Inside the Amtrak Guest Rewards 2016 Program Changes: Who benefits? Who doesn’t?

Several days ago, word got out of a new Amtrak Guest Rewards program that would be released, to go into effect on January 24, 2016. Now, Amtrak has updated their website with the changes.

To start, accounts will now renew their points expiration by both earning or redeeming points, and not just on paid Amtrak travel. So, if you redeem points, that resets the timestamp on your points expiring. This is actually a good change.

Earning Changes

  • You’ll earn 2 points per dollar, no matter the ticket.
  • You’ll earn a 25% point bonus in Business Class (Acela or others)
  • You’ll earn a 50% point bonus in Acela Express First Class 

Redeeming Changes

  • You’ll redeem points based on the price of a ticket
  • You can now redeem points for multi-ride and monthly tickets
  • You’ll be able to use cash + points to offset the price of tickets
  • There will be no blackout dates or Acela Express time restrictions going forward
  • If you change your travel, you’ll pay the difference in price for the new train. If that train is cheaper, Amtrak will keep 10% of the difference.
  • If modifying a non-sleeper ticket within 24 hours prior to departure, or a sleeper ticket within 14 days prior to departure, an additional “close-in” penalty of 10% of the points redeemed will be collected (waived for top-tier Select Executive members).
  • If you cancel a ticket, Amtrak will keep 10% of the points refunding back to you.
Amtrak long-distance coach class

Amtrak long-distance coach class

How many points will I earn and how much will it cost to redeem with the new program?

Since the program is moving revenue based, everything is based off of the cost of the ticket. Since most folks will not have Amtrak elite status, I won’t use those estimates here, but it’s worth noting that Select members will receive a 25% earning bonus, Select Plus a 50% earning bonus and Select Executive a 100% earning bonus.

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You’ll still earn 2 points per dollar, which isn’t changing from the current system.

For a $50 coach class ticket, which is on the lower end for Northeast Regional travel.

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For a $100 coach class ticket:

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For a $150 coach ticket, which is sometimes a very common price in the Northeast and other highly commuted trains:

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Since a current ticket within the Northeast costs 4,000 points anywhere within the Northeast Zone, if your ticket is above $116 going forward, you won’t benefit with the new program. If it’s less, you will.

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There’s no longer a premium for Business Class redemptions – that will follow the price of the ticket.

A $500 sleeper ticket will cost you over 17,000 points. This is an average-ish cost for a New York to Miami ticket, as an example.

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If you want to go cross-country, a rough ticket could be in the range of about $1200. That will cost you 41,400 points, instead of the current redemption rate of 35,000 points. The one benefit here is that sleeper car accommodations are generally for two people or more, so keep that in mind when booking.

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If you want an Acela Express First Class ticket, an average cost hovers in the $400 range. That will cost you 15,600 points now.

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Who Benefits?

  • If you book far in advance, with cheaper train prices you’ll save points.
  • If you tend to have concrete plans without changes.
  • If you have Amtrak elite status, you’ll earn more points.
  • Business Class travelers, since the difference in fare between coach and business is often less in points with the new program, than with the premium in the current program.
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Who loses?

  • In general, Northeast Regional customers lose since those ticket prices at the last minute can be very high, far above the $116 breaking point.
  • Sleeping car passengers for long distance travel.
  • Acela Express First Class customers, in many cases. Some will be cheaper, most will not.

I’m not a fan of the new changes, but in all honestly, they could have been far worse. In most cases, you’re only seeing a minor-moderate point increase, and yes, in some cases, you are saving points. I’m not liking the new cancellation policies, since my plans can (and do change), though if the new Amtrak credit cards continue to provide the 5% rebate, that can offset things a bit. Overall, I’ll be using British Airways Avios more and more for sub 650 miles travel, since that is still at a fixed 4,5000 mile rate.

What do you think of the new Amtrak program? Will you benefit or lose?

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  1. KK says

    To me, it seems like they are punishing their NE Corridor business travelers (the riders that make up the bulk of their revenues…).

    Currently, any Acela Business class ticket gets you 500 each way, or 1,000 round trip. But under the new system, it seems to be just 2 x price x 1.25.

    My typical round trip Acela ticket costs $358. That would net me 895 points, 105 fewer points per trip. The deduction becomes magnified when you move higher up the rewards chain. Now it will be 1,119 for Select (131 fewer), 1,343 for Select Plus (157 fewer), and 1,790 for Select Executive (210 fewer).

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