The credit card in my wallet that gets the most use isn’t my American Express® Gold Card or The Platinum Card® from American Express, even though I just used points transferred from the Membership Rewards program to cover a round-trip Delta Air Lines flight to the Bahamas.
It’s not even my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, a favorite among beginners and what I use to transfer points to the World of Hyatt program.
Nope, my favorite card (and points currency) is from Amtrak. Yes, you read that right, Amtrak.
Before you completely write me off, let me explain how I’ve been able to save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on pricey train rides in the year-plus I’ve had the Amtrak Guest Rewards® World Mastercard®, which, unfortunately, isn’t open to new applicants. If you are fortunate enough to be a cardholder but aren’t using it to its fullest potential, let me convince you to dust it off and put it to work.
An Overview of the Amtrak Guest Rewards Card
I personally value points from the Amtrak Guest Rewards loyalty program over transferrable currencies such as Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Capital One Miles.
It’s simple — I take the train almost as much as I fly, as most of my family are located along the East Coast where I’m based.
Initially, the generous welcome bonus of 50,000 points sold me on the card. And that bonus has come in handy given how expensive Amtrak cash fares can be, even for short distances.
I was also impressed by the numerous perks that came with the card, including:
- A modest $79 annual fee
- 3 points for every $1 spent on Amtrak travel, including onboard purchases
- 2 points for every $1 spent on other qualifying travel
- 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases
- A 20% rebate in the form of a statement credit on your onboard food and beverage purchases, which I’ve taken advantage of on several trips between New York and Washington
- A Companion Coupon you receive upon opening your account and each year on your card anniversary
- A 1-class upgrade upon account opening and each year on your card anniversary
- A complimentary single-visit Amtrak station lounge pass upon account opening
- 1,000 Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) toward earning tier status each time your eligible spending reaches $5,000 in a calendar year (up to 4,000 TQPs per year)
- 5% point rebate when you book Amtrak reward travel
And as an Amtrak Guest Rewards Select member, I get a few more perks, including:
- 2 single-visit passes to Amtrak station lounges
- 2 1-class upgrade coupons
- 2 coupons for 10% off Amtrak travel
- 25% Select point bonus on Amtrak travel
- Priority call handling
- Select-exclusive discounts and bonus offers from Amtrak program partners
Plus, as an Amtrak Guest Rewards member, I’ll continue to earn 2 points per $1 spent on Amtrak travel, a 25% point bonus for business class travel, and 50% on Acela first class.
Trading Planes for Trains From NYC to D.C.
All of these perks are great, but how have I gotten outsized value while traveling? Well, I’ll tell you.
I live in New York City, which makes it easy to get just about anywhere around the country and globally.
But I don’t enjoy flying between my home in New York and Washington, D.C., where many friends and extended family members are located and a city I visit at least once every 2 months. The planes are often cramped, there are often delays, and I’ve found short-haul flights — typically a 45-minute flight — to be generally uncomfortable. It’s also challenging to get work done on these quick hops, with Wi-Fi only being available for a short period or, sometimes, not at all.
So I decided to forgo flying between the 2 cities in favor of traveling by train, which can be a more comfortable and scenic route. Traveling by Amtrak has been my saving grace for traveling during popular times, such as this past Memorial Day weekend, when I visited the D.C. area.
The only problem? Amtrak tickets can be incredibly expensive, especially when booking less than 14 days before travel.
Just days before my trip to Washington, D.C., one-way coach tickets on the Northeast Regional, which runs between Boston and Newport News, Virginia, cost as much as $160. Amtrak’s Acela, a business and first-class only train that runs between Boston and Washington, D.C. priced at over $200 in business and a whopping $450 in first class. And, according to data compiled by the booking app Hopper, flying wasn’t much cheaper, with domestic round-trip fares topping nearly $400.¹
But I wasn’t discouraged. After all, most of my daily spending — food, travel, rent — goes on my Amtrak Rewards card. And even after making several redemptions earlier this year, I had more than enough points in my bank to book a round-trip award.
Hot Tip: If you are slim on points and need to book with cash, consider our guide to the best ways to book cheap Amtrak train tickets.
