Published on July 20th, 2017 | by William Charles52
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).
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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¢.
- 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.
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:
- 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)
- Kohl’s ($100 only)
- L.L. Bean
- Macy’s ($50 only)
- Outback Steakhouse
- Panera Bread ($50 only)
- Pottery Barn
- Regal Entertainment ($50 only)
- REI ($50 only)
- Ruth’s Chris ($50 only)
- Saks Fifth Avenue ($100 only)
- Sears ($100 only)
- Spa & Wellness
- Top Golf
- Wine Country Gift Baskets
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
- California Zephyr. Supposed to be one of the best train journeys in the world, section through the Rockies looks amazing.
- Coast Starlight.
- Seat61 is a very useful site for learning about routes.
- Reader Peter points out that it might be best used for medium/short trips as sleeper cabins are so expensive now.
- Trip reports:
- California Zephyr Amtrak Trip Summary & Thoughts on Amtrak Guest Rewards Devaluation (AGR 2.0) (Travel With Grant)
- Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Day Trip and my Confusion with Orange County Metrolink and San Diego Coaster (Travel With Grant)
- Amtrak Coast Starlight Trip Summary and my Train Traveling Thoughts (Travel With Grant)
- Let me know what routes you’ve taken in the comments, also feel free to link to other sites trip reports and I’ll add them here.
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!
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.