The complete guide to Amtrak Guest Rewards

Aug 18, 2020

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If you’re not ready to take to the skies yet but are still planning to travel, you might be considering taking the train.

While the American train system pales in comparison to that of many European and Asian countries, it can still offer a convenient alternative to flying. Amtrak, which operates the majority of the medium- and long-haul passenger trains in the US, offers its own loyalty program to reward frequent customers with free rides.

Today, we’re going to take a look at everything you need to know to maximize the Amtrak Guest Rewards program. We’re going to cover everything from earning and redeeming points, to elite status, lounge access and more.

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In This Post

About Amtrak

Amtrak operates the vast majority of intercity passenger rail routes in the U.S. From short-haul to cross-country, you could take the train to over 500 destinations in 46 states and Canada. Amtrak’s fleet includes a mix of trains with standard coach, business class and first-class seating, sleeper cars and auto trains.

Unlike airlines, Amtrak doesn’t have partner programs you can credit your points to. If you want to earn rewards on your train rides, your only option is to credit your points to Amtrak’s own Amtrak Guest Rewards program. You earn and redeem points primarily based on ticket prices. Depending on how much you spend or how often you travel in premium cabins, you may be able to earn one of three elite status levels.

Amtrak has made several customer-friendly changes in recent months due to the coronavirus outbreak, including extending elite status and the expiration date on Amtrak Guest Rewards points. Amtrak also requires face coverings, limits passenger capacity to 50% and is waiving all change and cancellation fees for reservations made through at least Aug. 31, 2020. Additionally, Amtrak is making it clearer how full a train will be, with a passenger volume number next to each train on the search results page.

Related: What is it like to take Amtrak during the pandemic?

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)
Coach class on the Northeast Regional Train. (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Earning Amtrak points

There are a variety of ways to earn Amtrak points, including ones that don’t require you to leave your home. Amtrak points normally expire after 24 months of inactivity, though point expiration has been paused through Sept. 25. Outside of this temporary extension, you can keep your points from expiring with any qualifying activity discussed below.

Earn Amtrak points by taking the train

The most common way to earn Amtrak points is from your paid train tickets. Members earn 2 points per dollar spent, plus a 25% bonus for business-class travel and a 50% bonus for Acela First class. You can also earn a 500-point bonus for referring a new friend to the Amtrak Guest Rewards program.

Amtrak routinely offers promotions for discounted tickets and extra points. For instance, with the Double Days promo, you can earn 2x Guest Rewards points on all of your rides through Oct. 31, 2020. There’s often no limit to how many bonus points you can earn with these promotions, but registration is typically required.

Related: Earn double points on Amtrak travel this summer and fall

Earn Amtrak points through partners

Amtrak also has several other retail and commercial partners that let you earn bonus points on hotels, car rentals and more. For instance, you can earn 1,000 points and a 15% discount when shopping for new Samsonite luggage, along with 5,500 bonus points when ordering wines from Vinesse. In addition to partnerships with Choice Privileges and Wyndham Rewards, Amtrak members can earn up to 10,000 points when booking hotels through Rocketmiles or Amtrak Hotels & Cars.

(Photo by Amtrak)
(Photo by Amtrak)

Amtrak even operates an online shopping portal, which offers up to 14x points per dollar spent at select merchants.

You can also buy points, but we typically only recommend doing so if you’re just short on the points you need for a specific award.

Transfer points to Amtrak

While Amtrak doesn’t partner with any of the major transferable points currencies like Chase or Amex, you can still transfer points from the following programs into your Amtrak Guest Rewards account:

Program Transfer Ratio
Audience Rewards 1,000:1,000
Choice Privileges 32,000:5,000
Hertz Gold Plus Rewards 600:500
Hilton Honors 10,000:1,500
Wyndham Rewards 5:1

Amtrak credit cards

If you find yourself frequently traveling on Amtrak, you might want to consider applying for one of two cobranded credit cards issued by Bank of America. The Amtrak Guest Rewards© World Mastercard® and no-annual-fee Amtrak Guest Rewards® Platinum Mastercard® are both currently offering 20,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening. The Platinum version also comes with a $100 statement credit. TPG values Amtrak points at a whopping 2.5 cents each, making each of these bonuses worth $500.

Here’s a breakdown of each card’s benefits:

Amtrak Guest Rewards© World Mastercard® Amtrak Guest Rewards® Platinum Mastercard®
Earnings on Amtrak travel, including onboard purchases 3 points per $1 spent 2 points per $1 spent
Earnings on other qualifying travel 3X points N/A
Earnings on all other purchases 1X points 1X points
On-board purchase rebate 20% 10%

Both cards also include a Complimentary Companion Coupon at account opening and each year you renew your card, a one-class upgrade, lounge pass, 5% rebate when redeeming Amtrak points for travel and 1,000 Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) for every $5,000 spent per calendar year (up to four times).

