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Maximizing Amtrak Guest Rewards Points: Redeeming and Partners

by on September 12, 2012 · 33 comments

in amtrak, TPG Contributors

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Update: The current sign-up bonus for the Amtrak Guest Rewards World MasterCard 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.

Following up on his post about Maximizing Amtrak Guest Rewards Points: Earning, TPG Contributor Jason Steele delve into the various ways to make the most of your Amtrak Guest Rewards points redemptions as well as the loyalty program’s hotel partners.

How to spend Amtrak Guest Rewards points
Amtrak’s award travel chart is remarkably simple. The country is divided up in a zone chart that primarily includes the Western, Central, and Eastern zones. Most awards are priced depending on how many zones they cross. Thankfully, Amtrak counts several major cities as sitting in two zones, which allow single-zone awards to apply to travel in either direction.

Amtrak splits its redemption map into distinct zones, sort of like a distance-based frequent-flyer program.

For example, Cleveland, Detroit, and Atlanta can all be in either the Eastern or Central zones, while Denver and Albuquerque can be in the Western or Central zones. Therefore, travel between Atlanta and Boston is considered travel within one zone, as is travel between Atlanta and Albuquerque. A separate award chart applies to travel on the Auto Train (car carrier), the Acela, and for trips wholly within the Northeast. View their Zone Map here. Additionally, some other smaller routes are considered “Special Routes” and have lower-priced awards, but here is the zone-based chart:

One Zone Two Zones Three Zones
Coach Class 5,500 8,000 10,500
Business Class 6,500 10,500 12,500
Roomette 15,000 20,000 35,000
Bedroom 25,000 40,000 60,000

Travel can be in Coach Class, Business Class, Roomette, or Bedrooms. When redeeming an award for a Roomette or a Bedroom, all passengers traveling in that room have their meals are included. Roomettes contain reclining seats that convert into bunk beds that sleep two, while Bedrooms can sleep two adults and one small child and have private bathrooms. Awards are for travel in one direction and no free stopovers are allowed.

Finding Value in the Amtrak award chart
I took some sample trips and calculated the value per point based on the price offered on the dates I chose. Fortunately, Amtrak pricing is much more consistent than the airline, and awards are available for any unsold seat or bedroom, with the exception of a number of blackout dates.

Award Points Required Price Value per Point
New York to Miami,One Zone Coach seat 5,500 $135 2.45 cents/point
New York to Miami,One Zone Roomette 15,000 $642 4.28 cents/point
New York to Miami,One Zone Bedroom 25,000 $1,070 4.28 cents/point
Chicago to L.A.,Two Zones Coach seat 8,000 $156 1.95 cents/point
Chicago to L.A.,Two Zones Roomette 20,000 $703 3.52 cents/point
Chicago to L.A.,Two Zones Bedroom 40,000 $1,223 3.06 cents/point
Boston to D.C,Acela Coach 8,000 $271 3.39 cents/point
Boston to D.C,Acela First Class 12,000 $393 3.28 cents/point
New York to L.A.,Three Zones, Roomette 35,000 $931 2.66 cents/point
New York to L.A.,Three Zones, Bedroom 60,000 $2,079 3.47 cents/point

As you can see, Roomette and Bedroom awards within one zone offer the best value at 4.28 cents per point. A bedroom sleeps two adults in a 3’4”-wide lower bed and a 2’4”-wide upper bed and has a private bath with a shower. Two adjoining bedrooms can be booked separately and opened up into a suite. A roomette is essentially a bunk bed with access to shared bathrooms, although the roomettes on Viewliner trains have a small private toilet but no shower.

Fortunately, Amtrak’s coach seats are more spacious than the airline’s domestic first class seats. But even if you could endure seated accommodations on a multi-day trip across two zones, this award would return the least value at only 1.95 cents per point. Finally, all awards are vastly superior to the one cent per point received when redeeming American Express Membership Rewards points for Amtrak gift cards.

Other award options
As with airline miles and credit card points, there are other options for redeeming Amtrak points. They include hotel night stays, car rentals, or gift certificates, and are worth one cent per point or less.

Amtrak elite members and credit cardholders can transfer Guest Rewards points to Hilton HHonors and Choice Privileges.

