Last week, I took a last-minute weekend getaway with my family that incorporated a trip on Amtrak back to Chicago on Amtrak’s California Zephyr route aboard Amtrak’s Superliner Sleeper Bedroom Cabin. I wanted to write a full-fledged trip report of my experience from booking that award using Amtrak points to the actual trip and travel on Amtrak (was my first long distance train journey in the US). But that trip report is taking its own sweet time to come together. I thought in the meanwhile, I will write a brief summary that is more related to award booking and opti-maxi-mizing the value.
For those who are not aware (I bet that would be most of the readers from outside of the Northeast Corridor), Amtrak has a frequent rider (flyer) program by the name Amtrak Guest Rewards. The program has rather some exceptional awards in its award charts. Amtrak Guest Rewards (AGR) has tiered awards in terms on zones and has a neat (though a little inaccurate) zone map on its website that comes in handy when planning an award redemption. Our Amtrak ride was from Colorado Grand Junction to Chicago Union Station. Although, the zone map shows our starting point in western region of the zone map, however, the phone agent booked us the trip using 1-zone award for 20,000 AGR points.
I have to admit that we had been contemplating taking an overnight trip on Amtrak (of course in a Sleeper Bedroom) using AGR points for the last 4 years. Finally got a chance, though on a short notice and we decided to go for it. I had already transferred/converted 30,000 Continental OnePass miles to 30,000 AGR points knowing that a much desired trip may happen soon. This transfer feature is one of the relatively unknown to most. CO program lets you convert CO miles to AGR point at 1:1 ratio in blocks of 5,000 miles at no charge.
AGR has some exceptional redemptions which can be highlighted from our award redemption. It cost us 20,000 AMEX MR points (transferred to CO before it ended) to book 3 of us in the bedroom. Paid reservation in this cabin would have cost us $1,275+ (not that I would have paid that). Thus, we got 6 cents per AMEX point worth of value and most of those AMEX points were earned at ~ 2.5 points per $ on average. Thus, I can boast that I got 15+ cents per dollar that I spent on my AMEX PRG card.
Back to AGR award table, their special routes are listed for 1,000 points in coach or 1,500 points in business, which to me is a steal, if you can make use of. Other exceptional value are the roomettes and bedroom awards in all category of awards alike, 1-zone, 2-zone or 3-zone as these will easily get you 5+ cents per point in redemption value. And of course, another excellent value is award in the northeast corridor, especially last-minute travel which can also fetch you 5+ cents per point in value.
One would ask, what about availability. Unlike awards on Airlines, Amtrak awards do not have limited availability but are rather bookable up to the last seat/cabin. Thus, as long as there is a seat/cabin to be sold for real $$$, they will book it for you using points. And unlike Airline awards, there are no taxes or booking fees. The best part is, you can cancel the awards for a full refund as long as you have not picked up your printed tickets from the station. Also note that all dining car meals and non-alcoholic drinks are included in your roommette or bedroom ticket.
AGR points can also be used for a bunch of other redemptions like gift cards, certificates, cruises at close to 1 cent per point. But really, the best value is in booking for Amtrak travel. And to all those who have not had a chance to ride Amtrak long distance in a bedroom, it was a memorable experience that we plan to do repeat, may be on another route. It was so much fun, comfortable, stress-free.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?