With Bonus, Buy Amtrak Points Now and Redeem for Train Tickets Later

In general I don’t recommend buying points for travel, since the points needed in order to get a ticket are often more expensive than just getting a ticket outright. But with bonuses, that might not be always the case. Throughout the month of September 2011, Amtrak is offering a 50% bonus for any point purchases over 5,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points, which can be redeemed for Amtrak travel on any of its routes (as well as several other things including hotel stays). 5,000 points plus the 2,500 bonus points is sold for $137.50, and the maximum points you can buy, 10,000 plus 5,000 bonus points costs $275.

Base Points

Bonus Points

Total Points

Price

500 0 500 $13.75
1,000 0 1,000 $27.50
2,000 0 2,000 $55.00
3,000 0 3,000 $82.50
4,000 0 4,000 $110.00
5,000 2,500 7,500 $137.50
6,000 3,000 9,000 $165.00
7,000 3,500 10,500 $192.50
8,000 4,000 12,000 $220.00
9,000 4,500 13,500 $247.50
10,000 5,000 15,000 $275.00

For those of you who travel the Northeast Regional line, which goes through DC, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, buying the points and redeeming them for travel could save you quite a bit money. The price of a one-way ticket on the Northeast Regional varies significantly based on the distance you travel and the time of day, but as an example, a ticket from New York to Washington, DC, this coming Sunday ranges from $78 if you are willing to take an 8 AM train to $134 if you want to travel in the early afternoon. Tickets on Friday afternoon may be even more expensive.

On the other hand, 3,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points can always be redeemed for a one-way ticket on the Northeast Regional, regardless of the day, time, or distance traveled. So if you buy 7,500 points for $137.50 during this promotion (5,000+2,500), you could redeem your points for 2 Northeast Regional tickets between New York and DC this weekend, and save between $18.50 and $130.50 depending on which ticket you book; and you’d still have some points left over for your next trip. At $275 for 15,000 points (10,000+5,000), you can get 5 one-way tickets on the Northeast Regional, saving even more.

You can find similar savings on the other coast. Tickets on several train lines going through California, including the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin, and Pacific Surfliner line, can be exchanged for 1,000 Amtrak points each way. With the 50% bonus on purchases, you can get 12 tickets on any of these Special Routes for just $220 (8,000+4,000 points for $220). In contrast, a ticket from Santa Barbara to San Diego this coming Sunday costs $41 at any time, so 12 of them would come out $492, or more than twice as much. Tickets from Sacramento to Oakland are $26 this weekend, so using Amtrak points instead would still save you money.

This 50% bonus promotion is running until September 30, 2011, and Amtrak Guest Rewards points expire only after you go 36 months without purchasing any Amtrak tickets. That means you can take advantage of the bonus now and hold onto your points until you are ready to purchase a ticket any time over the next 3 years. The only downside of this promotion, if you can count that as one, is that tickets exchanged through points cannot earn points themselves. Nonetheless, the huge savings should more than make up for that small loss.

Special thanks to the Loyalty Traveler.

This Spring, Earn Amtrak Points Two to Three Times as Fast

Last fall, Amtrak was giving away double points to Guest Rewards members for any train trip taken during the promotion period.  On March 22, the same promotion was back, and members can currently earn double points for train rides taken until May 7, 2010.  The kicker for this promotion, however, is that rather than ending on May 7th, Amtrak is increasing the bonus points after that – offering triple points from May 8 to May 29, 2010 to celebrate National Train Day (May 8).

Since Amtrak points are awarded per dollar paid rather than per mile traveled, these promotions are a way to offset any points you might be losing by buying a cheaper fare – this way, you can save money and earn more points.  To learn more about Amtrak Guest Rewards, click here, and to earn this double or triple bonus, log into your Guest Rewards account and sign up for the promotion using code 32210.