Hotel point transfer options: Amtrak’s program allows point transfers to the Hilton HHonors and Choice Privileges programs. 5,000 Amtrak points can be redeemed for 15,000 Choice Privilege points or 10,000 Hilton HHonors points. Sadly, the hotel point transfer options are restricted to Amtrak elite members and holders of their Guest Rewards credit card from Chase. Elite members have an annual transfer limit of 50,000 points and Chase cardholders must spent $200 per year on the card and are limited to 25,000 points transferred per calendar. Still, cardholders could use their 12,000-point sign up bonus and 42,000 other points transferred from Ultimate Rewards or Starwood to earn 100,000 Hilton HHonors points by maxing out the 25,000 annual limit this year and again in the new year. That would be like earning 2.38 Hilton HHonors points per Ultimate Rewards or Starpoint. For most redemptions, HHonors points are valued at 1-1.5 cents each, returning as much as 3.5 cents per point, a respectable value. This option can be an exceptional value if you are redeeming HHonors points for GLON and AXON awards. However, considering the bonus Hilton points you could earn by simply getting one of their co-branded credit cards, this redemption option still isn’t that attractive.

Members of Guest Rewards can also redeem points for one-night stay certificates at Hyatt and Starwood. 10,000 points gets you a $100 Hyatt gift card – so one cent in value each – or one night in a Starwood Category 1 property; that would make the ratio of Amtrak to Starwood points 1 : 0.3 since Category 1 properties require just 3,000 points for a free night. Starwood Category 2, 3 and 4 free nights require 15,000, 22,500 and 27,500 Amtrak points respectively.

Car rental certificates: Amtrak points can also be exchanged for Hertz car rental certificates. 6,000 Amtrak points gets you a $50 certificate (0.83 cents each point), and 10,000 points gets you $100 (much better at 1 cent per point).

Cruise certificates: Another interesting redemption option is to use Amtrak points for cruise certificates. A Premium 7- or 8-day Cruise certificate with Carnival costs 175,000 points (so between 21,875-25,000 points per day), a Superior 3-Day Carnival Cruise certificate costs 75,000 points, and you can redeem 10,000 Amtrak points for a $100 Celebrity Cruise certificate.

Retail/entertainment options: Amtrak also has partnerships with various retain and entertainment outlets where Guest Rewards members can redeem points for certificates and gift cards in various denominations. Partners include AMC Theaters, Barnes & Noble, Bloomingdales, Gap, Macy’s, Olive Garden, Pottery Barn, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Sports Authority and Staples among others. At all of them, redemptions are 6,000 points for $50 gift cards, or 10,000 points for $100 gift cards.

So Amtrak redemptions aren’t just about train travel, but as you saw in my redemption analysis above, train travel can reap the greatest value from Guest Rewards points. Stay tuned for my next post about my actual Amtrak redemption and the trip I took using my points.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • DanR

    I have used my Amtrak Guest Rewards points for last minute Northeast Regional trips, e.g., DC – NYC or DC – New Haven, which cost 4,000 points one-way for trips that can cost up to $113 (NYC) and $153 (NHV) last minute.

  • Nick

    Is the cost of points for a Roomette or Bedroom per person or for the whole room?

  • Chris S.

    If one is looking to maximize the amount of time spent on the train per point, there’s an infamous ABQ-LAX-SEA-MSP trip which spans 3 routes and is the same cost as an LA-Chicago or SEA-Chicago trip.

  • Amtrak Rider

    I have an AmEx Platinum Card. Is it possible to transfer Membership Rewards points to Starwood Preferred Guest points and then transfer those Starwood points to Amtrak Guest Reward porints?

  • Jason Steele

    Per room inclusive of food too!

  • Jason Steele

    Yes, but it takes 3 MR pts to 1 SPG, so the value just isn’t there in most cases.

  • Jason Steele

    That’s the spirit! Amtrak is about enjoying the ride, not getting there fast.

  • http://twitter.com/FlyerTalkerinA2 George

    Just did a two zone award on two bedrooms for a family of 4. Ann Arbor to Chicago, Chicago to LA on the Southwest Chief and LA to Seattle on Coast Starlight. A different experience. Wife and me loved it, kids got a little bored by the last day…but also liked it too as it was our first time sleeping on trains. I will have more when I finish my trip report some day and will post the link on twitter.

    Follow me at @FlyerTalkerinA2

  • Walton

    Very helpful! Thanks!

