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

Aug 22, 2021

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When I lived in Washington, D.C., I often took advantage of cheap Megabus or FlixBus tickets between New York and my hometown in southern Virginia. And if I needed to travel longer distances on the East Coast for work, I would fly.

COVID-19 fundamentally altered how we all think about travel, myself included. While I’m more comfortable flying, I’ll still avoid it if it makes more sense to travel by car, bus or train. That means I’ve been taking a mode of transportation loved by some but bemoaned by others — Amtrak.

Amtrak appears to be on the right path in preventing virus transmission by requiring face coverings, potentially banning customers who don’t comply and requiring employees to be vaccinated. During the pandemic, it also made several customer-friendly changes, including extending elite status and the expiration date on Amtrak Guest Rewards points, upgrade coupons and companion coupons.

While it isn’t the most popular travel method, Amtrak continues to get my business. With cheap cash fares, points promotions and how easy it is to earn Amtrak points, it may be my preferred mode of transportation for the foreseeable future. Here’s why.

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In This Post

Safety matters

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As I recently reported, Amtrak announced that all new hires must be vaccinated against the coronavirus as of Oct. 1. Additionally, the rail company is mandating all employees to be fully immunized by Nov. 1. According to the memo, employees not fully vaccinated will be required to submit a negative COVID-19 test result weekly. Employees will be required to submit proof of vaccination to Amtrak’s self-service portal.

Amtrak appears to be following the lead of several airlines that have instituted vaccine mandates for employees. United Airlines announced in early August that it would require all of its U.S. employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Frontier Airlines says it will require all direct employees to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Oct. 1.

But not all airlines have committed to a vaccine mandate for employees yet.

In May, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said that the airline would require all new hires to be vaccinated but stopped short of requiring it for current employees. American Airlines, meanwhile, has not implemented a similar requirement.

Cheap promotions

(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

I’ve never given much thought to Amtrak’s loyalty program, Amtrak Guest Rewards — until now.

Typically, I  booked trips up and down the East Coast with cash, taking advantage of numerous deals. I have several thousand Amtrak points in my account from travel between New York, Washington and Boston, and I’m planning to use them.

Amtrak has had several promotions that I’ve been pretty excited about, including deals on Acela business-class tickets and the USA Rail Pass. This multiride ticket allows passengers to book any 10 rail segments over 30 days, all for a flat rate.

With an easy-to-understand change and cancellation policy, including reservations booked with points, I feel secure booking train travel right now.

Related: Your ultimate guide to Amtrak Guest Rewards

Higher sign-up bonus on Amtrak card

(Photo by Jacob Harrison/The Points Guy)

If you find yourself frequently traveling on Amtrak, you might want to consider applying for one of its two cobranded credit cards issued by Bank of America.

Most recently, Amtrak was offering 20,000 points plus a $200 statement credit after spending at least $1,000 in the first 90 days with the Amtrak Guest Rewards® World Mastercard®. The offer is significantly higher now.

Related: Best credit cards for train travel

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Amtrak’s now offering a whopping 50,000 points after making at least $2,500 in purchases within the first 90 days, through Sept. 30. You’ll need to spend more to trigger the bonus, but this new offer can get you well over $1,250 in travel.

Beyond the incredible sign-up bonus, you’ll also enjoy lucrative perks when you open your account and when you renew your card every anniversary, including an annual companion coupon (worth up to $300 in Amtrak travel) and an annual upgrade coupon (worth up to $150 in Amtrak travel). You’ll receive all of these great Amtrak perks for a (more than) reasonable $79 annual fee.

There’s also the no-annual-fee Amtrak Guest Rewards® Platinum Mastercard® which is currently offering 12,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening. This card offers 2x on Amtrak spending, 1x on all other purchases and a 10% rebate on onboard purchases.

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

I’ve previously said that I didn’t need an Amtrak card, but I finally pulled the trigger due to the higher sign-up bonus.

Related: The best credit cards to use for train travel

Bottom line

The American rail system pales in comparison to those in many European and Asian countries. But during the pandemic, Amtrak can still offer a convenient alternative to long security lines and even longer taxi times at some of the country’s most congested airports.

Before the pandemic, I didn’t see myself becoming an Amtrak loyalist, but my feelings on the U.S. rail company have since shifted. I’ve had enjoyable experiences with Amtrak in the past and look forward to exploring the East Coast on the ground instead of the sky.

Featured photo by Paul Hennessy/Nur Photo/Getty Images.

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

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