Two More Cents on Amtrak

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my experience with Amtrak‘s cancellation policy.  Here’s an update on that trip:
 
In my post, I left off on where the Amtrak customer service representative canceled my outbound trip without imposing any cancellation fees – a huge deal, especially when compared to airline cancellation policies.  As I noted then, although my cancellation request was done over the phone, to get the actual refund I would have to speak to an agent at the ticket counter.  What I did not know, however, is that, because of that, the remaining portion of the ticket could not be issued through a self-service kiosk.  This created a momentary problem: the line for the ticket counter was about 50 people deep when I got to Penn Station 40 minutes before my trip, and I was worried that I might not make it to the ticket agent in time for my train.  But the Amtrak customer service phone representatives again confirmed their helpfulness: I called the 1-800 number and explained my situation – I did not want to miss my train because of a pending refund.  The representative quickly resolved my problem by inquiring whether I had enough of a limit on my credit card, canceling the original ticket altogether, and reissuing a new one for the same price.  The new ticket had the same booking code, and could be retrieved at the self-service kiosk.  With that, I had 10 minutes to spare before boarding my train.
 
Morals of this story: (1) Amtrak’s customer service is extremely helpful, (2) if you are stuck in line, be resourceful and call customer service instead (This also goes for re-booking canceled flights; while standing in line behind another 50 angry customers who have been grounded, try calling the airline’s customer service number. Hopefully you’ll get someone who is not overwhelmed and being yelled at over and over), (3) when canceling one portion of an Amtrak ticket, ask to cancel the entire ticket and have a new one booked at the same price instead.

Cancellation Policy Puts Amtrak Ahead

Amtrak‘s winter promotion is ending this weekend, but besides the environmental benefits and the sometimes lower prices, there is yet another reason to choose the train over the plane when traveling on shorter routes: Amtrak’s cancellation policy.  I had heard of the flexibility of its policy before, but this week I had the opportunity to see it for myself.

I had booked a round-trip DC-NY ticket a month ago, but a week before traveling I decided to cancel my outbound trip (I would be traveling for work the week before, so it made more sense to fly back straight into NY rather than to DC just to take the train up).  I called Amtrak only 4 days before the trip, and the customer service representative immediately canceled the outbound leg for a full refund, which I could confirm since Amtrak shows the price of each leg on a round-trip ticket purchase rather than a packaged price. Continue reading

On Amtrak: Ride Two or Three, Get a Summer One Free

Money Under Your Futon has covered the Amtrak Guest Rewards program several times before, noting that it is a spending-based rather than miles-based program, as it gives points according to the price of the ticket rather than the distance traveled.  The number of points needed for a free ticket also varies by line, with the Northeastern and the Acela being two of the most expensive points-wise.  But until March 13, 2010, riding on the Northeastern – which goes through Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston – or its expressed version, the Acela, may turn out to be a good deal: Amtrak is offering a free Northeastern round-trip ticket for the summer if you take 2 round-trips (or 4 one-way trips) between January 7 and March 13, 2010.  On the Acela, it takes 3 round-trips (or 6 one-way trips) to earn an Acela round-trip ticket for the summer.

Without this promotion, earning enough points for a free trip on the Northeastern or the Acela takes quite a while: to accumulate points, Amtrak Guest Rewards gives one point for every dollar spent on a regular Amtrak ticket and 500 points on the Acela; but a one-way trip on the Northeastern usually requires 3,000 points, and, on the Acela, a business class ticket (there are only business and first class seats on the Acela) goes for 8,000 points.  That is, for a free one-way ticket, you usually have to spend $1500 on Amtrak or take 16 one-way trips on Acela (or a mix between the two).  In contrast, with the current promotion, you only need 2 trips on the Northeastern or 3 trips on the Acela to earn a free round-trip ticket on the respective train.

