Even though we just took a vacation, that doesn’t mean it’s too soon to begin planning the next trip. We have a couple of things already booked later in the year, including an all inclusive stay in Mexico, but when I heard that the Amtrak reward chart was about to be upended, I decided to book a train trip with points before it’s too late.
Why Take the Train?
For years, Jim has wanted to travel across the US on a train. I have not been as enthusiastic. While Amtrak travel is relatively cheap, and I thoroughly enjoyed our rail trip from Seattle to Portland a few years ago, spending 30+ hours on a train is a different story. I agreed but only if we could book a sleeper car. This was before we knew about points and miles, and I soon discovered that sleeper cars are not cheap. Our plans went on hold.
After getting really into credit card churning and learning about all the various ways to use travel loyalty programs for trips, I discovered a way to make the train dream happen. You see, the Amtrak reward chart currently divides the US into three zones. That means that if you take the train from Seattle to Chicago, crossing two zones, it only costs 8,000 Amtrak points in coach. For a family of three, that would mean 24,000 points. All you would need to buy is meals on the train.
Not bad, but the real value is using points to book a sleeper car. For 40,000 points, you can book that same trip in a family bedroom car that fits 4-5 people (assuming only two adults and the rest are kids). Sleeper accommodations include all meals, and you have access to a shower.
A Different Way to See the US
Train travel also gives you the ability to see the country like our great grandparents might have. No rush. No wifi. No TSA. Lots of family together time. For some it might not be ideal, but the more I thought about it, I really began to love the idea.
With that in mind, I picked some dates next July and decided our train trip would commence in Glacier National Park and end in Chicago. We’ll spend a week beforehand exploring the park and some time afterward in Chicago and maybe beyond. Once decided, I called Amtrak and booked a family bedroom, as promised, for 40,000 points. No taxes or fees at all. Since the bedroom car priced out at just over $1,700 for this trip, I think we got a killer deal.
How on Earth do you get Amtrak Points?
Well, you could take a lot of trains, but the easiest way to bank Amtrak points is by building a stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards that can be easily transferred to Amtrak. These points come with the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus business cards. You get 40,000 points for spending $4,000 with the Sapphire in three months or 50,000 points for spending $5.000 on the Ink Plus card. We were able to get an Ink card for our rentals and used it for remodel expenses on our latest property. More than enough points for our train trip!
Act Fast if You Want to see the Country by Rail
Now, the bummer is that Amtrak will be converting to a revenue based reward chart soon, most likely after the first of the year. That means the amount of points needed to book a $1,700 trip is going to be through the roof, probably somewhere around 170,000 based on some of the travel blog predictions I’ve read. There is no way I would spend that many Ultimate Reward Points to take a train.
The other big news is that Amtrak is changing its credit relationship from Chase to Bank of America. No one knows for sure, but speculation is that Chase will no longer be a transfer partner with Amtrak, possibly as early as next month.
If you want to take a train trip for a cheap amount of points, you’ll need to act fast. Please don’t get a credit card and run up debt or buy crap you don’t need, but there is still probably time to apply for a card and hit the bonus if you have a big expense coming up. I don’t have any affiliate links in this post but did want to share this information in case you’ve been thinking about train travel.
Have you ever taken an Amtrak? Would you like to spend 30 hours on a train?