AAA and Amtrak–A Match Made in Heaven?

I am always looking for a way to save money on travel–money I don’t spend on one trip, I can use for another! In today’s post, we’re looking at whether or not it makes sense for someone who rides Amtrak to get a AAA Membership.

logosFirst off, let’s make sure you know the basics. I’m sure you all know that AAA is, but to recap, the American Automobile Association is a federation of motor clubs that provide service like roadside assistance and travel assistance to members. They are also know for providing members discounts at a wide variety of locations, including Amtrak. Wait, a car club and trains?

You read that right. AAA members get a 10% discount on tickets. Per the AAA website:

Member Benefits: AAA  members save 10% on passenger fares, including Auto Train, with three–day advance purchase.

Restrictions: Booking(s) must be done three days in advance in order to qualify. The offer is not available with other discounts and some restrictions may apply. Members are required to show their AAA card and a valid ID. Member discount is only available on the rail portion of Auto Train travel.

So, does it make sense to get AAA membership if your an Amtrak user? Well, it depends on how frequently you use Amtrak, and which type of ticket you buy.

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AAA membership fees

Currently, AAA membership costs $67 in the first year, and $52 every year you renew your membership. This means that in the first year of your membership, you will need to spend $670 in Amtrak travel, and $520 in Amtrak travel every year after that. Is that acheiveable and reasonable? Let’s look at an example:

On the left is a Value fare, roundtrip ticket between NYC and Boston for $154. On the right is the same exact trip, but with the 10% AAA discount, which in this case is a savings of $15.40. With this savings, you’d need to take 5 trips in your first year of AAA membership, and 4 every year after that to cover the cost of your membership.

Let’s look at another example. This time we’re going to book an Acela Business Class ticket:

Again, on the left is the Value fare with no discount, and on the right is the Value fare with the 10% AAA discount. In this case, you’ll save $23.20, which means you’ll need to take three trips in the first year of membership, and three trips every year after that to make this a good value. NOTE:  AAA discount cannot be used on weekday Acela trips.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I travel 4-5 times a year on Amtrak, sign me up!” But wait, there’s more! Amtrak also has a Saver fare level below the Value level. Here’s an example trip:

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This Saver fare is $40.60 cheaper than the Value fare with the 10% AAA discount, and doesn’t require you to buy an AAA membership. Why is this fare so much cheaper? It’s nonrefundable:

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NOTE:  Non-refundable means that you’ll get a credit for future Amtrak travel, rather than a cash refund.

With this information, here’s what I would recommend:  if you require refundable travel, or plan to take the Acela more than three times a year (on weekends), an AAA membership might make sense for you. If you always buy the cheapest fare (HELLO!) and don’t care that your trip is non-refundable, I’d pass on the AAA membership.

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