Redeeming Amtrak Points: Sweet Spots

I’m a fan of Amtrak Guest Rewards and the redemption opportunities. Sure, a train isn’t the fastest way to get across the country, but if you have the time, and want to see the country go by outside your window, its an opportunity you shouldn’t miss.

Amtrak Guest Rewards are a 1:1 transfer partner from Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Let’s look at a few sweet spots where using these points can save you lots of money, or get you into a premium accommodation for less points/miles than flying.

The first thing to note is that when redeeming Amtrak points, everything is dependent on the zone you are traveling in/to. The US is decided into 3 zones, with some cities bordering more than one zone.

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The Northeast zone is the highly populated, and heavy commuter traffic area between Newport News and Boston. Trains in this area mostly serve folks traveling for work, or between the metropolitan areas of Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. For this reason, and because this is the bread and butter of Amtrak’s operation, this is the most expensive area for using points.

A one-way ticket starts at 4,000 points, while Business class jumps to 6,500 points. I wouldn’t recommend getting a Roomette or Bedroom for any rides solely within the Northeast Zone, since these tend to be shorter trips anyway.

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All other travel is decided into how many Zones you will travel through. Here, you’ll see that a coach trip costs 5,500 points one-way. So, you could go from New York to Miami for just 5,5000 points – something that would traditionally cost you 25,000 airline miles.

A Roomette is a smaller bedroom, and a one-way trip is still only 15,000 points. A Bedroom is 25,000, though it can sleep more people. Since these trains tend to be overnight, and also include meals, depending on how many people are traveling with you, this could be a tremendous value. I enjoy traveling on trains – even the ones that go throughout the night – and would have no problem doing a long distance routing. That said, you should plan to leave buffer time on the back end since Amtrak trains are notoriously late.

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Jumping down to three zones, which will get you from coast to coast, you can still see some great value. You can go from Washington DC to Los Angeles for just 10,500 points in coach, or 35,000 points in a Roomette. For such a long distance trip as this, I would recommend taking the train one-way and flying the return, just to save on time.

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You can also redeem Amtrak points for access to their Club Acela lounges, or (5) one-class upgrades. I would only recommend choosing the upgrades if you intend to use them on the Acela Express, since this is where you will get the most value since you’ll be going from Business Class (the lowest service offered) to First Class (which can run upwards of $200 additional from Business Class).

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Comments

  1. Kate says

    Do you know how many people can be in a roomette? For example, could my family of three get one for 15,000 points one way?

    • cmeco says

      No Kate. Roomettes are designed for single or double occupancy only, and even at that they are cramped. You would need a bedroom.

  2. Brian says

    I’d say the Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle is one of the best deals on the network! 15,000 points for two people, 5 meals and exclusive use of the Parlor Car, all for less than a domestic RT redemption on an airline.

  3. Brian says

    I’d say the Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle is one of the best deals on the network! 15,000 points for two people, 5 meals and exclusive use of the Parlor Car, all for less than a domestic RT redemption on an airline! Actually one of the best uses of points for a really cool experience. To answer the question above. No way could you fit three into a roomette (they are tiny). You can do three in a bedroom ONLY if the third is a small child.

  4. Jason says

    If you measure best value in terms of longest time for your points, try going from San Antonio to Memphis via Chicago – nearly 2 days with a 6 hr layover in CHI, all in one zone!
    @Kate – They are more stingy with number of people in rooms on award reservations for some reason. Example – they openly allow up to 5 (with small children) in a double bedroom suite config with a paid reservation, but I had a lot of problems and HUCA to get this on an award ticket.

  5. says

    Cincinnati (where I live) is in the “sweet spot” where it’s right on the border of a zone, and so I can go anywhere in the Central or Eastern zone for a 1 zone ticket.

    The only problem is that there is only 1 train each way that leaves, and it leaves at 1:00 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. depending on the direction 🙁

  6. Hua says

    I am surprised that a post about sweet spots for Amtrak didn’t include the Special Routes awards (1,500 points each way for economy or 2,000 for business) as these seem to represent a great value for Amtrak redemptions.

    You can redeem for travel that is entirely on the Cascades, Blue Water, Wolverine, Pacific Surfliner, Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin, Hiawatha, Downeaster, The Lincoln Service, Illini Service, The Carl Sandburg, Missouri River Runner, Illinois Zephyr, Saluki, Hoosier State, Pere Marquette, Piedmont, and Heartland Flyer. I have used these awards quite often on the Cascades, and I have found that the business class redemptions tend to represent the best value for me.

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