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7 Secret Amtrak Tips That Could Save You Money

SmarterTravel

If you’re considering a trip on Amtrak, you could be eligible for a discount you don’t know about. Amtrak routinely gives up to 30 percent off bookings for an array of reasons, some based on status, some on when you buy, and some on short-term promotions. Here are the Amtrak tips you need to know to save money on a rail journey.

Amtrak Tips You Need to Know

First, it’s important to know what services Amtrak discounts typically apply to, and their terms:

  • Discounts are almost always confined to coach class and ordinary (not high-speed) trains, though there are occasional business-class discounts on Acela. Amtrak only rarely discounts its sleeper class or Acela first class seats, and typically highly publicizes those.
  • Discounts usually apply to all or almost all long-haul and regional routes, although seats are subject to availability and holidays/blackout dates.
  • Discounts often exclude routes where Amtrak does not use seat reservations: typically Keystone and Pennsylvanian trains between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pacific Surfliner trains, Auto Trains, and some Thruway Bus.
  • Most discounts do not apply to the Canadian portion of cross-border trains operated by Amtrak and Canada’s VIA Rail.
  • Some discounts are combinable; others are not. Some discounted fares allow upgrading with payment of fee; others do not. Check individual programs for details.

Most discounted fares are nonrefundable, but are exchangeable with a 25 percent fee. In addition to discounts on regular tickets, Amtrak tips listed here include its version of a rail pass as well as rail-hotel package details, which can be useful for some travelers.

Status Discounts

Several ongoing Amtrak discounts depend on who you are; appropriate ID may be required when you travel. Status discounts are combinable with some other discounts but not all.

Seniors age 65 and over receive 10 percent discounts on most coach fares. The senior discount is 50 percent on Downeaster trains between Boston and Maine. Kids age two through 12 receive 50 percent discount when traveling with a fare-paying adult. Military on active duty and veterans receive 10 percent discounts on most coach fares.

Travelers with disabilities and companions receive 10 percent discounts on most coach tickets. All Rail Passengers Association members receive 10 percent discounts on most coach fares; three-day advance purchase is required.

Purchase-Based Discounts

Advance Purchase: Amtrak offers a variety of advance-purchase discounts of 20 to 25 percent. The most general is a 20 percent “Saver Fare” discount, nationwide, on its most popular long-distance trains. Purchase tickets seven to 14 days in advance, depending on route.

Smart Fares: Each week, Amtrak posts specific routes with 30 percent coach discounts. Fares post on Tuesdays for purchase during the next four days and for weekday travel starting the following week, ending after three weeks.

Short-Term Promotions

Amtrak frequently posts short-term promotions, with a specified cutoff date, on its deals page. They take several forms:

Conventional coach percentage discounts in limited regions, on specific trains, or to specific traveler groups such as seniors and students. Discounts are typically 15 to 25 percent—no better than “Saver Fares,’ but with either no advance purchase requirement or a shorter period.

Buy-one-get-one or companion offers; sometimes the second ticket free, sometimes the second ticket at 50 percent off.

“Share Fares” for a group of up to six traveling together requires the first traveler to pay full fare, the second to pay 15 percent off, and the third through sixth to pay 60 to 70 percent off the adult fare.

One current temporary 15 percent discount applies to seniors age 62 or over on regional trains within California: Capitol Corridor, Pacific Surfliner, and San Joaquins. This promotion expires January 31, 2020. Route-specific sales can come and go.

Multi-Rides and Passes

Amtrak sells monthly and ten-ride tickets for trips between two specified stations, as well as six-ride tickets for students, limited to a few trains.

Amtrak’s rail pass comes in three sizes: eight segments over a 15-day period, $499; 12 segments over 30 days, $689; and 18 segments over 45 days, $899; half fare for children ages 2-12. Travel is valid on most trains.

There’s also a California pass, $159 for travel on any seven days out of a 21-day period. Children pay half, for travel on Capitol CorridorSan Joaquins and Pacific Surfliner, and Coast Starlight between Los Angeles and Dunsmuir, California.

Flash Sales

Amtrak periodically runs flash sales, usually with a purchase period of only a few days, valid for travel over several months. It just completed its fourth annual “Track Friday” sale offering 35 percent discounts on most trains. Last year flash sales offered 35 to 60 percent off some long-haul trains; one sale even included sleeper class. Flash sales also included some BOGO deals and one $10 fare deal.

Packages

Amtrak offers a range of vacation packages, some incorporating both rail travel and hotel accommodations, others concentrating just on destination packages at cities Amtrak serves. As is the case with air/hotel, packages, rail/hotel packages can often cost less than buying rail tickets and hotel accommodations separately. You have to check each specific trip to determine whether packages are good deals.

Making Sure You Get Your Deal

The regular Amtrak website is very good about offering discounts automatically. The booking page accepts inputs about your status and the search system automatically displays discounted fares. Very occasionally, you may need to enter a promotional code. You can arrange discounted Amtrak tickets in person, online, and through Amtrak’s free iPhone or Android app.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

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