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Maximizing Amtrak Guest Rewards: Earning Points

by on September 5, 2012 · 21 comments

in amtrak, TPG Contributors

TPG Contributor Jason Steele used the occasion of a family train vacation to delve into Amtrak’s Guest Rewards loyalty program. Today he begins with how to maximize your Amtrak Guest Rewards earning potential.

Most people think of points and miles solely in terms of airline and hotel awards, but Amtrak also has a loyalty points program with some valuable travel redemptions and partnerships that make it worth a closer look.

Earning Amtrak Guest Rewards
Amtrak’s Guest Rewards program that is more similar to a hotel loyalty program than an airline frequent flier program in that normally, passengers earn points for each dollar spent on train tickets (though obviously that’s how Virgin America, Southwest and JetBlue’s programs work as well). Paid tickets earn two points for each dollar spent, with a 100-point minimum regardless of the price paid. Additionally, the Acela high-speed trains in the northeast corridor earn 500 points (750 in First Class) for trips between select city pairs such as New York-Washington and Boston-Newark.

Note: Amtrak just announced its fall “Double Days” promo offering passengers double points on all train travel between September 5 – November 16, 2012, essentially awarding them 4 points per dollar spent on fares instead of the normal 2. Members must include their membership number when making reservations for travel to qualify. Limit of two qualifying one-way trips per day. Amtrak Guest Rewards points will not be awarded for cancelled or refunded reservations or tickets. Be sure to register here before booking any travel.

Points can also be earned through hotel, rental car, and online shopping partners. Additional point bonuses are available when travelers earn Select and Select Plus elite status by earning 5,000 and 10,000 tier-qualifying points respectively within a calendar year. Like airline elite qualifying miles, Amtrak passengers only earn tier qualifying through paid travel, not through partner points.

There are several other ways to earn Amtrak travel with credit cards. Points can be transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 ratio in 1,000-point increments. The Starwood Preferred Guest program also allows you to transfer points at a 1:1 ratio, but only in 5,000-point increments – and there is no bonus equivalent to the 5,000-point bonus for transferring 20,000 Starpoints to airline miles.

American Express Membership Rewards points also transfer to Amtrak gift cards at the rate of one cent per point, in 5,000-, 10,000-, and 30,000-point increments. However, this option offers substantially less value per point than transfers to airline miles.

Finally, Chase and Amtrak offer a co-branded Guest Rewards Mastercard.  The current sign-up bonus is 12,000 points after spending $500 in the first 3 months, 2 points per dollar spent on Amtrak, and one point per dollar on everything else. Since there are several other Chase cards that earn more than one Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent on various categories, this card offers little value beyond those other Chase products. Its only real benefit is that it grants Amtrak Guest Rewards users the ability to transfer points to hotel programs.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how Amtrak’s travel redemptions work, its various partners and how to get the most value out of the Amtrak Guest Rewards points you earn.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • Nickfromct

    I just used the Amtrak shopping portal for an Apple Macbook purchase getting 4pts per $ spent. Seemed like the best deal out there since the AMEX portal is MIA.

  • Jon

    FYI if you’re a AAA member, you can receive 10% (on top of the usual 10%) off your rate on select routes:
    http://www.amtrak.com/aaa-membership-deal-save-extra-to-nyc-chicago-la-train-travel?WT.mc_t=AAA_Sept12_AGR&WT.mc_n=AAA_Sept12_Btn1&WT.mc_r=365

    This works out to about a 19% discount. Not bad! And you can find the lowest Amtrak fares at http://amsnag.net/

  • LarryInNYC

    Just curious: How to points accrue on sleeper train travel? Every few years my family does an overnight trip out west, and they can add up in terms of dollars. I assume that the ticket part accrues each traveler’s Guest Rewards account. What happens to the cabin cost? Does it earn points? Which of the possible passengers in the cabin earns the points?

  • Colin

    The Guest Rewards Mastercard is actually a great second-tier card to carry, if you care about accumulating and spending Amtrak points. There is no annual fee, so having the card doesn’t cost you anything. Getting a 2x bonus on Amtrak spend, plus a FIVE PERCENT rebate on point redemptions make this a no brainer.

  • bennytma

    The post should be edited to reflect the fact that the best sign up bonus is much higher – 32,000! That’s the equivalent of 8 one-way (non-Acela) tickets on the NE Corridor which could easily be worth $1500. http://www.mychasecreditcards.com/amtrak/smt32

  • Varun

    There’s an offer for 32000 points with no initial spend.

    http://www.mychasecreditcards.com/amtrak/smt32/?CELL=DBN7

  • thepointsguy

    Wow- thats great. Updated!

  • Jason Steele

    I think part 2 will answer these questions

  • JX

    32,000 points is tempting. I did not apply for the card just because I can earn 2 points with Chase Sapphire Preferred at Amtrak. Point-wise, CSP is better due to the 7% annual bonus and can be transferred to Amtrak at 1:1 ratio. My conclusion is that 32,000 bonus points is the only reason for getting the credit card.
    Right? Are you with me?

  • Jon

    Well that was short lived!
    “Thank you for your interest in becoming an Amtrak Guest Rewards® Cardmember. This offer has expired, but you are now being redirected to another great Amtrak Guest Rewards® Credit Card Offer!”

  • HH

    Yeah, that was a really one! Too bad….

  • Clare

    There’s another reason to get and keep the free Amtrak Mastercard. Having it keeps your accumulated points from expiring after 3 years. Otherwise no other activity than paid train travel will keep them alive.

  • Walton

    Looking forward to part 2

  • Scott S

    Is a double transfer possible? For example, if I earn Amtrak rewards, can, I transfer to SPG, and from there to AA?

  • Silver Springer

    At last year’s Chicago Flyertalk seminars I learned of a great Amtrak redemption. We booked a trip from two through two Amtrak regions taking the sunset limited from New Orleans to Los Angeles and the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle. At the time we booked the two region trip was 30,000 AGR points which we had transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards. Since April 1, the cost has gone up to 40,000 points for a two region trip. If we paid in cash for our deluxe bedroom for the 4 day, 3 night trip which included 3 meals a day, it would have cost $55oo. Based on my experience I would recommend the Coast Starlight, both the nicest views of the two trips as well as nicest cars (including access to parlor car with wine and cheese tastings and movies) and more professional staff. The Coast Starlight is 18 hours (1 overnight) and is a one region trip. Cheers.

  • laura

    yeap :) Amtrak is my all time favorite transport in USA :) http://www.touramericadirect.co.uk/destination/washington_dc/virginia_holidays

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  • harvardslacker

    The Amtrak card offer seems to have expired; current offer is now 12,000 points. At least, that’s what I got when I clicked your link.

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