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Amtrak Guest Rewards Program Treats You Right

From VARP’s On Track newsletter, summer 2011

Dick Peacock, VARP Secretary

Amtrak’s pricing structure mirrors the airline industry practices. The bad news is that last-minute tickets cost a lot more and the whole pricing structure is very complicated. The good news is that the smart traveler who plans ahead is rewarded with low fares.

Extreme differences in fares are common. A coach trip leaving from Richmond at 7:00 AM and returning a day later from New York City at 3:05 PM illustrates this point. An adult round-trip fare costs $227 when purchased one day in advance. Change the reservation to a date two weeks later the fare drops to $146; one month later, it drops to $124.

Certain age groups and the military receive discounts. Infants under age two can travel free with a fare-paying adult if they do not occupy a needed seat. Children aged 2 through 15 receive 50% off when accompanied by a fare-paying adult. Seniors aged 62 and older receive a 15% discount. These discounts usually cannot be combined with other discounts. Some additional restrictions may apply.

Certain organizations can get discounts. Members of AAA and NARP obtain a 10% discount. Members of Student Advantage and Veterans Advantage receive a 15% discount. These reductions usually cannot be combined with other discounts. Some additional restrictions may apply.

Fares on certain routes, in certain states, or for particular trains are frequently put on sale. This information can be found on Amtrak’s home page under the Deals tab at the top of the page. In the spring of 2011 coach fares were lowered 20% in the State of New York. This year the Northeast Corridor is on sale for 25% off. Under the Weekly Specials promotion, selected routes are put on sale for just one week. These specials are available only on the website, and you have to buy these tickets through the Weekly Specials part of the website. You buy these tickets up to five weeks in advance on Tuesday through Friday for travel on the 2nd Saturday through the 5th Saturday and every day of the week except Friday and Sunday. The discounts are deep, but there are many restrictions. For example, the fares are non-refundable, and upgrades are not allowed. On July 14, 2011, an adult could ride one-way from Pittsburgh, PA, to Harrisburg, PA, for $29.25. The regular fare is $39. Your Amtrak agent should be aware of these sales except for the Weekly Specials.

If you make a reservation on the Internet and try to combine discounts, you will receive an error message. It is possible that you may not be aware of a discount because it is mentioned elsewhere on the railroad’s website. If this happens just select adult fare or child’s fare. Just go with the combination of information that produces the lowest fare.

Certain ticket promotions require promotion codes. These promotions are typically for visiting an event in a particular city. Special museum exhibits or trade shows may use this strategy. Your Amtrak ticket representative will likely not be aware of these special deals; therefore, you will need to provide the appropriate code.

Multi-ride tickets can be obtained for a calendar month or for 10 trips between some city pairs. They are available over shorter segments of the network. In Virginia these tickets are available in the Northeast Corridor. Some examples would be a 10-trip ticket between Richmond and Alexandria, or a 10-trip ticket between Alexandria and Baltimore, or a monthly ticket between Fredericksburg and Washington.

Rail passes allow people to travel widely at lower cost for certain periods. The USA Rail Passes offer extensive travel for 15, 30, or 45 days for travel over the entire country. These passes offer 8, 12, and 18 segments of travel, respectively. (A segment is a one-way trip between two stations.) The California Rail Pass offers seven days of travel over a 21-day period. It costs $159.

A person can join Amtrak’s Guest Rewards program to receive points for future travel, and Guest Rewards specials allow participants to earn double or triple points for specific trips. Combining this program with a Chase Amtrak credit card doubles the points a traveler can earn.

More information about special pricing can be viewed on Amtrak’s website under the Deals tab at the top right portion of the home page.