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For those who ride the rails regularly, the Amtrak Guest Rewards® loyalty program is one of the most valuable travel reward programs out there because of its high cents-per-points redemption rate.
Whether you ride Amtrak for your daily commute or cross the Continental Divide in a famed California Zephyr sleeper car for a vacation, we will show you some of the ways to get the best value out of your points.
In this article hide
How to earn Amtrak Guest Rewards points
Amtrak Guest Rewards allows members myriad ways to earn points. If you do it right, you can earn plenty of points without even stepping foot on a train. Below, we outline all the ways to rack up the points.
Amtrak travel. Loyalty program members earn 2 points per $1 spent on Amtrak travel. You earn bonus points for 25% for business class and 50% for Acela First class travel.
Referrals. Receive 500 points each time you refer a friend to Amtrak Guest Rewards.
The Amtrak Guest Rewards World MasterCard®. New cardmembers Earn 20,000 bonus points after you make $1,000 or more in purchases within 90 days of account opening. Then Earn 3 Amtrak Guest Rewards points per $1 spent with Amtrak, 2 points per $1 spent on other qualifying travel purchases, and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Book a hotel room. Earn points for rooms booked on the Amtrak Hotels & Cars website at more than 300,000 hotels and independent boutiques around the world. Earn 1,000 points per stay through May 18, 2019, at more than 6,800 participating Choice hotel brands. After May 18, it drops to 250 points per stay.
Blue and gold Wyndham Rewards members earn 1 point for every $1 spent on qualified stays and go fast discount award nights at participating hotels. Platinum and diamond members earn 2 points for every $1 spent on a hotel stay.
Sign up for Rocketmiles with your Amtrak Guest Rewards membership number or enter it on the payment page when booking a hotel and room earn between 1,000 and 10,000 points per night for stays in thousands of cities around the world.
Rent a car. Earn points when renting a car on the Amtrak Hotels & Cars website at nearly 30,000 locations worldwide. Earn 5X bonus points plus a free upgrade when renting a car with Budget through June 30, 2019. After that, earn 50 points for every rental day at participating Budget locations worldwide; no Amtrak ticket is needed to earn them.
Earn 2X the points when renting with Enterprise Rent-A-Car® at more than 6,000 locations in North America through May 18, 2019. After May 18, earn 50 points per day on rentals. Earn 6X the points and save on base rates with Hertz at more than 8,100 locations worldwide, through June 30, 2019. Earn 50 Amtrak Guest Rewards points per day on rentals.
Airfare. Amtrak’s partnership with United Airlines allows members of the Guest Rewards or MileagePlus loyalty programs to earn miles or points for travel. When flying on United, those who take Amtrak to connect to or from Newark-Liberty International Airport from either Philadelphia, Wilmington, Del., Stamford, Conn. or New Haven, Conn. will earn Amtrak Guest Rewards points on the whole trip, including the flight.
Book the Amtrak segment when you book your United flight at 800-UNITED-1 and provide your Amtrak Guest Rewards member number to earn points. You’ll earn 1 Amtrak point per mile traveled, at a minimum of 500 points, plus a 25% point bonus for travel in United business class and 50% bonus for travel in United first class, on top of the points you earn for your Amtrak travel.
Cruises. Amtrak Guest Rewards members can book on major ocean and river cruise lines worldwide through the Amtrak Cruise Concierge, and you’ll earn up to 6 points per cruise dollar spent in addition to the cruise line’s best prices at the time of booking through May 18, 2019. After May 18, you can earn 4 points per cruise dollar spent (normally 2 points) on any cruise from $1,000 – $3,499 per stateroom; 4.5 points per cruise dollar spent (normally 3 points) on any cruise costing from $3,500 – $11,999 per stateroom; and earn 6 points per cruise dollar spent (normally 4 points) on any cruise that runs $12,000 or more per stateroom.
Partner points. Points can be earned when spending with Amtrak partners, including 1-800-FLOWERS, Teleflora, Audience Rewards, NRG, Vinesse Wines and Samsonite.
Take action. Join or renew your membership in the Rail Passengers Association for up to 25,000 points. Or earn 250 bonus points when you join the Survey Points Club. Earn more points every time you complete a survey.
Go shopping. You can also earn points every time you shop online. Browse the Amtrak Guest Rewards Points for Shopping online mall and find a retailer. Click on “Go Shopping” and you’ll connect to the retailer’s website. The site automatically tracks purchases and calculates how many points you’ve earned. There’s also ways to earn bonus points and redeem discount coupons.While purchases show up in your transaction history as pending within five working days, it can take up to 120 days and sometimes longer for points you earn to be approved and deposited into your account.
How to book a ticket with points
Booking an award ride with Amtrak points is easy on On the main page, click on “Trip” and choose between one-way, round-trip or multi-city. Enter your travel information, check off “Points” and click “FIND TRAINS.”
For our example, we’ll search for a one-way ticket from San Diego to Los Angeles.
