Amtrak holds a special place in my heart as it was my first major award redemption. As part of our honeymoon, my wife and I used the bonus from the Chase Amtrak Mastercard (discontinued) and the Chase Sapphire Preferred for over $3,000 of first-class train travel across the country. It was an amazing experience.
While everything about Amtrak Guest Rewards has changed since then, there is still some value in the program. And the primary way for the non-Amtrak-commuter to extract that value is through the co-branded BofA card. Here’s why you should consider it:
Current bonus is a 50% increase above normal
The Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercard normally offers a bonus of 20,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points after $1,000 in spending within the first 90 days. This isn’t a bad offer, considering the points are worth about 2.9 cents each. However, a 50% bonus over normal is significant. You can do a whole lot more with the 10,000 extra points.
Other benefits of the card include a 5% rebate on award redemption, 3 points per dollar on Amtrak purchases, extra Tier Qualifying points for every $5,000 points in card spending, and a single use companion coupon, a lounge pass, and a one-class upgrade certificate. If you ride Amtrak even occasionally, it is a solid card. The card does carry a $79 annual fee that is *not* waived.
What can you do with ~$900 in points?
So what can you do for 30,000 Amtrak points? There used to be a regional chart that could be exploited for insane value. Even when the sign-up bonus was previously a mere 15,000 points, this could still get you a Roomette between San Francisco and Denver, which might go for $800+ in summer months. So you could argue that the bonus “value” was $800 even back then.
But Amtrak has gone and moved to a revenue-based redemption system. Even though this was a bit hit to the value of their long-distance sleeper car redemptions, the current elevated bonus is enough to give you some decent options. Consider this trip from Chicago to Seattle, for example:
With just a little card spending, you can make the two night trip on the Empire Builder for free with the 30,000-point bonus! The cash cost for this ticket for the date I checked was $940. This is definitely a fairly low price for this route. Prices can fluctuate quite a bit depending on the season and occupancy of the train.
Train travel is a blast!
If you haven’t experienced a long-distance train trip, I highly suggest you try it at least once. Just make sure you book a sleeper car, especially a bedroom. The bulk of the travel my wife and I did was in a bedroom car. You have a little more space, a much more comfortable lower bed (although you’ll probably still end up sleeping separately), and a private bathroom including a shower.
Any of the four long-distance routes between the midwest and the west will treat you to some incredible scenery. My favorite sections were both on the California Zephyr, first through the Sierra Nevada and then through the Rockies. Getting to sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenery as you travel along is unbeatable. It is so much better than car travel.
One of the benefits of booking a sleeper car is that all your meals are included. There are no other fees. The only thing you’ll pay each day is a tip to your waiter in the dining car.
The elevated Amtrak 30,000-point offer is good through September 30. If you’re interested in Amtrak experiences, consider Dan’s trips with his family (SEE: Reviewing the Amtrak Empire Builder route from Chicago to Seattle, AND: 4 reasons my Amtrak trip was a blast).