I am currently on Amtrak headed down to DC just for the night. I wasn’t 100% sure of when I was making the trip South, and by the time I went to purchase my Amtrak train ticket the $49 or even $69 were no longer available. The cheapest ticket I could get was $101 with my AAA card (side note: AAA card gets you 10% off if purchased at least 3 days prior to departure). Semi expensive to get from NYC to Washington, DC but oh well, it is what it is. I could have flown for about the same price, but from JFK and getting there is much more of a hassle then Penn Station. I purchased my ticket and moved on.

Yesterday though, when I was updating my Promotions page on this site I was reminded that Amtrak was offering a 30% bonus on all purchased miles through June 30th. I went to the Amtrak site and priced out the cost for purchasing 4,000 miles (the cost of a one way train ticket along the Northeast). 3,000 points + 900 bonus would cost me only $82 (I also have a few random Amtrak points laying around so it was fine that I was able to purchase 100 points less then the 4,000 points required). I purchased the points, redeemed my point reservation with the points, cancelled my already existing paid reservation, and saved myself $19! By no means a massive savings, but for about 5 minutes of my time I’ll take a $20 bill back in my pocket any day. Yes, there is a slight opportunity cost as I will not be earning points, but unless there is a bonus promotion or you are taking the Acela, I find the number of points earned on each trip so minimal. I would have only earned 202 points on this trip, which I’d value at about $5, if that.

Some things to know with Amtrak travel:

  • As long as the  reservation is not ticketed, you are able to cancel with no fee
  • The terms with purchasing points state that they can take up to 72 hours to post, however, in my experience they post immediately
  • You can only purchase up to 10,000 points in a calendar year
  • You can redeem your points for another passenger (this means if you’ve already hit the 10,000 point amount for purchases, use a friend/family members account)
So while I should have just booked a few different train reservations way in advance (as the cost was only $49 at that point) and then cancelled the one I did not need (for no fee), I didn’t. When I finally got around to it purchasing points was by far the best value!

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

  • Michael W Travels said,

    Any reason why you didn’t just take the bus?

  • subham said,

    I think Amtrak is more comfortable than a bus ride. My Q is how do u decide between a flight and a train for any travel? is Amtrak faster than plane for some instances?

  • Asen said,

    I have a few questions regarding Amtrak
    1. Amtrak terms and conditions state that I can cancel with full refund only if I cancel 30 days before the journey. You are saying that is not true?
    2. Are award reservations refundable too?
    3. How do you check Amtrak award availability? When I try, I just get a message “you do not have enough points in your account”

  • Noah Kimmel said,

    as much of a plane junky as I am, Amtrak takes the same amount of time (if not faster depending on where you go) and doesnt require expensive cabs to/from both airports. Seats are more comfortable, wifi for the whole trip, instead of about 10,000 ft.

    As for the buses, they are the cheapest at $1-$20 generally, but definitely the slowest, least comfortable way to travel.

  • Vik said,

    You could have used your UR points as well

  • dealswelike said,

    @Vik – Absolutely correct. While many do not transfer UR points to Amtrak because they are not “aspirational” awards, many times you can get at least 2 points per cent value, which isn’t bad.

  • dealswelike said,

    @Michael W Travels – Traveling up I-95 on a beautiful Sunday day with beach traffic was not very appealing!

  • dealswelike said,

    @subham – typically for these short distances I actually drive. I go to Boston quite often and many times just drive. Mr. Deals, however, travels short distances for work (NYC – BOS) and prefers the Acela over flying. I think it comes down to a personal preference.

  • dealswelike said,

    @Asen – As long as the ticket is not “ticketed” that is true. This means that you cannot have picked up your ticket in any way shape or form prior to. Award reservations are refundable. When making an award reservation you must have enough points in your account to see availability. If a seat is available on Amtrak you can use your points, just need to ensure it is not during a blackout date.

  • dealswelike said,

    @Noah – I agree. For me, getting to Penn Station is much easier than JFK. I was also able to get about 3 hours of work done! Buses are by far the cheapest way to go and I’ve taken my fair share of buses to/from DC & NYC and NYC & Boston. I’ve taken every bus possible, so if anyone has any questions about the bus, ask away! From NYC to Boston actually, the bus is about 4 hours and the train is 4 1/2. If you are going during a non-traffic time the bus will definitely be faster. However, on a Friday or Sunday afternoon, the bus can sometimes take forever!

  • Kevin said,

    Just wanted to add that you can further boost your Amtrak points by using the Amtrak Guest Rewards Chase Mastercard. You receive a 5% rebate on all points redeemed. Therefore, in the original situation, after redeeming those 3,900 points that you purchased, you would receive an additional 195 points.

    It’s a great card!

  • Truthiness said,

    Nosh, I frequently travel on Amtrak and disagree with your statement that there is wifi for the whole trip. The wireless connection is slow, spotty, and generally unreliable. On my most recent trip on Tuesday, the power actually went out in the cars EVERY time we pulled into a station. The NYT just had an article about Amtrak’s abysmal wireless Internet: http://travel.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/travel/wi-fi-and-amtrak-missed-connections.html?pagewanted=all.

  • bill said,

    Just recently (2013) Amtrak has started making refunds more difficult. They can withhold a fee or, as happened to me, they will only issue an e-voucher refund which ridiculously enough can only be redeemed in person at the station with an agent. I’ve given up on Amtrak wifi for amything more data intensive than twitter.

  • dealswelike said,

    @Bill – I agree with you. I currently hold a voucher as since I purchased one of their lowest fares and now have to redeem at a station.

  • jodi said,

    i cannot find the price to buy points …
    i needed 8.000 to equal 15000 points to go from vt to fla but since i was short the 8k i paid the full fare of 384 dollars ( with a roomete) would buying 8000 points have been cheaper

  • dealswelike said,

    @jodi – https://amtrakguestrewards.com/points/index

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