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I’ve been a bad boy here lately with the updates. Between the Airbnbs, real estate, freelance articles, and other bits of life, I’ve had to neglect my posting schedule. The upshot, though, is that I’ve been getting ready for my first trip to Ireland, and am now writing this on an Amtrak train from somewhere in Connecticut.
Tomorrow is the day of the British Airways devaluation, and I was lucky to’ve booked BOS-DUB on Aer Lingus in business class (there is still some availability in October and Novermber FYI!). It’s an award I’ve long wanted to redeem, and in light of the devaluation, I decided to go ahead and pull the trigger. I was already going to Ireland anyway (on a Delta attack fare), but then when this happened, I pushed up my trip and redeemed some British Airways Avios. This particular award will be increasing from 50K round-trip to 75K round-trip. Still not bad for business class to Europe, but less is obviously better.
Anyway, being based in New York, I had to get myself to Boston. Getting back from Boston was easy: 4,500 Avios BOS-LGA and boom. But going to Boston, availability was dismal.
In This Post
Redeeming Ultimate Rewards for Amtrak
NYC is Amtrak heaven. New Yorkers can get to nearly anywhere in New England, the Northeast, or Mid-Atlantic in just a few hours with relative ease.
The last time I rode Amtrak was probably in 2008 when I went down to DC for a weekend – but my memories of it don’t exactly allow for a full trip report. 😉
This time, however, I’m in business class at a seat with a table, connected to the (very very spotty) wifi, and writing a blog post with a rum and
Coke Pepsi from the snack car next to me. Safe to say life is pretty good right about now.
There are blackout dates on Amtrak. Luckily, April 27th isn’t one of them. The blackout dates are centered around the holidays: New Year, Easter, July 4th, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, with a couple random dates through in throughout the year. If you want to travel any time that isn’t a holiday, you’re pretty much golden.
To boot, their zones are large and generous, and redeeming Ultimate Rewards for a bedroom or a business class ticket can make since if:
- You want to experience the country by train
- You have time to take the train
- The train experience to where you wanna go will be roughly equal to flying (ahem, NYC-BOS or NYC-WAS)
- You have to travel and simply must stay connected to a cell network
- Flights aren’t available but the Amtrak availability is wide open (my case)
NYP-BOS falls into the Northeast zone, so a regular ticket is 4,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points. However, I redeeemed 6,500 points to be in the business class car. It was only a little more and still met my 2 cents per point minimum, so I went with that.
Note that you can only redeem points for one-way tickets. So if you need a round-trip, you will have to redeem for two one-way tickets.
The photo above is the price for two one-way business class tickets AKA 13,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points. That’s still 2.2 cents per point, and a great stopgap when flights from NYC-BOS were over $400 for a one-way and there was no award availability on American or US Airways with Avios! And also better than paying cash…
$431 for a one-way flight that’s a little over an hour? No way. Amtrak was the best option for this trip.
First, the wifi. It is spotty, but when it’s fast, it’s great. And when it’s not… it’s terrible. But the train is clean, moving fast, and there’s easy access to bathrooms.
At 4 hours, it’s certainly longer than a 1-hour flight, but considering I don’t have to get to LGA or JFK, and I don’t have to get into the city center from BOS, I figure that saves me about an hour on each end. So really, it’s only an hour more. And it’s peaceful. I’m getting work done. And the scenery of a pretty day in the Northeast flying by is wonderful.
I made it to the snack car and got a cheese plate and a rum and
Coke Pepsi, which was a nice perk.
The dining car had cheese plates, burgers, chips, pizzas, and a few other snacky-type items. Prices are pretty fair considering you are on a moving vehicle. There was also seating – all of which was completely occupied.
Drinks are $8 – about the same as an airplane. And I guess, pro tip: you can sneak your own booze on and just buy a can of soda. Just don’t let the conductor catch ya 😉
There was a slight delay due to electric supply to the engine or something, but we got moving along fairly quickly after that.
Redeeming for multiple zones
This is where Amtrak could be super lucrative, and also a super time suckage. If you have days/weeks to get across zones, you could score yourself some hefty value from Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Amtrak.
You could theoretically take a train from Miami to Maine, or from Miami to Dallas. The former is 1 zone while the latter is 2 zones. You’d want to price it out to make sure it’s worth its salt, but assuming it is… wow. What a value.
The only thing is time. You can fly from Miami-NYC in about 3/3.5 hours. But to train it all the way up? 31 hours. But still, you could spend that day and a half in a viewliner bedroom – worth $1,162 dollars but redeemable for 25,000 Amtrak Guest points (via Ultimate Rewards) for a value of nearly 5 cents per point.
This section could really be its own blog post, but just wanted to throw it in to show that there are many possibilities at play here – as with any award chart, there are sweet spots. There just seem to be quite a lot of them to utilize with Amtrak… if you have the time to spend to get from Point A to B. Play around with it – maybe it’ll inspire a trip. I hear the trip across the Rockies in Montana is simply unparalleled.
Writing this during a strong spell on Amtrak wifi. But overall, a clean, efficient way to get from city to city… especially considering I got on at Penn Station and am getting out right in the middle of Boston (at South Station). Very cool. And then staying for a night at the Hyatt Regency in Boston for 15K Hyatt Gold Passport points and getting 20% of those points back… but that’s another post.
Amtrak can be a great way to fill in small distances because it’s roughly the same amount of time – or just a little more – than flying. As with everything, take it case by case. You’ll get to see some scenery, enjoy constant cell phone connectivity, and have snacks at your disposal just a few cars down.
This is my first trip really relying on Amtrak for transportation and I gotta say… I might be a fan.
Has anyone else used Ultimate Rewards for Amtrak train rides? Any amazing values or sweet spots I should know about?
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