If you’ve been catching up on the blogosphere today, you’ve probably noticed that Amtrak is planning on moving their loyalty program to a revenue based system, among a host of other “enhancements.” You can find the full report of supposed upcoming changes here.
First off, it’s important to note that these changes haven’t been confirmed by Amtrak itself, though it’s highly probably they are legitimate and will go into effect. That said, don’t panic entirely until an official announcement is put out.
I want to take a look at who the changes will impact the most and what you can look forward to, even taking a positive spin on things so you can plan ahead and see the light at the end of the tunnel, no pun intended.
The premise here is that Amtrak will begin to have awards available for redemption based on the cost of the ticket. The higher cost of the ticket, the more points you’ll need.
Who Will the Changes Affect Most
Personally, I think the biggest hit here is for folks in the Northeast Corridor, since fares between Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington can be sky-high during commuter times.
Second, are those that want to redeem points for a long-distance train trip. On average, you’re looking at a $500-1500 fare across the country in a sleeper car, which, while somewhat in-line with what airfares are costing in First Class, can be economical depending on how many people you’re taking since rooms can accommodate more than one person.
Of particular concern is the 1,500 “special routes” Amtrak discounted.
Let’s look at the fare from Ann Arbor to Chicago.
That would be 1,500 in place of $36, or in a worst case, $86. Not bad at all, especially considering Amtrak currently allows point redemption so long as there is an empty seat still on the train.
How about Santa Barbara to Los Angeles? Better, but still bad. 1,500 points for a worst case scenario of $46 isn’t bad. I find it funny that Business Class is only $1 more than coach class here. Because Business Class redemptions normally cost an additional 2,500 points on a local route like this, you’d actually make out better under the revenue based system than paying the additional points. 🙂
Up until these changes, Amtrak has implemented blackout dates and time restrictions. During major holiday time periods, you’re not allowed to use points on their trains, for obvious reasons (most trains become sold out over Thanksgiving…). For their Acela Express service, they limit the departure times of those trains you can redeem points on. In essence, if it’s during Monday through Friday in the morning or afternoon/evening, you’ll be out of luck. Now, with the changes, you’ll be able to redeem points without blackout dates – but, of course, at the cost of the ticket. I’ve never found it valuable to redeem Amtrak points on the Acela Express since it only marginally saves a bit of time, though I did get stuck once at Thanksgiving assuming I could redeem points several minutes prior to departure, only to find out that the day I was traveling on was a blackout date…
Things We Don’t Know But Need to Hope For
Points with a Crew thinks the new issuer of the Amtrak Guest Rewards credit card will be Bank of America, and I think he’s right. Regardless of the new issuer, there’s speculation a new card could mean increased opportunity to earn points via bonuses categories, as most other cards provide. Regardless of that, the benefit I hope won’t go away is the 5% rebate on points redeemed simply by holding the card. Depending on if they decide to implement an annual fee on the new product, this 5% was terrific since the current card is fee free, and there’s nothing additional you need to do other than keep the card in your sock drawer. 🙂
One additional fantastic Amtrak benefit is the ability to cancel tickets minutes prior to departure, without a penalty. If you’re a last minute traveler or could have changes in plans, this is an invaluable benefit that I hope sticks around.
Here’s what You Need to Do Now
- Chase will most likely not allow transfers from Ultimate Rewards to Amtrak upon switching to Bank of America. If you have Ultimate Rewards points and want to move them to Amtrak, do it now.
- Book Long Distance sleeper and Northeast Region travel now. Come the devaluation, these routes will be the hardest hit, and it will most likely cost you more points to book them. Depending on the new cancellation policy (if any), you’ll want to book these rewards now while they cost you less points.
Do you think you’ll benefit or lose with the new Amtrak Guest Rewards changes?
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