The best credit cards to use for train travel

Jan 26, 2020

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All aboard! The Points Guy has extensive coverage of train travel with reviews, features, deals and tips for maximizing your trip by rail.

Both in effort to reduce our collective carbon footprints and simply eliminate some of the hassle that can come with air travel on shorter trips, taking the train can often make a ton of sense. And while the best credit card for air travel gets a lot of ink around here, choosing the best credit card for booking a train trip is equally relevant. On the list of best cards for train travel, you’ll find some usual suspects that are often top dogs in the world of travel rewards, but the train sphere has some unique players, too.

The Amtrak Surfliner Train. (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
The Amtrak Surfliner Train. (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

One obvious unique player in the world of co-branded train credit cards is the Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercard. There are actually two versions of this card — a World and a Platinum level. The higher level (with $79 annual fee) is the World card. It conveys 3x points per dollar for Amtrak travel (including onboard purchases), and 2x on other travel, including airlines, car rental agencies, hotels, motels, inns, resorts, cruise lines, commuter rail, non-Amtrak passenger rail and travel agencies. You’ll earn 1x on all other purchases. The card also provides a 20% rebate in the form of a statement credit on your food and beverage purchases while onboard Amtrak.

The information for the Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

When we talked to the CEO of the Rail Passengers Association, Jim Mathews, his personal credit card of choice was indeed an Amtrak Guest Rewards card. This is because it has a solid points per dollar return on rail and air travel purchases. Other perks include annual companion and upgrade coupons each year, along with a 5% rebate on Amtrak Guest Rewards point redemptions. Also, the card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

Amtrak Guest Rewards cardholders earn 1,000 Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) toward elite status after spending $5,000 in a calendar year on the card (up to 4,000 TQPs a year) and get a complimentary station lounge pass upon account opening, worth up to $25 in Amtrak travel.

Of course, the Amtrak Guest Rewards card isn’t the only game in town when it comes to earning points for train travel. Here is how it compares to some other great options for travelers exploring the world by rail:

Best cards for train travel

Card Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Chase Sapphire Preferred Card American Express® Green Card Citi Premier® Card
Annual fee $79 $95 $95 $150
(See Rates & Fees)
Earning rates 3x points on Amtrak travel, 2x on other travel and 1x on everything else 2x miles on every day spending 2x points on travel and dining, 1x on everything else 3x points on travel and dining, 1x on everything else 3x points on travel, restaurants, hotels, air travel, supermarkets,  and 1x on everything else
Sign-up bonus 20,000 points after you spend $1,000 within 90 days of account opening Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening 30,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months

60,000 points after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening

TPG points value* 2.5 cents 1.4 cents 2 cents 2 cents 1.7 cents
Benefits One free station lounge pass per year; annual companion, upgrade coupons; and 5% rebate when booking Amtrak travel with points Transfer miles to airline partners; up to $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck Transfer points to 10 airline/3 hotel partners; travel insurance and purchase protections Transfer points to Amex Membership Rewards partners, $100 statement credit annual toward CLEAR Points worth 25% more on airfare when redeemed at; transfer points to 15 airline partners

*Bonus valuation based on TPG valuations and not provided by issuer.

The information for the Amex Green Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom line

If you travel regularly on Amtrak, like Mathews, having the Amtrak Guest Rewards in your wallet is a smart choice. The 3x points earned on Amtrak travel and 2x points on a very generous definition of travel, along with the train-related perks that come with the card, make it a smart choice for riding the rails. While other cards can match the 3x earning, Amtrak points are worth more than many other types of points. This means that earning 3 points of those points per dollar will have a greater return than earning 3x on the American Express® Green Card. (Based on current TPG valuations).

That said, to realize that increased value, you’ll need to redeem the points on Amtrak travel (although you can also redeem them for hotels, car rentals, cruises, dining, entertainment and gift cards). If you are worried about lengthy delays or cancellations, factoring in various card’s built-in trip protections when booking your train ticket may also be wise.

So, for frequent Amtrak travelers, it makes sense to have and use the Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard, especially when booking train trips. However, for those who aren’t frequent Amtrak riders, using an all-round top travel card with more flexible rewards is likely a good call.

Featured photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.

For rates and fees of the Amex Green Card, please click here.


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