As you can see above, you can choose between an unreserved coach and business class award. Choose the fare you’re interested in, then click “ADD TO CART” and proceed with your points payment.
Riding in a Superliner sleeping car (roomette or bedroom) can be an enjoyable experience for longer journeys, and booking one using points is as easy as booking any other kind of seat.
We look at what sleeping cars would cost in points and cash for two adults traveling on the California Zephyr, which runs from Omaha, Neb. to Sacramento, Calif. The Zephyr offers several sleeping options: Superliner Roomette, Family Bedroom and Superliner Bedroom, along with coach seats.
The cheapest option is 10,350 points for two reserve coach seats, but at 41 hours, that’s a long time to sit. If the two of you want to lie down, consider spending 33,017 points on a Superliner Roomette, shown below.
The value of roomette fares give you that sweet redemption spot of 2.89 cents per point, making these a great redemption option.
The roomette is designed to accommodate one or two passengers, with two seats on each side of a big picture window that converts to a bed; there’s also an upper berth that folds down. The roomette comes with meals, a nearby shower, outlets, climate control, individual reading lights, a garment rack and fold-down table, fresh towels and bed linens, soap and shower amenities, bottled water and personal services, including a bed turndown and makeup service, coffee and bottled water.
For 68,276 points, you can choose a Superliner Bedroom.
Both the coach value seat and the bedroom options are great deals covered under the 2.89 cents per point redemption rate.
The Superliner bedroom is best for two passengers but can accommodate three, with two people sharing the lower berth. The room has a large sofa with two individual reclining sections and an easy chair. At night, the sofa converts into a bed, and an upper berth folds down from above. It has a restroom with toilet, sink and shower. It comes with the same amenities as the roomette.
The final option is the family bedroom, for 57,339 points.
Let’s say you want to take your family of four down to Orlando for an amusement park binge. Amtrak runs the Auto Train between Lorton, Va., (south of Washington, D.C.) and Sanford, Fla., (near Orlando). You can use your points (7,038 points one way) to pay for the family and your car to get there. After choosing your seating option, you’ll also need to select your vehicle option.
The coach and family bedroom options are a great value at 2.89 cents per point.
How much do rewards cost?
With Amtrak, the price you pay in points is based on the cash price of a ticket. You can get up to 2.89 cents per point redemption value, which means that Amtrak is still one of the most valuable travel loyalty programs.
The catch to receiving the 2.89-cents-per-point value is that Amtrak doesn’t base prices on its cheapest Saver fares. So if you’re buying a ticket on a train that has a Saver fare available, your points will get you less than 2.89 cents per point in value. To illustrate, let’s search for an award ticket from New York Penn Station to Washington, D.C.
You can get your ticket for 3,312 points in coach or 3,554 in business class.
That works out to 2.9 cents per point compared to the ‘Value’ fare of $91. However, the same ticket would only cost $49 at the Saver fare, so you’re only getting 1.6 cents per point in value.
You’ll pay $49 for saver, $96 for value and $188 for flexible coach seats; a business class seat is $103.
It works out to 2.89 cents per point compared with the value fare of $96; it’s the same points value for the $103 business class fare. However, the same ticket costs $49 at the Saver fare, but you’ll only get 1.4 cents per point in value. Moreover, it drops to a miserly 0.056 cents per point for the $188 flexible fare.
A business class ticket is a good value when purchased far enough in advance. Plus, it’s slightly more points on coach, at 3,312 points, versus 3,554 points. So, redeeming your points on a business class ticket can be a great deal in many cases.
You can often get the 2.9-cent-per-point redemption rate regardless of how soon you need a ride in other areas of the country. In our dummy bookings, we’ve discovered that cash fares and redemption rates often don’t change in different markets across the country.
We found similar results for short travel distances between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas; Indianapolis and Cincinnati; Orlando, Fla. and Jacksonville, Fla.; and between Vancouver, Canada and Seattle. Cash fares and point redemption rates appear to be consistent for these routes throughout the year.
Good deal or not?
Upgrades – Great deal
Upgrades can be a great deal for your Amtrak points. You can get four upgrade coupons for 10,000 points. These coupons are only available for upgrades from coach to business class or business to first class. You can’t use them to upgrade to a sleeper car.
One of the best uses of your points is for upgrades to first class on the Northeast Corridor’s high-speed Acela Express train. That first-class ticket gets you a more comfortable seat, more leg room, a decent meal with free alcohol and access to station lounges. For the seven-plus hour trip between Boston and Washington, D.C., redeeming points for an upgrade is worth it.
Amtrak often charges $150 or more extra to sit in Acela first class, so using only 2,500 points can get you 5 cents or more in value for your points, which is probably one of the most lucrative ways to redeem them.
Tip: The catch is you can only confirm your upgraded seat within 12 hours of your departure time, so you won’t know in advance if you’ll be upgraded.
