Posted by William Charles on July 20, 2017
Loyalty Programs

Published on July 20th, 2017 | by William Charles

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A Complete Guide To Amtrak Guest Rewards Points (AGR): Best Uses & How Much They Are Worth

Yesterday we posted a new credit card offer for 30,000 Amtrak points. I’m not that familiar with the new (really not so new now) Amtrak program so I thought I’d familiarize myself with it. To understand the best uses and value of these points it’s important to look at all of the different redeeming options, let’s start with that and then move to best uses and finally a valuation (or just skip to the relevant sections).

Redeeming Points

Amtrak Travel

Rules

The most common and likely most popular use of Amtrak points is to use them for Amtrak train travel. Some things to note about redeeming points:

  • You can book tickets in other people’s names. Once the tickets have been issued you cannot change the name.
  • Children:
    • Under 2 ride free as long as additional seat is not required (if it is follow rules for children 2-12)
    • Up to two children (aged 2-12) may have tickets booked at half the rail fare of each adult in the reservation. E.g if your ticket costs 10,000 points you could add two children for another 10,000 points.
  • Cancellations:
    • 10% redeposit fee charged for all cancellations (e.g if ticket is 10,000 points they will redeposit only 9,000 points)
    • In addition another 10% ‘close in’ fee is charged if cancelled (Select Executive are excluded):
      • Within 24 hours of depature for non sleeping ticket
      • Within 14 days of depature for sleeping ticket
  • Points cannot be used for Saver fares. 
  • Minimum points required:
    • 800 points for non Acela tickets
    • 4,000 for Acela tickets
  • Blackout dates (50%/100% increase). Amtrak doesn’t have true blackout dates as you can still book, but during some undisclosed peak times they charge an additional 50% or 100% than you’d expect.
  • Points expire if you’ve not had any earning or redeeming activity within the past 36 months (holding a co-branded credit card also prevents them from expiring)
  • Not possible to pay using a mixture of points & cash. This was slated to be added but never was.

Redemption Options

Amtrak does not have an award chart and that’s because they use a dynamic pricing model. This basically just means that the price you’ll pay in points is tied to the cash price of your Amtrak fare (similar to Southwest & Jetblue). The value you get per point isn’t fixed (e.g points aren’t always worth 2¢ towards fares) but you should find the following to be roughly true:

  • Non-Acela tickets points are worth 2.9¢ each
  • Acela tickets points are worth 2.56¢ cent
  • Monthly passes (2.9¢) must be booked via phone. Others report a rate of 1.7¢.

Amtrak Misc

  • Five pack of single visit ClubAcela Passes, expire within 12 months of redemption date: 5,000 points. I believe these normally cost $20 for business class passengers, free for some people with status. If you were paying the cash rate of $20 then you’re getting 2¢ per point in value.
  • Four pack of one class upgrades (12 hour): 10,000 points. Cash value for this would vary a lot based on the route your traveling.

Transferring Points To Choice, Hilton, Audience Rewards

You can transfer Amtrak points to Choice at a rate of 1:3, Hilton at a 1:2 rate and . Things to keep in mind:

  • Amtrak Guest Rewards Select or Select Plus members can transfer a maximum of 50,000 points to Choice, Hilton, Audience Rewards combined.
  • Amtrak Guest Rewards Select Executive Members can transfer an unlimited amount
  • Bank of America Amtrak cardholders that spend $20,000 or more per calendar year can transfer 20,000 points.
  • Must transfer in increments of 5,000 points.

How valuable this is will really depend on if you have the status required and how much you value the points in the other program. Keep in mind you need Select membership to be able to transfer and that requires 5,000 Tier Qualifying Points (you earn 2x points per $1 spent so it would require $2,500 in spend without any other promotions). Spending $20,000 on the Bank of America card isn’t likely or advisable for most people due to the low earning rates, but that really depends on how much you value Amtrak points. I think Choice can make sense given the 1:3 transfer ratio, Travel is Free has a good but slightly out dated post on the best use of Choice points.

Giftcards

You can redeem points for a small selection of gift cards at the following rates:

  • 6,000 points for $50 gift card (0.833¢ per point)
  • 10,000 points for $100 gift card (1¢ per point).

