Amtrak is an awesome hidden gem/transfer that goes largely unmentioned. Yet, it has awesome short-haul redemptions for super cheap, awesome hotel transfers, and amazing value on long-hauls in a bedroom for 2-3 people. The bedrooms apparently make great travel for those with kids.
For a family, Amtrak is one of the most hassle free ways to travel. And the bedrooms or roomettes are completely private. Stick the kids in a roomette, and take the bedroom and enjoy the long haul… with food included.
And the best part: If there is a seat/room for sale it will be available for points (with the exception of a few blackout dates).
Earning Amtrak Guest Rewards Points:
As an Amtrak Guest Rewards member you earn 2 points per dollar spent on Amtrak. Which… won’t get me very far.
However, the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Ink Bold and Ink Plus transfer 1:1 from Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Amtrak. Transfers are instant.
You can also transfer from the Starwood (SPG) Amex card. SPG transfers 1:1 in increments of 5,000 points. Not my first choice, for SPG points, but I will show some incredible redemptions below, so YMMV.
Another way is to purchase points, with a limit of 10,000 points per account per calendar year. It’s 2.75 cents per point, which is expensive, but there is a 30% bonus right now for purchases of 10,000 points. Meh.
Explaining How Amtrak Redemptions Work
There are zones, much like an airline’s award chart, but simpler because the price is solely the number of zones you cross. If you stay within 1 zone here are the prices:
Pretty simple. Any train ride that stays in one zone is 5,500 for a regular seat, or 6,500 for a business class seat.
Rooms for multiple people
Now one super cool thing that’s not intuitive to just looking at the award chart is “Roomette” and “Bedroom” allowing multiple people. A Roomette allows two people, and a Bedroom allows three people.
One cool thing about the rooms/roomettes is that they provide meals for the entire journey. So when I say “allows two/three people”, I mean both that you can have 2/3 people and that they provide 2/3 meals.
But how comfortable you will be totally depends on the size of the people. Roomettes are very private but small. When I say small, it’s obviously way bigger than a regular seat as you have beds that fold down. But when you compare to the size of the Bedrooms, it’s a big difference.
However, the two fold-down beds aren’t much bigger in the Bedroom than the Roomettes. Therefore, it may not be advisable to put 3 people in one room. Now Carrie and I shared a twin bed for the beginning of our marriage, and she’s tiny, so we could do it. But these beds are like twin beds, and the top bunks are more like, camping-mat sized.
As my friend Dave told me, “if you see the difference between the Roomette and Bedroom, you will certainly pay the extra 10,000 points for the Bedroom.” It’s huge.
Explaining Zones & Pricings
Before I get back to the pricings, I figured I would actually show what zones there are.
Yes, these zones are awesome.
Going from Montreal to Miami would be one zone and therefore be 5,500 for a seat or 25,000 for a Bedroom for 3.
Same with Detroit all the way to San Antonio, or Fargo to New Orleans.
Same with Denver to Seattle (via San Fran), or San Diego to Glacier National Park.
These awards are incredibly generous. That being said, it’s a heck of a long time and many of these trains don’t have wifi (although I’d be on my free FreedomPop wifi the entire time (being anywhere that gets sprint)).
The other thing is, there aren’t always direct trains. Going all the way down the east coast would not only take a while, you would have to change trains, likely in DC. Which, depending on the wait and how much you packed, could be a pain.
The other thing you may notice on the map is that in the bottom right it shows a Northeast Zone. It’s both a part of the Eastern Zone and its own zone. Not a big deal, but it’s a slight discount.
Different Pricing Options
Some will wonder if you get stopovers, and the simple answer is no. But the more complex answer involves explaining the rest of the award chart.
|One Zone||Two Zones||Three Zones|
A bedroom in one region is 25,000 points, but a bedroom in two regions is 40,000 points.
So look at the award map above and follow me with an example. If you live in Omaha and wanted to go to Seattle, you would have to travel in two regions, making it a Two Zone award.
You could go about it one of three ways, and we’ll take an example of booking a bedroom.
1) Book a Two Zone award for 40,000 points.
This is the simplest. It’s all one ticket and 40,000 points for up to three people in a Bedroom. No stops.
2) Book two different One Zone awards in a Bedroom for 50,000 points and stop in Denver.
If you look at the award map, there are many zones that are on the border of two regions. I’ll list those below in a second. But Denver is a great example. You could do Central Zone to Denver as a single One Zone award, and then Denver to anywhere in the Western Zone as one award.
Again, the point of this is to get a stopover on a border city.
3) Book a One Zone award in coach, and then a larger One Zone in a Bedroom for 36,000 points (for two people).
You can mix and match anything you want really when doing it like this. But in the example above, Omaha is not that far from Denver, but a trip to Seattle would still price as Two Zones. Therefore, you could do coach, or a Roomette (for two) to Denver, and then book a trip in a Room from Denver to Seattle for 25,000 points.
Examples of cities on the borders between zones:
- Wolf Point, MT
- Denver, CO
- Trinidad, CO
- Albuquerque, NM
- El Paso, TX
- Toledo, OH
- Cincinnati, OH
- Atlanta, GA
There are the cities you could technically stopover in on a two zone award. However, you should know about specialty routes.