  • kodoma

    I got the 32k offer and we went to nyc for vacation in business class. Doing another trip soon. I rarely use my air miles but I use my train points as I love nyc trips.

  • COLINFELIEDAE

    Wouldn’t this be a good way to get Choice hotel points to use with their 8,000 point annual redemptions?

  • COLIN

    Yes, that is true on those routes, but wouldn’t the bus companies that run between DC and NYC be a better bet as they max out at no more than $35 one way?

  • Ih8ymayo

    If you’re okay with the bus. Yes the right bus can be more comfortable, but there is theoretically more reliability in train travel. I’d say 4,000 points for a $100-$150 value is a good deal.

  • COLIN

    Right, I would not want to arrive/leave during rush hour in either city — unless that is factored into your equation — but it certainly is less expensive!

  • Marlene

    SInce it seems so hard to redeem and earn these (I’m not a very regular traveler on Amtrak), I redeemed 1500 points for a one way Royal Oak (Detroit) to Chicago. $31.50 value, so 2.1 cents per point. I’m not unhappy, since I didn’t really have anything else to do with these points.

  • calwatch

    The best part of Amtrak Guest Rewards is the ability to redeem for the last room on board a train. This makes planning last minute vacations much simpler since cost is fixed. As an example LA to Chicago via Portland is $1,366 for two on October 10, or 20,000 points, for a value of 6.83 cents per point and the last room in the Portland sleeper. During high season this could go up to the $1600+ range, or 8 cents a point. This is also good for last minute tickets on the special routes – if I want to go from LA to the Bay Area via the Surfliner or San Joaquin the high bucket is $106 but the cost per point is 7 cents a point (6.3 cents a point if you had AAA).

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  • Fund Amtrak!!

    It is per room, but the second person must pay coach fare, though that will include meals.

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  • jonas

    in the amtrak rewards program, i get 2 points for each dollar spent. with the amtrak credit card, i get 2 poitns per dollar… if i’m enrolled in the rewards program and use the amtrak credit card, do i get 4 points per dollar..? or am i better off enrolling in the rewards program and using a diff credit card, say chase sapphire, and collecting those points independently and still getting the 2 points per dollar in the amtrak rewards program?

  • jonas

    i called them and found the answer. yes, you get 4 points per dollar of you use the card.

  • ali

    Can an elite guest rewards member transfer guest rewards point into SPG points?

  • WB

    How many points do we need to redeem a roomette for two adults?

  • gueston

    Thank you for showing the cents per point. I’ve seen other write-ups which neglect to appreciate this very valuable multiplier. There is also a 5% discount on all redemptions by Amtrak visa cardholders.

  • Desiree Frangiosa

    How do I figure out how many points it will be on the auto train?

  • Asa Kaplan

    I know that some years ago you could earn miles on Continental or Alaska airlines for riding Amtrak. Is this still the case? Which airlines participate?

  • garynofishing

    Following the advice of the Points Guy, I signed up for the Chase card and received 45,000 bonus points because I added the 2nd card for my wife, i received the additional 5,000 points. This card now allowed me to combine all my points from my other Chase cards and send them to my Amtrak Guest Rewards account. NOW–here is the deal—

    I just (yesterday) redeemed my bonus points for this round trip: Tucson to Los Angeles on the Sunset Limited catching the Coast Starlight (3 hours later) to Seattle in July. Then 2 weeks later coming back in the same way and ALL in Deluxe Full Bedrooms. This also includes all Breakfasts, Lunches and Diners. The Dollar cost of this trip for two people was $4,000. But I only had to use 50,000 Bonus Points. This means that each point is worth $.80 (EIGHTY) cents.

    By taking the points guys’ advice and signing up for that card and receiving the free 45,000 point bonus—-THAT BONUS was worth $3,600 Three Thousand Six Hundred Dollars.

    The above points values in this story (1 or 2 or 3 cents per point) just don’t seem right when MY point values were 80 cents. In any case–THANK YOU POINTS GUY—-your advice saved me a ton of money

  • Geek

    Your math is off. it’s 8 cents, not 80…

  • garynofishing

    Yeah, you’re right–but the bonus points are still worth what I said–$3600. Right? That was my bottom line

  • John

    Frontier HAD a partnership w/ Amtrak until last March or April; now gone.

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