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The Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 12,000 bonus points after you spend $500 in the first 3 months. You’ll earn 2 points per dollar spent on Amtrak, and one point per dollar on everything else. The card has no annual fee, and it grants Amtrak Guest Rewards members the ability to transfer points to hotel programs.
However, before you go out and apply for it, there are several other Chase cards whose bonuses are much bigger and more valuable, even if you are putting them to use on Amtrak. Before I get into that, here are some of the other details on the card.
The Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard
Hotel Point Transfer Options: Amtrak’s Guest Rewards program allows point transfers to Hilton HHonors and Choice Privileges. 5,000 Amtrak points can be redeemed for 15,000 Choice Privilege points (1:3 ratio) or 10,000 Hilton HHonors points (1:2 ratio).
However, the hotel point transfer options are restricted to Amtrak elite members and holders of their Guest Rewards Credit Card, so this is one reason why you might want to consider the card, despite the low sign-up bonus. Elite members have an annual transfer limit of 50,000 points while Chase cardholders must spent $200 per year on the card and are limited to 25,000 points transferred per calendar.
When it comes to redemption, the 12,000-point sign-up bonus can actually get you pretty far. One-way coach tickets within each Amtrak’s three (huge) zones require just 5,500 points, so you could get a roundtrip coach ticket with your bonus. For example, a one-way coach ticket from New York to Miami, which is considered one zone, only requires 5,500 points as opposed to paying $141 giving you a 2.56 cents per point value for this redemption.
The card also has the benefit of a 5% points refund on award redemptions – so if you were to redeem those 5,500 points for the one-zone one-way, you’d get 275 back. It’s kind of like the 10% travel redemption refund on the Barclaycard Arrival and the 10% miles refund with the personal Citi American AAdvantage cards.
Why You Should Pick Another Card
So while Amtrak Guest Rewards offers some great values, before you get the co-branded card, remember that Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest are both transfer partners of the program and offer cards with much higher sign-up bonuses and potentially much more lucrative category spending bonuses.
Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned with the issuer’s premium cards are transferable to Amtrak at a 1:1 ratio. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is offering 40,000 points with $3,000 spend in the first 3 months. It also offers 2X points on all dining and travel, including Amtrak tickets, so you’re still earning 2X points per $1 on Amtrak purchases as well as at restaurants. The card’s 7% annual points dividend also outweighs the Amtrak card’s 5% redemption refund, though you do have to wait till the end of the calendar year to receive those points. It does have a $95 annual fee, but it’s waived the first year.
Two other Chase cards, the Ink Bold Business Card and Ink Plus Business Card, also earn Ultimate Rewards points that are directly transferable to Amtrak and both are currently offering 50,000 points with $5,000 spend in the first 3 months. Their $95 annual fees are also waived the first year. Each of these cards not only earns 2X points per $1 on gas and hotels, but a potentially super lucrative 5X points per $1 at office supply stores and telecommunications, so if you can maximize your purchases at these stores, you can blow any earnings on the Amtrak card out of the water and the sign-up bonus is over 4x as much as the Amtrak Mastercard.
Even if you already have some or all three of these cards and are looking to pick up another Chase one without a big spending requirement or annual fee, you could always consider getting either the Sapphire or the Freedom, both of which come with a current sign-up bonus of 10,000 points for spending $500 within 3 months and have no annual fee. The sign-up bonuses are lower, but remember that the Sapphire also earns 2X points on dining and the Freedom has quarterly rotating 5X spending bonus categories so your earning on these cards could still be a lot more lucrative than with the Amtrak card.
Although the Ultimate Rewards points you earn with these two cards cannot be transferred to Amtrak on their own, if you have one of the three premium Ultimate Rewards credit cards (Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold or Ink Plus), you can combine your Ultimate Rewards accounts and transfer the ones you earn with the basic card to your Amtrak account that way.
The Starwood Amex
In addition to Chase, Starwood also offers Amtrak as a transfer partner at a 1:1 ratio. Now through September 3, 2013, both the personal and business versions of the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express are offering limited-time 30,000-point sign-up bonus offers when you spend $5,000 in 6 months – giving you a bonus that’s 2.5X as much as on the Amtrak card – and both also have their $65 annual fee waived the first year. I personally get much more value out of my Starpoints by redeeming them for hotel stays, but it’s still an option.
The one downside is that none of these other cards confer the ability to transfer Amtrak points to its hotel partner programs as the Amtrak World Mastercard does. However, if you are a regular Amtrak rider, you could try going for Amtrak Guest Rewards elite status and then you wouldn’t need to the co-branded credit card for this perk since you would get it as an elite benefit – and in fact elite status would double the amount of points you could transfer per year.
All in all, while the Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard is a decent product for Amtrak travelers, there are far more lucrative bonuses and spending opportunities to be had with both Chase’s Ultimate Rewards cards and the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex, both of which accrue points that also transfer to Amtrak.
See these other posts about Amtrak Guest Rewards: