Review: Amtrak Acela Express, First Class

Amtrak‘s “high speed” Acela Express train in the Northeast Corridor runs from Washington DC to Boston. Prices are comparable to air travel – though I’ve found it both cheaper and more expensive. The Acela shaves only about 30-45 minutes off of a Washington to New York City trip.

The minimum class of service on the Acela is Business Class – but don’t think there are a lot of frills. Essentially, you’re paying for the speed. From Business Class, you can upgrade to First Class, which is the top service on this route. I’ve taken First Class on the Acela a number of times, and at 12,500 Amtrak Guest Rewards one-way anywhere from Boston to Washington, it can be a good value depending on the distance.

In a brief overview, here’s what you’re getting in First Class that you aren’t getting in Business Class:

  • Access to Amtrak‘s Club Acela lounge in Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York City or Boston.
  • More private seating than in Business Class. You’ll have the possibility to access single seats, if you’d prefer.
  • Complimentary food and beverage service.

I took the Acela from Washington DC to Trenton, NJ (which, by the way, only stops in Trenton once a day in either direction), and the upgrade fare from Business to First was about $75, over the base Business fare.

Once in Union Station, there’s a dedicated ticketing line for Acela Express passengers.


I picked up my ticket and headed to the Club Acela, which is a short walk away. You can read my review of the Club Acela in Washington DC’s Union Station here. The Club is the pre-departure lounge accessible to Amtrak’s elite status members, and those traveling in First Class (or a sleeper car aboard long distance trains).


One of the great things about having access to the Club Acela lounge is that you board directly from there, right onto the platform where your train awaits.


I walked to the platform, to find the First Class car being the farthest away. The First Class tends to alternate from being closest to farthest, but you’ll always find it at one end or the other (not in the middle).



First Class has one boarding door, and I was greeted aboard by one of the two attendants serving the car.


Once inside, I found 2 by 1 seating. You’ll find a number of different seating options onboard:

  • Single seats with fold down tray tables in front (I don’t like these seats because the tray tables always seem to be unstable)
  • 2 facing seats with a fixed table in between. This is the seat I always prefer to grab, when the car isn’t packed.
  • 4 facing seats with a fixed table in between.




It’s worth noting that some seats face forward, and some face the rear, so depending on which way the train is moving, you’ll want to pick your seat accordingly.

Once at my preferred seat, I stowed my luggage overhead in the large lockers provided. They’re much larger than airplane overhead bins, so you should be able to fit your bags no problem.

Once seated, an attendant came over with a dinner menu, as well as a snack mix starter.


Drinks were offered, and I asked for a Bloody Mary. I find Amtrak’s onboard drink menu to be very extensive, and much better than what’s offered when flying.


Looking at the dinner menu, there’s was quite a bit on offer.



I chose the lobster salad, and it was promptly brought out about five minutes later.


The salad was quite good, and after seeing that I finished it so quickly, the attendant offered me another one, to which I refused.

Following dinner, I relaxed and watched a movie on my iPad. I also did some work on my laptop. You should note than only some of the seats recline a full amount – you’ll know you’re in a reclining seat if you don’t have a seat reclining in the opposite direction behind you.

The trip was rather quick at about 2 hours, and I was checked on a number of times. About a half hour prior to arriving in Trenton, I ordered a glass of sparkling wine, which was a nice finish to the ride.

The Easiest Way to Upgrade on Amtrak into Acela First Class

The easiest way to upgrade on Amtrak is with the Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard.

You get:

  • 20,000 bonus points offer. It’s time to be rewarded. 20,000 bonus points can be yours after you spend at least $1,000 in purchases within 90 days of account opening.
  • Earn 3 Amtrak Guest Rewards points for every $1 you spend on Amtrak travel, including onboard purchases.
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on other qualifying travel.
  • Earn 1 point for each $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Get a 5% Amtrak Guest Rewards point rebate when you book your Amtrak redemption travel.
  • 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.
  • Enjoy a complimentary Companion Coupon, One-Class Upgrade and a single-day ClubAcela pass for access to ClubAcela, Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge or First class lounges upon account opening. Plus, each year you’ll receive a Companion Coupon and One-Class Upgrade when you renew your card membership.
  • There’s no limit to how many points you can earn and you can use them when you want. Your points will not expire as long as you are a cardholder and your account is open.

Remember, you’ll get a companion coupon and one-class upgrade every year, which is HUGE value.

To get the card with this best available offer, click here. Below the cards you see, click “Show More Results” until you see the Amtrak Guest Rewards credit card. This best available offer is only available on The Forward Cabin.

My Take

The Acela is a great way to ride in the Northeast since it saves time, and doesn’t come with all of the hassles an airport does. The Acela, especially in First Class can become quite pricey, so I’d only upgrade to First if you find a cheap enough Business Class fare (First fares are fixed, and are built onto the fluctuating price of the Business ticket).

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    Review: Amtrak Acela Express, First Class – The Forward Cabin

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