Despite the terms and conditions for the BOA Amtrak card being really clear, I haven’t seen anyone mention how the new situation of transferring to hotel points will work.
Plus, there are some other new perks on the new Amtrak card that are interesting.
Combining some aspects of the Amtrak program and the new credit card, I realized there are some new cool uses of Amtrak points. This will take a little bit of setting up to explain the changes… but I assure you this will be an interesting read. Stick with me.
A lot of people were only interested in the Amtrak card for the ability to transfer to Choice… and this is changing in a major way.
Currently, the terms and conditions on Amtrak say that members with the Chase Amtrak card must satisfy the following: “Amtrak travel spend on the card of over $200 per calendar year may redeem for hotel points”. But anyone who had this card had it converted over to a Chase Freedom… without a say in the matter. So this isn’t even possible anymore.
But what about the new Amtrak Bank of America card?
The terms and conditions of the new Bank of America card are pretty clear.
This is for the new BOA Amtrak card that has the $79 annual fee:
Cardmembers “with an annual Net Retail spend on the card of $20,000 or more per calendar year may redeem up to 25,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points per calendar year for hotel points and Audience Rewards points”
In other words, members with the new BOA Amtrak card have to spend $20,000 on anything, vs the Chase card which was $200 on Amtrak. And this is not a perk available on the no annual fee version of the card.
Why people want to transfer to Choice?
Two recommended readings on this:
On the low end there are resorts for 6,000 points a night, and hotels in Venice and Rome for 10,000 points a night.
On the other end, you can actually use Choice points for Preferred Hotels, which have 42 hotels on the T&L Top 500 Hotels list. That’s more than SPG and Hyatt combined… yes, we’re still talking about Choice points.
It is actually a great points currency to have for cheap redemptions across Europe, or luxury hotels.
Redeem on Amtrak?
You can redeem points on Amtrak, but the program is changing in early 2016.
If you have the points now, check out the Best Use of Amtrak points. There are some amazing deals listed for Amtrak travel.
However, soon they will move to a revenue based system. I’m not sure exactly how it will work, but I gather that you will essentially multiply the cash price by about 31 in order to get the points price. It might be something like, a $100 ticket would cost 3,100 points.
Not terrible, except for the whole Amtrak part. We spent 10 hours on a trip from Dallas to Austin. Which isn’t a big deal but Southwest prices are also cheap, and Avios domestic flights are also cheap. If I live in New England or something I would consider using my points that way… but it is a way better deal booking tickets before 2016. Especially rooms and roomettes or really long distance trips.
Why I was frustrated
Bad news first.
The terms and conditions on Amtrak only talk about the Chase card that doesn’t exist. But the fact of the matter is, I have a friend who got the Chase card and spent $200 on Amtrak, but the card got switched over to a Freedom card and Amtrak isn’t allowing him to transfer his points to Choice!
In other words, he did exactly what is required in the terms and conditions and because the card changed in the middle of the process, he doesn’t get the advertised benefit.
Come on Amtrak, do the right thing.
The other thing is…
Why even advertise hotel transfers as a benefit?
You click redeem points, and it says transfer from Amtrak to Choice 5,000 to 15,000. That’s it. No one is going to realize that this is a benefit they don’t quality for.
You then have to read the fine print to realize that a very very small percent of people qualify. It’s really an elite status benefit, but it isn’t listed on the elite status benefit page. I imagine it’s a very small percent of people who are even close to their top tier status, yet, it’s just listed on the redeem page. So deceiving, and zero percent intuitive.
AND, they don’t even list the Bank Of America card, they only list the Chase card… which doesn’t exist.
In short, I don’t want to spend $20,000 on the BOA Amtrak Card to transfer out my already existing 25,000 Amtrak points… every year.
And while my friend is in a tough situation, I started having some ideas…
Amtrak Status allows you to transfer points
In the hotel section of redeeming amtrak points, the terms and conditions also say the following:
“Current Amtrak Guest Rewards Select or Select Plus Members (including those who are 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 50,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points per calendar year for hotel points and Audience Rewards.”
If you have status you can transfer 50,000 Amtrak points to hotels, per calendar year. 50,000 Amtrak points would be 150,000 Choice points.
The new card earns Elite Points
Then I remembered that you can earn elite Qualifying Points with the new BOA card.