Related: The best credit cards to use for train travel

The Cafe Car onboard
The Cafe Car onboard an Amtrak train. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Redeeming Amtrak points

Amtrak points are some of the most valuable around. Redemptions start as low as 800 points and searching for award space on Amtrak’s website is very easy. Simply search for a ticket as you normally would and select points instead of dollars.

Amtrak doesn’t use a fixed award chart anymore. Much like Southwest or JetBlue, the reward prices are roughly tied to the cash cost of the ticket. To get the best value from your points, you’ll want to use them on trips when the cheapest saver-level tickets are sold out.

Redeem points for Amtrak train tickets

Take the popular route from Washington D.C. to New York as an example. Looking at a sample date in January, the standard Northeast Regional train costs 3,430 points for a coach “value” fare seat or 3,815 points for a business-class seat. This corresponds to cash prices of $98 and $109, respectively, giving you a redemption value of 2.86 cents per point in either case. Note that the cheapest coach “saver” seats aren’t eligible for award redemption.

(Photo by Amtrak)

If we look instead at the Acela, we see redemption rates of 10,843 points for a business-class seat or 17,242 points for a first-class seat. With cash prices of $183 and $291, this gives us a redemption value of 1.69 cents per point for both tickets.

Related: A review of business class on Amtrak’s Acela

Amtrak runs dozens of trains on this route each day, with the price depending on the type of train (Acela vs. Northeast Regional), fare class (value, flexible, etc.) and departure times.

You can even use your points to book a sleeper room on some of Amtrak’s longer and more-scenic routes, like the 46-hour journey from Chicago to Seattle. A sleeper compartment on this nonstop journey costs just over 18,000 points, versus $527 cash.

(Photo by Amtrak)

If you’re curious about what 45 hours on a train feels like, make sure to check out TPG’s review of the “Superliner Roomette” from Chicago to Portland. Reporter Katie Genter booked the tickets on sale for $448 per person for the one-way tri, and, other than the subpar dining experience, she enjoyed the scenic journey (though admits that spending that long in a train certainly won’t be for everyone).

Related: 11 mistakes people make when taking a cross-country Amtrak

A sleeper room that could hold three passengers.
Amtrak’s Superliner Roomette. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Redeem points for non-train travel

Amtrak also gives you the option to redeem your points for other travel experiences, such as hotels, rental cars and cruises. A $100 gift card to Barnes and Noble, Disney or Nike will set you back 10,000-12,000 points. That means Amtrak is valuing your points at 0.83 to 1 cent apiece for these redemptions, which is sub-par. You’ll get roughly the same rate if you opt for dining or entertainment gift cards instead (like Applebees, AMC or Starbucks). All of the $50 denomination cards cost 6,000 points.

Elite status

Amtrak Guest Rewards offers three tiers of elite status, which include benefits like bonus points, upgrades, and even access to United Club locations. Qualification is based on your yearly total of Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs).

Members earn 2 points per dollar spent, plus a 25% bonus for business-class tickets and a 50% bonus on Acela first-class tickets. Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard cardholders can earn up to 4,000 TQPs a year — 1,000 for every $5,000 spent on their card.

Select Select Plus Select Executive
Tier Qualifying Points needed 5,000 10,000 20,000
Tier status points bonus 25% 50% 100%
One class upgrades 2 4 4 (plus one more with every additional 3,000 TQP)
Companion coupons N/A 2 2
Access to ClubAcela and Metropolitan Lounge 2 single-visit passes Yes Yes
Access to United Club locations N/A Yes Yes

The partnership between Amtrak and United is great because it gives Amtrak elites access to United Club locations when flying with the airline or another Star Alliance carrier. Amtrak does not normally allow status matches but will occasionally send out targeted offers allowing members to earn status after completing a certain number of trips.

Related: Why I’m (temporarily) switching my loyalty to Amtrak

Amtrak lounge access

You can find ClubAcela and Metropolitan lounges in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Portland and Washington D.C. These lounges have continued to operate during the pandemic.

Access is available to passengers traveling in first-class or sleeper cars. Business class passengers can use the lounges in Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland and St. Louis.

Depending on your elite status, you may even be able to access the lounges when traveling in coach. Select Plus and Select Executive elites get unlimited lounge access, while Select members get two single-visit passes each year. Additionally, the Amtrak credit card currently includes a complimentary single-visit lounge pass upon account opening.

United Club Infinite cardholders can use the Amtrak lounges in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Access to these lounges is also available to United Polaris business class passengers with a same-day boarding pass.

Related: Free lounge access for select Amtrak credit cardholders this summer

A rendering of Amtrak’s future Penn Station lounge. (Image courtesy of Amtrak)

Bottom line

Amtrak might not have the best reputation, but the company is working on turning that around and restoring reliable service. For many short trips, especially up and down the coast, Amtrak is an excellent alternative to flying. Amtrak points can be incredibly valuable, especially for trips where the cheapest tickets are already sold out.

Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.

Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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