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Earlier in the week, I wrote about our $6500 Amtrak trip that we are taking this summer as a family vacation.  Of course we’re not paying $6500 because we’re miles and points folks!  $6500 is just the “sucker’s” price :-D.  I wanted to spend a bit more time looking at the Amtrak Zone Map, so we could talk a little about how that works and some ways to maximize it.

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Here is a look at the Amtrak Zone Map, which divides the USA into 3 zones (West, Central and Eastern).  There is also a Northeast Zone that is simultaneously its own zone as well as part of the Eastern Zone

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You can see that there are several cities that are on the zone borders.  So if you live in the following cities (like I do!!):

  • Wolf Point, MT
  • Denver, CO
  • Trinidad, CO
  • Albuquerque, NM
  • El Paso, TX
  • Port Huron, MI
  • Detroit, MI
  • Toledo, OH
  • Cincinnati, OH
  • Atlanta, GA

Then you can consider yourself in either of your zones, whichever is most advantageous.  This becomes important because Amtrak Guest Rewards charges for redemptions based on how many zones you travel in.  So if you live in Cincinnati, like I do, then you can go anywhere in either the Central or Eastern zones for the cost of 1 zone.

What about cities that are not on the map?  You should be able to use the Amtrak zone map to identify which zone that they are in.  If you’re still stuck, you can consult the amtrak.com train schedules.  For example, I was looking at Raton, New Mexico and wasn’t sure which zone it was in exactly, so I looked up the train schedule for the Southwest Chief and found that the stop for Raton comes in between Albuquerque and Trinidad, so I figured it was on the border between Western and Central.

Points costs for travel by zone

As I mentioned, the number of points depends on where your origin and destination fall on the Amtrak Zone map.  It all depends on how many zones your travel cost.

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Remember that Amtrak Guest Rewards is a 1:1 transfer of Chase Ultimate Rewards, which is one of the 5 reasons why I think that Chase points are the best ones out there.

The sweet spots on the Amtrak zone map

First of all, the biggest sweet spots are the cities that are right on the Amtrak zone map borders, as I mentioned earlier.  So if you live in one of those cities (or can easily get to one), that will be super advantageous for you.

We were originally going to book our family train vacation from Cincinnati to Denver, but because of availability, ended up deciding to drive up to Toledo (which is also on the border between 2 zones on the Amtrak zone map). That means a family bedroom only costs us 25,000 one-way (though we need 2 of them and are going round-trip, so it cost us 100,000 points)

The other sweet spot is traveling North-South.  Because the zones are set up from west to east, if you are traveling north-south, and staying in one zone,  you can get a LOT of travel for just the 1 zone price.  Boston to Miami is nearly 30 hours of train travel!

Even better, you can take the Coast Starlight from Seattle to Los Angeles (or even to San Diego)

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That’s 2 full days of train travel, including an overnight berth, and 6 meals per person, for a family of 4, for only 25,000 points!  That’s quite an adventure!  And remember, KIDS LOVE TRAINS!  Here is a review by Travel With Grant of his adventures on the Coast Starlight train.

I hope this helps you find ways you can maximize the Amtrak zone map – let us know in the comments if you have any other sweet spots

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