Is Amtrak’s big Rail Passengers Association point bonus worth the cost?

Jan 10, 2021

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We’re likely to see a big push to help fund and expand Amtrak over the next few years. President-elect Joe Biden has been a fan of the national rail for many decades, and even plans to ride a train to his inauguration, and incoming transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg is expected to support Amtrak investments as well.

There’s already a lot to be excited about on the Amtrak front — the rail line’s new-and-improved Acela train is expected to launch later this year, and track and tunnel improvements will hopefully be funded soon.

Boosting your Amtrak Guest Rewards balance presents a bit of a challenge, though. Amtrak Guest Rewards was once an instant transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, but now points are much harder to come by. Generally, the easiest option is to take advantage of a credit card welcome bonus, but a new offer that popped into my inbox seemed worth a look, as well.

Screenshot courtesy of Amtrak.

As the email subject line exclaims, “Imagine where you can go with up to 15,000 points.” Amtrak had my attention — 15,000 points could buy me several post-pandemic trips home to my family in the Philadelphia area. I was intrigued.

My excitement quickly evaporated as I continued to read on, but, given how difficult it can be to earn Amtrak points, I decided to still dig in and do some math.

Ultimately, the Silver Rail Society option offers the best return, at $1,000 for 7,000 points — a “cost” of 14.3 cents apiece, compared with 16.67 cents for the “PLUS” option. You’ll need to sign up by Jan. 31, 2021, in order to earn the bonus points.

Screenshot courtesy of Rail Passengers Association.

Depending on your route, date, train type and time of travel, Amtrak points can really go a long way. You can travel nonstop from New York to Boston tomorrow for just 2,414 points, for example.

Screenshot courtesy of Amtrak.

Cash fares are currently $68 for the same train, offering a redemption value of just over 2.8 cents per point. That’s far less than what you’ll “pay” for points as part of this promotion, though.

Screenshot courtesy of Amtrak.

Ultimately, the annual fee serves as a donation to the Rail Passengers Association, which aims to help expand Amtrak to create an expanded national rail network, represented by the map below.

Screenshot courtesy of Rail Passengers Association.

Membership also includes a 10% discount on most Amtrak fares, and discounts with a handful of other travel services and brands, including up to 25% off eligible car rentals with Avis.

Screenshot courtesy of Rail Passengers Association.

Rail Passengers Association is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, so your membership fee is tax-deductible. Points will be taxed at 2.5 cents each, however — if you max out the promotion, your $2,500 fee will effectively be deductible, minus the $375 points value.

If you aren’t interested in making a donation to the Rail Passengers Association, this option doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, even with the various discounts thrown in. Instead, you might want to consider boosting your balance with an Amtrak credit card, such as the Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard, which can earn you up to 20,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days.

As a final option, you could choose to purchase points — currently, 15,000 points will run you $565.50, or about 4.38 cents apiece. You’re unlikely to find a redemption that makes that option ever worth considering, however.

Featured photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, 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 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 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
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Regular APR
16.24% - 23.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
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