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3 easy way to save money on Amtrak tickets

Dec. 29, 2021
5 min read
Amtrak Miami
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Love it or hate it, Amtrak can offer a convenient alternative to flying, especially if you don’t want to take to the skies right now.

Amtrak operates most medium- and long-haul passenger trains in the United States, which means it can generally charge what it wants for fares. And if you’ve ever taken the train, you know some tickets can be as expensive as a commercial flight.

But if you’re a savvy train traveler, there are ways to save a significant amount of money on your ticket. Here are three easy ways to save money on your next Amtrak ride.

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Become a member of the Rail Passengers Association

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

For just $6 a month, I have access to discounted Amtrak tickets as a member of the Rail Passengers Association. It’s a program I hadn’t heard of until 2019 when I remarked to a colleague how often I rode Amtrak. I quickly discovered how beneficial the program was when I signed up and started to save money on sometimes expensive Amtrak tickets between New York City and Washington, D.C.

Members save 10% on Amtrak tickets and up to 20% off select regional railways, which doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but the savings can add up.

If you’re interested in joining the Rail Passengers Association, membership starts at just $5 monthly (or $50 annually) for a student or senior membership or $6 ($60 annually) for an individual membership. Once you’re a member, you have to add your membership number to your Amtrak account to start receiving the savings.

Book your trip weeks in advance

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Amtrak isn’t a company where you can typically find last-minute savings. In fact, during a recent Thanksgiving trip between my home in New York and Washington, I briefly considered extending my stay an extra day before checking Amtrak and discovering the cheapest ticket was over $200.

The company’s website even encourages travelers to book their tickets in advance and offers an incentive to do so. Travelers who book Saver fares in advance can save up to 20% versus the standard coach fare when booked at least seven days before your trip.

Some examples of this deal include one-way tickets from Atlanta to New Orleans for just $39 and New York to Chicago for $90.

This ongoing deal is available on several routes, including the California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Empire Builder, Lake Shore Limited, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle, Auto Train, Blue Water, Pere Marquette, Wolverine, Lincoln Service, Saluki, Illini, Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr.

Have an Amtrak credit card

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

While holding an Amtrak credit card doesn’t get you discounted tickets, it does come with some perks that can potentially offset a pricey train fare if you’re a frequent rider.

Amtrak offers two cobranded credit cards: the Amtrak Guest Rewards® Preferred Mastercard® and the Amtrak Guest Rewards® Mastercard®. Both cards offer decent welcome bonuses, but I want to focus on some of the benefits of the Preferred card.

The information for the Amtrak Guest Rewards Preferred card and Amtrak Guest Rewards 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.

The Amtrak Guest Rewards Preferred card earns 3 points per $1 spent on Amtrak travel (including onboard purchases), 2 points on all travel, dining, transit and rideshare purchases and 1 point everywhere else. Cardholders also receive a 20% rebate on onboard purchases, a complimentary companion coupon at account opening and each year you renew your card, a lounge pass on account opening and at each account anniversary and a one-class upgrade on account opening and each account anniversary. Cardholders also can earn 1,000 Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) for every $5,000 spent per calendar year (up to four times).

Possibly the most valuable perk, however, is the one-class upgrade, which can be used to upgrade a coach seat to a business-class seat. Perhaps the best way to use it is to upgrade from Acela business class seat to Acela first class.

Amtrak frequently offers promotions on Acela, where you can get tickets on specific routes for as low as $39 one-way in business class. However, Acela first class is notoriously pricey and can cost as much as $500, depending on your route and travel date. But you can really maximize your business-class purchase by applying a one-class upgrade, which gets you lounge access, a hot meal, a car attendant and seating in a 1-2 configuration.

Train travel in the U.S. pales compared to Europe and Asia, but Acela first class can be a delightful journey if you can use the upgrade.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.