Amtrak All the Way

As it may be apparent by now, I think Amtrak is a pretty great way to get around the East Coast. Much of the traveling I do–to see my family, to see Nick’s family, or go back to my alma mater–is easy to do by train.

My parents live in New Hampshire, so my go-to method for getting home is to take the train to Boston and then connect to the bus for the remaining leg of the trip. In total, it takes about 8 hours to get home, as opposed to ~5 hours by car. In addition to that, my alma mater (and Nicks family!) are in upstate New York, so taking Amtrak there for visits home is even easier and only takes about 5 hours.

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One of my homes away from home – h/t Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute
Before I got into the travel can be cheap/free game, it would routinely cost $100-$200 dollars to get between New York and where I wanted to go. Going to all of my homes a few times a year really adds up quickly, and last year I spent over $700 to do it! Yikes!

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So Amtrak was my first foray into the credit card/miles game. I started with the (now defunct) Chase Amtrak Guest Rewards card, which gave me 12,000 miles for $500 in spend. In the time before Amtrak award tickets were linked to ticket price, that got me a roundtrip to upstate NY ($111.60 saving) and a business class ticket from Boston to New York ($104.60 savings). Not bad, right?

Now that Amtrak has linked award tickets to the price of ticket, you can actually do better! In 2016, I have pent $90 on Amtrak tickets and redeemed 12,316 points, which has saved me $334.80 so far this year! Those 12,316 points were for:

  • Boston-New York, coach class
  • New York-Boston, Acela business class
  • Boston-New York, coach class

This is what I find to be so great about credit card points, and especially the Amtrak credit card. I’m buying things I need, so I might as well get some sort of benefit back, right? Using my Amtrak card in 2016 has saved me over $330 in travel, which helps me save money for other things I want to do, like go to Hawaii!

So which Amtrak card is right for you? It all depends on how many miles you want in the bonus and if you’re willing to pay the annual fee.

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The World card gets you 20,000 miles after paying the annual fee ($79) and spending $1,000 in 90 days, while the Platinum card gets you 12,000 miles after spending $1,000 in 90 days. In addition, the World card earns 3x miles per dollar on Amtrak (including the café car), 2x miles on other qualifying travel, and 1x mile per dollar on everything else. The Platinum card, however, only earns 2x miles per dollar on Amtrak and 1x mile per dollar on everything else.

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In terms of other bonuses, both cards offer a 5% rebate on award redemptions, while the World card provides a shortcut to Elite status, a companion coupon, an upgrade coupon, and a single-day lounge pass.

So, if you don’t want to pay an annual fee or travel a bit less frequently, I would suggest getting the Platinum card. If you travel more, and want to earn miles quicker on paid trips, go for the World card. Personally, I have the World card because I make paid Amtrak purchases from time to time, wanted to receive the higher sign-up bonus, and the free travel I’ve redeemed for more than offsets the annual fee.

If you live along the Northeast Corridor (which runs from Boston to Lynchburg/Newport News/Norfolk/Richmond/Washington, D.C.) or the Empire Service (NYC-Buffalo) and travel with some frequency to points along either line, I think either of the Amtrak cards are great card to have in your wallet.

 

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