Multi-ride/10-ride tickets: Good deal — depending
Either of these tickets can be a lousy or outstanding deal, depending on your origin and destination. The 10-ride tickets are valid for 45, 60 or 180 days, depending on the ticket you choose. The chart below shows which train lines accept multi-ride and 10-ride tickets.
Multi-ride tickets aren’t valid on the routes below:
See the prices for multi-ride tickets between New York and Philadelphia, below. You must call Amtrak at 800-307-5000 to check how many points are needed for redemption on these tickets and learn about the terms and conditions of using them.
ClubAcela passes – bad deal
You can buy a pack of 5 Single-Visit ClubAcela passes for 5,000 points. You will get access to ClubAcela at the following locations:
- Boston South Station
- Philadelphia 30th Street Station
- Chicago Metropolitan Lounge
You will find comfortable seating and simple free beverages and snacks, but no alcohol or substantial food. You’ll also get early notice of what tracks trains are departing, so you can position yourself to board early. However, you can’t use the passes at two of Amtrak’s most popular stations — Washington Union and New York Penn.
And remember, at the fixed 2.9-cent-per-point value, it’s like paying $29 per lounge visit, which is steep for so few perks — plus a day pass only costs $25.
Car rental certificates – bad deal
You can redeem 10,000 Amtrak points for a $100 a Budget gift card. This isn’t the best value for your points since you’re only receiving a 1:1 ratio (10,000 points for a $100 Certificate) for that card. You’re much better off with your 2.89-cents-per-point value for train travel.
Hotel certificates – bad deal
Amtrak partners with Best Western, Choice Privileges, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and Hilton Honors. Redemption values are below:
Again, redeeming Amtrak points for these hotel partners doesn’t give you the best value, since you get 2.89-cents-per-point when redeeming them for train trips.
Cruise gift cards – bad deal
You can redeem Amtrak points on Celebrity — 6,000 points for a $50 gift card and 10,000 for a $100 card. The Disney gift card is also 10,000 points for a $100 card. This isn’t a good deal compared with rail travel redemptions.
Dining and entertainment gift cards – bad deal
You can redeem Amtrak points for restaurant and movie theater gift cards at 6,000 points for a $50 gift card and 10,000 for a $100 card
You already know this isn’t a good value, but here’s the redemption list:
- AMC Theatres
- Audience Rewards
- Brinker International (Chili’s and Maggiano’s Little Italy)
- Darden (Olive Garden®, LongHorn Steakhouse®, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen®, Yard House®, The Capital Grille®, Seasons 52®, Bahama Breeze® and Eddie V’s®)
- Outback Steakhouse
- Panera Bread
- Red Lobster
- Regal Entertainment Group
- Ruth’s Chris Steak House
- Spa & Wellness
Retail gift cards – bad deal
Redeem 6,000 points for a $50 gift card and 10,000 for a $100 card. Unless you have points to burn, this option isn’t a good use of them, but again, here’s the list:
- Barnes & Noble
- Bath & Body Works
- Bed, Bath & Beyond
- org (donation)
- CVS Pharmacy
- L. Bean
- Pottery Barn
- Saks Fifth Avenue
- TJ Maxx
- Top Golf
- Wine Country Gift Baskets
Do Amtrak points expire?
As long as your Amtrak Guest Rewards account shows qualifying account activity — earning or redeeming points — within 24 months, they won’t expire. Amtrak Guest Rewards World MasterCard® cardholders’ points will not expire as long as your credit card account is open.
What are the cancellation and change fees?
You’re hit with a 10% point penalty if you cancel your award travel and the points are redeposited. If you cancel a non-sleeper ticket 24 hours before departure, or a sleeper ticket within 14 days before departure, an additional “close-in” penalty of 10% of the points redeemed will be collected.
A points difference to the fare will apply with any award ticket changes, along with a 10% point penalty. If you’re changing a non-sleeper ticket within 24 hours before departure, or a sleeper ticket within 14 days before departure, you’ll be charged an additional “close-in” penalty of 10% of the points redeemed.
Can you share points?
You can share points in 1,000-point increments, up to 20,000 points per account per year. However, this is not a cheap option, as it costs 1 cent per point.
There’s also the option to gift points, outlined below. But again, even with the bonus points, this is an expensive option.
Where can you check your points balance?
As soon as you log in to your account, you’ll see your points in the upper right corner.
The bottom line
We’ve hammered this over and over, but here it is again: The best way to redeem your Amtrak Guest Rewards points is for train travel. And the fact that you can do this for coach, business and Acela Express makes those points an incredible value — but only if you use them for value and business class fares. Redeeming your points for sleeping cars, especially if you’re bringing someone along, is also a great deal.
However, when it comes time to redeem those points for anything outside of rail travel, points values fall off the cliff. Outside of seat upgrades, we strongly recommend sticking to train redemptions unless you have a pile of miles to burn.
Images in this article are as of the date of publishing.