For both promotions, the qualifying trips must be taken by March 13, 2010, and the free ticket will be valid for travel from June 1, 2010 and August 31, 2010.  Taking advantage of these deals may require some forward planning (and having an idea of your summer plans), but at least enrollment is easy.  To register for them, just log into your Amtrak Guest Rewards and, under the “promotion registration” tab, enter code 10810 for the Northeastern and/or 10710 for the Acela.

Amtrak Adds Bonus Points to Double Points Deal, If You Got the Email

In previous posts on travel deals, we have encouraged readers to pre-register for any free promotion on airlines or Amtrak that may potentially be relevant to them.  Many times, airlines will send emails to frequent flier customers advertising a bonus miles campaign.  If there is any likelihood that you might be eligible for the promotion (e.g., travel to a specific destination during a predefined period), you should sign up for the deal as soon as it hits your inbox.   That way, if and when you plan your trip, you won’t risk missing out on any bonus deals.  Also, some promotions are only available to customers who received an email about it and have to be redeemed through links included therein.  Therefore, if you delete that email or forget to look for it before booking your travel, you may also miss out.

Amtrak’s latest move to lure more travelers to trains during the holiday season drives this point home.  In September, we told you about Amtrak’s Double Days promotion, through which you can get double Amtrak Guest Rewards points until December 19th.  This past week, Amtrak emailed all customers who had signed up for the promotion and offered them an extra 250 bonus points for taking a trip on Acela or 100 bonus points for a trip on any other Amtrak train between November 4 and December 19, 2009.  Now, if you did not sign up for the Double Days promotion mentioned earlier, you did not get an email about this bonus, and there are no links on the Guest Rewards website for it.

If you think you might travel by train sometime between now and December 19th, sign up for the Double Days promotion today.  Maybe Amtrak will surprise you with extra offers too.

Double up on Travel Bonuses this Fall

As travel plans are cut out to save on personal and business costs, reaching a meaningful threshold in a travel rewards program has become less and less realistic for many people this year.  But to give you a boost and keep you traveling, some airlines and Amtrak are giving double points this fall.

Airlines typically have sales in which they give double miles for travel on specific routes.  But this fall, many airlines are also giving double elite qualifying miles (EQM) for travel to any destination.  In contrast to double miles, bonus EQMs cannot be redeemed for travel and expire in the end of the year, but they can help you reach elite status faster.  In most airlines, you need to earn 25,000 EQMs within a calendar year to reach the lowest elite tier, and more for higher ones.  Elite membership not only gives your priority in boarding, seating, and standby, but also entitles you to bonus miles for travel.  Most airlines give 25% bonus miles – which can be redeemed for travel – to members of their lowest elite tier and 100% or more to members of higher tiers on almost any flight.  So think of qualifying for elite status this year through EQMs as an investment for earning more redeemable miles next year.

As covered by Tim Winship from smartertravel, American announced its double EQM deal in early September, and was soon followed by United and Continental.  All three deals require pre-registration and run until December 15, 2009.  Keep an eye out for other airlines that may eventually take part in this competition.

Amtrak is also trying to draw in more travelers by making its rewards more attainable: until December 19, 2009, you can get double points for any travel through its “Double Days” promotion.  Pre-registration is also required, but, unlike the airline programs, the extra points earned can be redeemed for travel.  Amtrak’s program (explained in a previous post in more detail) awards points per dollar spent, which can then be redeemed for Amtrak tickets.  The number of points required varies by Amtrak line, with travel on the northeast corridor requiring the most.

Just because you or business has to cut down on travel this year does not mean you shouldn’t get a shot at reaching elite status or earning enough Amtrak points for travel.  Pre-register for these deals now to reach travel rewards goals twice as fast this fall.

Amtrak Extends Northeast Summer Deal into the Fall

Two months ago, we wrote about Amtrak’s summer sale for travel in the Northeast corridor.  With the 25% discount offered, taking the train became a slightly more accessible option, with a one-way New York – DC trip going for $49 and Philadelphia- New York going for $34.  This deal was due to run out just before Labor Day, but has now been extended for another four months, to December 16, 2009.  The discounted fare is calculated automatically (no coupon codes necessary), and, to qualify, tickets must be purchased 14 days in advance.  There are blackout dates around Labor Day (September 4 and 7) and Thanksgiving Day (November 24-25 and 28-30), but otherwise this extension is great news all around.

