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What to Expect from Amtrak’s New Revenue-Based Rewards Program

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Update: As AGR Insider notes on FlyerTalk, “‘Adult’ and ‘Child’ pricing will apply to redemption travel, but not other discount types such as AAA, Senior, etc. ‘Saver’ fares will not qualify for redemption, but please note that AGR One-Class Upgrade Coupons will continue to be permitted for use on non-redemption Saver fare tickets, according to the terms of the coupon (e.g. Acela and Northeast Regional).” Unfortunately, this means that redemption amounts will be based on the “Value” pricing category and above, which is often priced much higher than “Saver.”

There’s a new revenue-based rewards program in the works, and it isn’t from an airline. Amtrak’s planning to revamp its Guest Rewards program, and like the recent shifts we’ve seen with Delta and United, this generally isn’t a change for the better — although there are some positive changes with the new program. The new Amtrak Guest Rewards program goes into effect January 24, 2016 (that’s not a typo). After that date, you’ll still qualify for status using Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs), but the way you earn redeemable miles will change significantly.

The amount you’ll earn will depend on your Amtrak status and cabin. After January 24, for coach travel, general members will earn 2 points per dollar; Select members will earn 2.5 points per dollar; Select Plus members will earn 3 points per dollar; and Select Executive members will earn 4 points per dollar. On top of that, business fares will earn an additional 0.5 point per dollar and first-class fares will earn an additional 1 point per dollar.

Keep in mind that while it may become more difficult to earn points from train travel, you can currently transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 rate, so the 40,000 bonus points you’ll earn after spending $4,000 in the first three months with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card will get you $1,159 in value under the new program (more on that below).

On the redemption side, currently Amtrak uses a zone system, with fixed rates depending on class of service and route.

Amtrak's current award chart.
Amtrak’s current award chart.

Above are the current award rates for Northeast travel. Additionally, you can redeem coach awards for 1,500 points or business awards for 2,000 points on select trains.

Amtrak's new redemption amount for a $100 coach or business ticket.
Amtrak’s new redemption amount for a $100 coach or business ticket.

Under the new program, your redemption rate will vary depending on the cost of each leg of your journey. For example, a $100 ticket on a regular train will cost 3,450 points, making points worth 2.9 cents each (which is actually quite good) — in some cases your trip will require fewer points than it would under the current program.

An Acela redemption requires more points than other trains, even if the cost of the ticket doesn't change.
An Acela redemption requires more points than other trains, even if the cost of the ticket doesn’t change.

Oddly, your points don’t go quite as far when redeeming for Acela. A $100 Acela ticket requires 4,000 points, giving you just 2.5 cents in value per point.

A few other points to note about the new program:

  • Redemptions start at 800 points (the break-even point is $23)
  • Points won’t expire as long as you have activity within 36 months
  • There will be no blackout dates
  • You’ll be able to redeem points for passes and multi-ride tickets
  • There will be a cash & points option
  • Travel booked prior to January 24 will be ticketed at the current rates
  • You can purchase tickets using points for other passengers
  • You’ll pay a small penalty for changes and cancellations (you’ll forfeit your points if you miss your scheduled train)

If you’re planning an Amtrak redemption early next year, it may pay to redeem before the changes go into effect on January 24. Be sure to compare the new rates with Amtrak’s current redemption amounts to see where you’ll come out ahead.


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