Specialty routes for 1,500 points (or 2,000 points in Business Class)
Special Routes include the following: Blue Water®, Wolverine®, Cascades®, Pacific Surfliner®, Capitol Corridor®, San Joaquin®, Hiawatha®, Downeaster®, The Lincoln Service®, Illini[os] Service®, The Carl Sandburg®, Missouri River Runner, The Illinois Zephyr®, The Saluki®, The Hoosier State®, The Pere Marquette®, The Piedmont®, and The Heartland Flyer®.
I don’t know about you, but I only know what a few of these things actually are, so I
googled researched them and put the routes below. These are routes that are 1,500 points or 2,000 points in Business Class:
- Kalamazoo – Battle Creek – East Lansing – Port Huron
- Chicago – Detroit
- Vancouver, BC – Seattle – Tacoma – Portland – Salem – Eugene
- San Luis Obispo – Santa Barbara – Los Angeles – San Diego
- Auburn – Sacramento – Emeryville (San Francisco) – Oakland – San Jose
- San Francisco Bay Area/Sacramento – Bakersfield/Southern California
- Milwaukee – Chicago
- Brunswick – Portland – Boston
- Chicago – Quincy/St.Louis/Carbondale
- St. Louis – Kansas City, MO
- Indianapolis – Chicago
- Chicago – Holland – Grand Rapids
- Raleigh – Charlotte
- Oklahoma City – Fort Worth
This is the one that may or may not blow your mind. Yet, it’s a little bit complicated. So the good news first. Amtrak transfers to two hotel chains:
- 5,000 Amtrak points = 10,000 Hilton HHonors points
- 5,000 Amtrak points = 15,000 Choice Privileges points
Now there are so many other better ways to transfer to Hilton HHonors points. I would not waste very valuable Amtrak points for Hilton, whose redemptions go as high as 95,000 HHonors points. No way.
However, 1:3 to Choice is incredible given that there are some really incredible and cheap choice hotels out there. Now maybe I should go and do a best use of Choice points, but to give an idea of some of the value available, I’ll give two examples of hotels I’ve been eyeing.
The Keekorok Lodge in Masai Mara, Kenya for 40,000 Choice points instead of $400++/night! This is a super cool luxury camping style hotel on the great Masai Mara. The hotel is practically a safari itself. The best part is that it’s less than 14,000 Amtrak points per night!
On the low end redemptions, is the “Clarion Suites Roatan at Pineapple Villas” on the island of Roatan, Honduras for 6,000 Choice points. That would be 2,000 Amtrak points! 2,000 points is an incredible redemption for a $100/night hotel on a beautiful caribbean island that has a 90% TA rating.
The bad news for hotel transfers
To be able to transfer to Choice or Hilton, you need to qualify. There are 3 ways to qualify:
1) Have the Amtrak credit card and spend $200/year on Amtrak.
“Active cardholders of the Amtrak Guest Rewards® MasterCard® issued by Chase Bank with an Amtrak travel spend on the card of over $200 per calendar year may redeem up to 25,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points per calendar year for hotel points.”
That’s probably the easiest way. Have the credit card, which does not have a good sign up bonus right now. It used to be 25,000 points for signing up and now it’s 12,000.
2A) Have “Amtrak Guest Rewards Select or Select Plus” status and be able to transfer 50,000 points a year.
The only way to get Amtrak Select is to get 5,000+ Qualifying points, which is $2,500 in spend on Amtrak. And the only way to get Select Plus is 10,000+ Qualifying points, which is $5,000 spend on Amtrak travel.
Neither of those are ever going to happen for us.
2B) Have “Select Executive” status and get unlimited transfers.
This would involve 20,000 Qualifying points, aka, $10,000 in Amtrak travel. Also not doable… ever.
If there are short-cuts to status, I would love to know but I have not been able to find any. Therefore the best option for this kind of redemption is to have and keep the Amtrak card. Then it would basically look like this…
- Chase UR points 1:1 –> Amtrak Rewards
- Every year spend $200 on the Amtrak card
- Amtrak Rewards 1:3 –> Choice points
In a way it’s a Chase to Choice 1:3 with $200 of spend on Amtrak and having the Amtrak credit card. A bit of a round about way of doing things, but I’m sure it could be well worth it for many.
5 upgrade passes for 10,000 points. The upgrades get you from a paid coach seat to business class and are supposed to be used within 12 hours of departure.
Coupon valid for one (1) space-available upgrade from Coach to Business class or Business class to First class, or from Acela Business class to Acela First class, on a single travel segment or leg.
Conclusion & Best Uses of Amtrak points
- Two Zone in a Roomette (for 2) for 20,000 points.
- Long haul bedrooms in one zone for 25,000 points (up to 3 people). Remember what Dave said, if you see what the Bedroom gives you, the extra 10,000 is an easy decision.
- Specialty trains for 1,500/2,000 points.
- Choice transfer 1:3. Stay at a resort in Honduras for 2,000 Amtrak points a night.
In my opinion, any of the above redemptions are totally worth the transfer from Chase (Ink Bold, Ink Plus, or Chase Sapphire Preferred), or the Amex SPG card.
To be honest, I haven’t jumped on the Amtrak card yet, but if I really want to do the Choice transfer thing, I will get it and keep it. If the bonus goes back up to 25,000 points, that will make my decision easy. (Here’s the link to the 12,000 point offer (I do not get paid or commission for this Amtrak card offer)).
In conclusion, Amtrak is the looked-over transfer partner of Chase and SPG. The redemptions have equally great value as many airlines, and even better for families that can throw three kids in a room.
If you have any experience or other suggestions, please let me know.