“Earn 1,000 Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) toward earning status each time your eligible spending reaches $5,000 in a calendar year, up to 4,000 TQPs per year.”
To transfer points to Choice you need Select status. Here are Amtrak status requirements and benefits:
To get to Amtrak Select Status, we need 5,000 points, and the new Amtrak card can get us to 4,000 points, with $20,000 in spending. Which doesn’t sound much better yet… but wait.
The goal is really to get to Select Status, which even after $20,000 spend, we’re 1,000 elite Qualifying Points short.
1,000 points would normally come from $500 spend on Amtrak travel, since you normally earn 2 points per dollar in the Amtrak rewards program.
However, there are a few other bonuses, like “when traveling on Acela® (between select city pairs*), you will earn 500 points for qualifying Business class and 750 points for qualifying First class travel”. Here are the city pairs. (This benefit ends with the new program though).
I priced it out, and a oneway from New York to DC on a weekend seemed to be about $120. $240 for another ticket back.
A bit expensive, but I’ve paid for this route anyways on Amtrak and can actually use it. Otherwise, it’s a waste of $240. But consider mileage running on a train.
That roundtrip would get us exactly to the 5,000 points needed for Select Status.
The $240 spend might be able to be avoided altogether if a second BOA card would deposit another 1,000 points after a $5,000 spend.
So it’s either $240 – $500 on Amtrak + $20,000 of spend on the Amtrak card… or possibly $25,000 of spend on Amtrak cards.
Why get status instead of just hitting the spend requirement?
1) Status allows you to transfer 50,000 Amtrak points per calendar year.
2) You could do this possibly once to cross 3 calendar years (instead of doing it every year).
In other words, Amtrak status works like airlines. You get the status for the remainder of this calendar year, plus the next one. Then it lasts to the end of the next February, for whatever reason.
If you got status in 2016, it would end Feb 28 2018.
But the beauty is that you can transfer 50,000 points each year – 2016, 2017, and then again in early 2018. As long as you have the status.
That’s 150,000 Amtrak points total, and 450,000 Choice points.
Compare that to the 25,000 allowed only in the calendar year you spend $20,000 in. A possible 75,000 Choice points for nearly the same amount of work.
150,000 Amtrak points, really?
Remember how generous Bank Of America is. Frequent Miler is going for 1,200,000 Virgin Atlantic miles to redeem for Necker Island.
150,000 across 3 years isn’t that unreasonable.
And the best part is… there is a no annual fee version of the card. It gives 12,000 Amtrak points instead of 20,000, but you can avoid the $79 annual fee. Remember that the card that normally allows the transfer, or earns elite Qualifying Points does not waive the annual fee for the first year. This wouldn’t be helpful for getting you to the status, but is a cheaper way of earning points once you do have the status and want to build up points to transfer to Choice.
And 50,000 is the maximum, and you don’t have to transfer that much each year if you don’t want.
You’ll have at least 40,000 from the signup and spend.
Adding up all the perks
The card (with the annual fee) gives:
- 5% rebate on points redeemed for Amtrak
- 1 free companion rail fare (available on roundtrips too)
- 1 class upgrade coupon
- 1 ClubAcela pass (gets in one guest)
Plus the other benefits discussed like transferring 25,000 Amtrak points upon spending $25,000 that year, and the 1,000 Tier Qualifying Points per $5,000 (up to 4,000 TQP per year).
Amtrak Select Status perks give:
- Ability to transfer 50,000 amtrak points to hotels every calendar year
- 25% bonus points on Amtrak
I should clarify that the no annual fee BOA card doesn’t give the same welcome gifts or the ability to transfer points, but still gives the 5% rebate. Also, neither have a foreign transaction fee.
Yes, spending $20,000+ on an Amtrak card seems like a lot, but with status, the ability to possibly transfer 150,000 Amtrak points to Choice is seriously valuable. If you think you can continue with the BOA cards and earn the points, and if you think you can use the Choice points… it’s a seriously good deal.
Also, Amtrak is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. One you have status with Amtrak, it’s basically a way to transfer from Chase to Choice at a 1:3 ratio.
That would be ~3,000 points for a night at the nice Choice hotels in Venice or Rome.
For the casual person, it’s not as good as the Chase Amtrak card that only required $200 spend towards Amtrak. But for those who can use a lot of Choice points, and can easily get the $20,000 spend in a year, it’s a big opportunity.