They have the following brands:

  • 1800-Flowers
  • AMC ($50 only)
  • Applebee’s ($50 only)
  • AutoZone ($100 only)
  • Barnes and Noble
  • Bath and Body Works ($50 only)
  • Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Bloomingdale’s ($100 only)
  • Brinker ($50 only)
  • Budget ($100 only)
  • Burlington Coat Factory ($100 only)
  • Celebrity Cruises
  • CVS ($50 only)
  • Disney ($10o only)
  • GameStop
  • GAP
  • iTunes
  • Kohl’s ($100 only)
  • L.L. Bean
  • Lowe’s
  • Macy’s ($50 only)
  • Nike
  • Nordstrom
  • Outback Steakhouse
  • Panera Bread ($50 only)
  • PetSmart
  • Pottery Barn
  • Regal Entertainment ($50 only)
  • REI ($50 only)
  • Ruth’s Chris ($50 only)
  • Saks Fifth Avenue ($100 only)
  • Sears ($100 only)
  • Spa & Wellness
  • Starbucks
  • TJMaxx
  • Top Golf
  • Williams-Sonoma
  • Wine Country Gift Baskets

Best Options

I think there is really only two options that are worth considering when it comes to Amtrak:

  • Train travel
  • Choice transfers

As I mentioned previous Choice transfers won’t be available to most people because of the status it required, if it didn’t require that status it would be an easy way to get a bulk amount of Choice points and they can be very useful (mostly for international hotel stays). This really only leaves us with train travel as the best option. It’s important to remember that train travel is really more about the journey than the destination. If you’re the type of person that just wants to get from A to B then a lot of these routes aren’t for you (although sometimes the Acela trains can still make sense).

Best Train Routes

How Much Are Points Worth?

At worst case scenario you can redeem points for gift cards, I never value gift cards at face value but I think 90% of face value is a fair valuation. That means if you have 10,000 points they would be worth 0.9¢ and if you had 6,000 points they would be worth 0.75¢ each. I think that gives us a base level of points being worth at a minimum 0.75¢ (obviously you still have issues with orphan points if you can’t hit those thresholds). On the other end of the scale the points are worth 2.56-2.9¢ towards train travel. Given that status is required for the Choice transfers I don’t really consider them an option when it comes to valuation, but for your our purposes just multiply how much you value Choice points by 3 to get an Amtrak valuation.

Realistically if you’re stockpiling Amtrak points or signing up for an Amtrak credit card then you’re going to be using the points for train travel. That means realistically these points are worth 2.56-2.9¢ each (assuming you’d pay the normal cash prices anyway). As always remember to work out your own valuations and be honest with yourselves!

Final Thoughts

I’m trying to improve my knowledge when it comes to redeeming points & miles as I think it’s something that’s really lacking from this site and in the travel hacking community in general. I am absolutely positive that this post has a lot of mistakes in it, I fully admit that I am not very good at this sort of thing but it’s something I want to improve on. That means I’m relying on readers feedback to point out errors I’ve made and any sweet spots I might have missed. As always try to keep your feedback constructive (e.g Will, you are dumb isn’t very useful. But Will, you missed out on the best redemption blah blah blah is very useful).

I’d also love to hear readers feedback on what they’ve used Amtrak points on and how they value them. Everybody will have their own valuation and these points might be an amazing deal for some people and a terrible deal for others.



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Blue
Blue

We thought it would be great idea to take Amtrak from Texas to New York one Christmas. So I turned a bunch of Continental points into Amtrak points and got a cabin there and back–route connected in Chicago.

Boy was THAT a mistake. We ended up getting into Chicago like 15 hours late on the 23rd. Amtrak couldn’t promise us anything but airplane seats on the overnight to New York on the 24th–and bear in mind they were doing NOTHING proactive for us while stuck on the train in southern Illinois. People were leaving and walking through snow drifts to the nearest road.

When we hit Chicago were looking at a night in Chicago (and NO assistance from Amtrak on this) to Christmas Eve and then a night to get to New York. What we ended up doing was getting the last rental car at Union Station (and one of the last in Chicago) and driving across. Spent the night in Michigan but were able to arrive on Christmas Eve.

Because Amtrak points are stuck once you move them–and because I will NEVER go an an Amtrak again–I ended up not even requesting a refund for the tens of thousands of points I wasted for the Chicago to New York and New York to Texas return.

Amtrak is a horrible, horrible operation.

Tiffany Garden

One of the most helpful resources I’ve found for covering the various aspects of traveling via Amtrak is https://www.seat61.com/UnitedStates.htm

It covers a lot of the most scenic routes available (California Zephyr is quite incredible) along with lots of useful tips for people new to Amtrak travel.

Justincase
Justincase

As someone who travels from Manhattan to most east coast cities for business this was a very helpful post.