Shop Around for Miles and Cash Back Too

With so many online portals offering miles or cash back if you shop through their website, it pays to look around for the best rewards out there.  So after you’ve done your research for the item you are going to buy and have found the perfect coupon code, you should look for bonus deals on online portals before hitting the purchase button.  You may need some patience to look through them but you will be duly rewarded for that, as the bonuses differ a lot from website to website and from store to store.  Here are four examples:

The Apple Store:

  • Discover’s ShopDiscover: 5% cash back
  • Bank of America’s Add It Up: 2% cash back
  • Upromise: 1% cash back
  • United’s Mileage Plus Mall: 3 miles per $2
  • American Airlines’ AAdvantage eShopping: 1 mile per $1
  • Delta’s SkyMiles Shopping: 1 mile per $1
  • Amtrak’s Points for Shopping: 2 points per $1

Expedia.com:

  • Upromise: 1% cash back
  • Bank of America’s Add It Up: 1% cash back

Macy’s:

  • Upromise: 6% cash back through August 7, usually 3%
  • Discover’s ShopDiscover: 5% cash back
  • Bank of America’s Add It Up: 4% cash back
  • American Airlines’ AAdvantage eShopping: 4 miles per $1 through September 6, usually 3 miles per $1
  • United’s Mileage Plus Mall: 7 miles per $2
  • Delta’s SkyMiles Shopping: 2 miles per $1
  • Amtrak’s Points for Shopping: 3 points per $1

Snapfish:

  • Bank of America’s Add It Up: 15% cash back
  • Discover’s ShopDiscover: 15% cash back
  • Upromise: 9% cash back
  • American Airlines’ AAdvantage eShopping: 6 mile per $1
  • Delta’s SkyMiles Shopping: 6 miles per $1
  • United’s Mileage Plus Mall: 9 miles per $2
  • Amtrak’s Points for Shopping: 5 points per $1

As you can see from the list above, bonuses vary significantly, and some stores even have limited time deals.  So if you have the time, don’t just stick to one portal.  In deciding through which one to shop , consider the size of the bonus as well as in which program you already have some miles or are close to reaching some sort of cash back threshold for redemption.  Either way, you will be turning your good deal purchase into an even better deal.

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Summer Training: Deals on Amtrak

The bus is undoubtedly the cheapest way to travel in the Northeast corridor, but the train has its convenience, too – namely, not getting stuck in weekend traffic.  And as an added upside, Amtrak is offering a 25% discount on the lowest available fares on the Northeast Regional throughout the summer.  Here are some of the new rates under this promotion:

Boston – New York                                         $49

New York – Philadelphia                               $34

New York – Washington, DC                        $49

Philadelphia – Washington, DC                  $33

For more routes visit the Amtrak website.  This sale is going on until September 3rd and requires purchasing 14 days in advance.  For the rest of the year, there is actually another deal with similar prices and also requiring advance booking, but is only for Saturday and Sunday travel, with a maximum one night stay.

Last week, I also mentioned Amtrak’s frequent traveler program, Guest Rewards, which is similar to airline programs but awards points per dollar spent rather than distance traveled.  If you have a Guest Rewards account, using the deals above does not have to mean losing out on points – until August 31st, Amtrak is also giving 100 bonus points for travel on Coach class, 200 for Business, and 400 for First Class on all trains in all routes.  Just make sure to log into your Guest Rewards account and register for the offer (I try to do this as soon as I find out about it, so that I can forget about it and not have to worry about finding the link again when I decide to travel).  Better than these discounts and bonus points is only when Amtrak finally makes wireless available on its trains!

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