Additional Ways To Earn Amtrak Guest Rewards Points
Amtrak Guest Rewards points aren’t the easiest to earn, but aside from credit cards, here’s how you can amass a healthy balance:
Use the Amtrak Hotels & Cars portal to:
- Earn up to 10,000 points per night on stays at more than 350,000 hotels
- Earn up to 500 points per day on car rentals on car rentals at 29,000 locations across the world
Amtrak also has several retail partners, including:
- 1800Flowers.com — Earn 10 points for every $1 spent
- Apple, The Home Depot, QVC, and eBags — Earn 1 point for every $1 spent at Apple and The Home Depot, 3 points for every dollar spent at QVC, and 7 points for every $1 spent at eBags
- Audience Rewards — Earn 100 points or more for each ticket purchased to a participating Broadway show
- NRG Home — Earn 10,000 points when you select NRG Home as your electric supplier
- SurveyPointClub — Earn 250 points when you sign up and complete your first survey and get additional points for every survey you complete afterward
- Teleflora — Earn 750 points for every bouquet you order
- Vinesse Wines — Earn 2,000 points (and 6 wines) for only $6.99 per bottle, plus 3 points per $1 spent on all future wine purchases
New members of the Rail Passengers Association can earn up to 10,000 points, depending on which tier you purchase. The cheapest, an individual membership that costs $60, will earn you 125 points. The priciest is a Silver Rail PLUS ($2,500) membership that will net you a whopping 10,000 bonus points.
Like many airline programs, Amtrak also has a shopping portal: AmtrakGuestRewards.com. If you want to earn a ton of points, you can do your daily online shopping through the portal and get bonus points at merchants such as Macy’s (5 points per dollar), Restaurant.com (up to 18 points per dollar), and Bed Bath & Beyond (2 points per dollar spent).
Finally, you can also buy, gift, share, and transfer Amtrak Guest Rewards points. The company occasionally runs promotions where you’ll earn a bonus when you purchase points.
How I Redeemed Amtrak Guest Rewards Points for My Most Recent Trip
With a nice balance of points in my account, I started by searching for award availability (make sure to adjust the toggle to Use Points), and ample trains were running between NYC and D.C. I was also covered in case I needed to cancel because Amtrak is waiving change fees for trips — including award trips — through July 31, 2022.
For the outbound route, I took the Silver Star train, a long-distance train that runs from New York all the way down to Miami. As it operates on a longer route, the recliner-style seats were a nice change from the stiffer seats on the Northeast Regional or Acela.
I opted for Amtrak Acela business class for the inbound portion of my trip as I wanted a quieter car. While I had barely functional Wi-Fi, after using my hotspot, I settled in comfortably with generous legroom to sit my bag and a nice-sized tray table.
The total cost? Just 12,840 points round-trip for a trip that could have cost an outrageous $600. While we here at Upgraded Points do not have a valuation for Amtrak Guest Rewards points, the revenue-based currency can range from about 0.8 to 3 cents per point – on this trip, I received approximately 4.6 cents per point in value.
And as an Amtrak Guest Rewards cardholder, I also earned a 5% rebate of 642 points as part of my benefits. Plus, I received 20% back in the form of a statement credit when I used my card to purchase coffee and pretzels.
Hot Tip: Learn more about each service in our ultimate guide to Amtrak’s regional and long-distance routes.
Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge Access
But the benefits weren’t just while I was on the train — they extended before I even boarded.
On the morning of my trip, I arrived at the Moynihan Train Hall, a brand-new terminal that serves Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad.
It’s a pretty terminal, especially if you suffered through Penn Station, but the food isn’t cheap.
Because I have the Amtrak Guest Rewards card in my wallet, this meant that I had a couple of single-visit station lounge passes available, which I used to guest myself into the Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge, a $50 value compared to the cost of a day pass.
It’s a gorgeous lounge with a bright and airy design. Guests can take advantage of high-speed Wi-Fi and nosh on snacks in the lounge or on the balcony overlooking the main hall. There’s even a full-service bar with beer, wine, or cocktails (it wasn’t open when I arrived ahead of my 11 a.m. train), so I grabbed a cup of coffee, juice, and a lemon pound cake loaf.
I’m looking forward to repeating my Memorial Day trip with a July 4 trip back to D.C., which I also paid for using Amtrak Guest Rewards points.
Saving money is the key here, and on my most recent trip, I was able to avoid paying nearly $600 for a round-trip train to D.C. and get some free snacks in the process. And it wouldn’t have been possible without my favorite card … the Amtrak Guest Rewards card.
There’s a reason I use my Amtrak Guest Rewards card over a dozen (or so) other cards in my wallet. As someone who takes the train almost as often as I fly, getting the Amtrak Guest Rewards card was a no-brainer. And because you can no longer transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to the Amtrak Guest Rewards program, earning points is just a bit harder.
While the card is no longer available for applicants, there’s something to be said about picking a card that works for you and your travel plans — which is what I did — versus picking a card solely because it’s popular.
While it may not work for everyone, using your Amtrak-specific card if you take the train regularly can make your journey on the train and in the station more comfortable — and cheaper.
The information regarding the Amtrak Guest Rewards® World Mastercard® and Amtrak Guest Rewards® Platinum Mastercard® was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.