,000 points
  • Category 3 – 22,500 points
  • Category 4 – 27,500 points

You can’t redeem Amtrak points for higher Categories hotels.

While redeeming Amtrak points for Starwood hotel is a terrible value proposition (once again, remember you can get 2.9X value on Amtrak travel), transferring your points to Hilton Honors can work for you, albeit in limited circumstances. 10,000 Hilton Honors points can buy you 2 nights at a Category 1 hotel. So if your travel takes you to a Category 1 Hilton hotel that costs more than $73 a night, you’ve got yourself a deal (at 2.9X, 5,000 Amtrak points are worth $145).

Transfer Points to Choice Privileges and Audience Rewards – Mixed bag

Point transfers to Choice Privileges used to be a great way to collect hard-to-get Choice points. Alas, it’s not the case any longer unless you’re an Elite Amtrak member or unless you spend a lot of money on the Amtrak credit card.

You can get 15,000 Choice Privileges Points for 5,000 points, but only if you qualify.

  • Select or Select Plus Members may redeem up to 50,000 Amtrak points for Choice Privileges or Audience Rewards points per calendar year.
  • Select Executive Members have no redemption limits.
  • Cardholders of the Amtrak World Master Card issued by Bank of America with an annual spend of $20,000 or more per calendar year may redeem up to 25,000 Amtrak points for Choice Privileges or Audience Rewards points per calendar year.

Cruise Gift Cards – Bad deal

You can redeem Amtrak points on Disney or Princess cruises at 10,000 points for a $100 Gift Card. Just as with car rentals, it yields only a 1X value – not a good deal, compared to rail travel redemptions.

Dining and Entertainment Gift Cards – Bad deal

You can redeem Amtrak points for a number of restaurant and movie theater gift cards at:

  • 6,000 points for a $50 Gift Card
  • 10,000 points for a $100 Gift Card

By now, you already know this is not a good value, but here is the list anyway:

  • Applebee’s
  • Chili’s
  • Maggiano’s
  • Olive Garden
  • On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina
  • Red Lobster
  • Romano’s Macaroni Grill
  • Ruth’s Chris Steak House
  • AMC Theatres
  • Regal Entertainment Group

Retail Gift Cards – Bad deal

  • 6,000 points for a $50 Gift Card
  • 10,000 points for a $100 Gift Card

Stores:

  • Barnes & Noble
  • Bath & Body Works
  • Bloomingdale’s
  • CVS/pharmacy
  • Disney
  • Gap
  • Lowe’s
  • Macy’s
  • Pottery Barn
  • Staples
  • TJX

When to use? Only when you feel an irresistible urge to go on a shopping spree while short on cash. Otherwise, get a much better value on Amtrak travel.

FAQ

Do Amtrak Points Expire?

As long as your Amtrak Guest Rewards account shows qualifying account activity—point earning or redemption activity—within 36 months, your points won’t expire. Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard cardholders’ points will not expire as long as your credit card account is open.

What are Cancellation and Change Fees?

Amtrak is less stringent than most U.S. airlines when you need to change or cancel your trip. You will pay the points difference to the new fare and a 10% points penalty on one-way, round-trip, or multi-segment reward travel.

Amtrak adds another 10% penalty for changes / cancelations made within 24 hours prior to departure (or within 14 days on a sleeper ticket).

The close-in penalties are waived for Select Executive members.

Can You Book a Points Plus Cash Ticket?

No. You need to pay for the entire ticket in points.

Can You Share Points?

You can share points in 1,000-point increments, up to 100,000 points per account / year. This is not a cheap pooling option, though, as the cost is $0.01 per point. The transactions are not refundable and don’t count for status.

Where Can You Check Your Points Balance?

As soon as you log in to your account, you’ll see your points in the upper right corner.

amtrakaccount

Can You Book Tickets for Others?

Yes, but once you book the ticket, you can’t change the name without refunding and starting over.

Can You Redeem Points for Sleeping Car Reservations?

Yes.

What Is the Guest Rewards Service Center Phone?

The Amtrak Guest Rewards service center is open 7 days a week, 5 a.m. to midnight, EST: 1-800-307-5000.

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Partner Offer

50,000 bonus points

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5 thoughts on How to use Amtrak Guest Rewards points – Sleeping cars, Acela, and more

  1. PI

    For cash bookings, is this only possible on the Amtrak site or are there third party booking sites that do this?

    Reply

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