Jon S
Jon S

I haven’t done it personally, but those who ride Amtrak regularly can book their monthly pass with points over the phone (or if you know someone who gets monthly passes, you can book theirs for them with your points). I’m told that the 2.9 cpp rate applies to monthly passes.

Peter
Peter

Ever since they changed the program 1.5 years ago I think points are most useful on short to medium distances. Sleepers on a long-haul will still cost many more points than you can earn with the sign-up bonus. Back before they changed the program I got 6 days of travel in sleeper for 2 all for 40K points – that was very worth it. Cincinnati to Chicago to Seattle to Vancouver, then Vancouver to Seattle to LA to New Orleans. Now that same trip would cost 80K points.

Bob
Bob

So given the points value, it would have cost $2,320 booking with cash?? wow

Peter
Peter

Yup 🙂 Still think that’s the most value I’ve gotten out of any redemption. On a monetary value using Chase Hyatt certs at the Park Hyatt NYC was very similar, but 6 days seeing the country with 3 meals a day (steak dinners probably beat most airline first class)….don’t think I’ll be able to beat that.

Peter
Peter

Oh and to make it better, there was flooding in Houston when we were going through and so they had to take us to NOLA on a bus from San Antonio. Since we were in a sleeper they compensated us for that – $350 in vouchers. Using those to take more trips this year 🙂

Ian
Ian

Even though they claim there are no blackout dates, they still outrageously black out certain dates and trains:

“No Price” is displayed for Redemption Booking
During peak travel periods when demand is high and capacity is limited, some departures are available at a higher point cost and some seats or classes of service may not be available for redemption. Amtrak Guest Rewards members with Select Plus(SM) and Select Executive status may find expanded access to use their points for travel during those peak times. For best results, we recommend members log in to their Amtrak Guest Rewards account before searching for available itineraries.

Nick
Nick

If only Amtrak was in the same price range as Metro North I would switch my commute around to make that work. As it stands this is an awesome offer if you can maximize it

Jesse
Jesse

I’ve had good luck transferring Amtrak points to Hilton via points.com. I have the free version of this card (Platinum) and I use it to boost my Hilton balance every few months.

al613
al613

“E.g if your ticket costs 10,000 points you could add two children for another 10,000 points.” You cannot book it at half price online. Did you do it over the phone?

Ian
Ian

Pacific Surfliner is a great route to take from San Luis Obispo, CA all the way down to San Diego. Multiple trains a day and the majority of the trip is right along the water, beautiful views.

Maggie
Maggie

We took the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to LA a few years ago, and it was a really neat experience. It took two days to make the trip, but the train itself was part of the fun. At the time, we had a two year old with us, and it was a good time playing in the sleeper car and running all over the train. And we got to skip a flight with a toddler.

Billy bob
Billy bob

You can boost your Amtrak points by transferring JetBlue to Amtrak on points.com at 2:1 (which is roughly equal).

escott
escott

Good post William, and kudos you even found Drew TIF’s somewhat dated, yet still useful piece of brilliance. Happens this very year I’m belatedly going for the Choice transfer. (Have a ton of orphaned Chase points in my Amtrak account…. from the old program. ) Am about half way there on the new BA Amtrak card to the 20k for this year — plus then still have some amtrak travel to do (out west — think glacier run) this summer to become eligible to do the transfer to Choice at year end (and yes, have in mind many of the Drew Choice recommendations…. Italy etc. 🙂 )

Charles
Charles

The Amtrak to Choice offer may not be as good as in the past. In the Choice Flyertalk community – there is close to consensus that there has been a devaluation to the choice program over the last 18 months. Choice now has seasonal and weekend/weekday point pricing, people are finding it harder to use points in Europe and some reported a Roadway Inn even coming in at 30K points the other day. There isn’t complete consensus on this, but not as as good a deal as before. We used Choice points for our trip to Yosemite and Sequoya last year and had a pretty good experience (redemptions) 16K to 20K points compared to cash rates of $120 to $220. This was low season though (so higher points in the high season).

It seems that the Choice program is tracked as closely as SPG, Marriott, Hilton, etc. since the clients aren’t as business focused. I’ve never seen a post on points prices increasing or decreasing, for instance. So, it is hard to exactly know what is going on.

bob
bob

Coastal Starlight from L.A. to Seattle, and then Cascades to Vancouver the next morning was amazing! 25k in the old program for sleeper car to Seattle. And that was for 2 people plus a toddler.

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