In a recent article I reviewed my recent trip on Amtrak. In this article I continue my train story with reviewing Amtrak’s Frequent Traveler program – Amtrak Guest Rewards. It is actually a pretty good program with good earning rates, good redemption options and several partners – including an airline.
Earning Miles on Amtrak is pretty straightforward. You earn 2 points for every $1 spent. No difference in earning based on class or service. The only exception are the Acela Express trains. They earn 500 points for each trip for certain high traffic city pairs (or 750 points in First Class). This seems to be Amtrak’s way of leveling off the playing field for daily commuters who may earn enormous amounts of points if they travel daily on these routes.
Amtrak has developed a very extensive list of partners.
- Choice Hotels
- Connect by Hertz
Air & Cruise:
- Continental (more on this below)
- Cruise Locators
- Chase MasterCard (more on this below)
- TD Ameritrade
I want to take a step aside here to talk about two partners in particular. Continental and the Chase Credit Card.
This is a unique partnership. Continental and Amtrak actually code-share. The code-sharing is limited to some flights and trains out of Newark airport (EWR). But this allows earning of Amtrak points on flights or Continental Miles on Amtrak trains. One does hope that this code sharing will survive the United merger.
The MasterCard is a fairly typical rewards Credit Card – no annual fee, 1 point for each dollar spent, 2 points for each dollar spent on Amtrak. What is unique about this card is that is allows access to certain features of the Guest Rewards program, that is only available to Elites. The most notable is the ability to transfer Amtrak points to hotel programs. This is a feature introduced a couple of years ago. Till then, anyone was allowed to transfer points out of the program. Several people (yours truly included) transferred Amtrak points to even United airlines. This was done by a circuitous route: Amtrak -> Choice Hotels -> United. Today only Elites and MasterCard holders can do it.
As I have said before:
Points/Miles are only worth what you can redeem them for.
Amtrak has good options.
Start for as low as 1,000 points for a short one-way trip. A typical one-zone (yes, all train rewards are by zone, or in some cases by special routes). is 5,500 points, one-way.
For all you tree-huggers…
Points can be transferred to Continental in increments of 5,000 points.
Hotel, Car, Cruise, Retail:
All available as point transfer to the appropriate program or as redemption for certificates.
Amtrak has two Elite levels – Select and Select Plus.
Qualification is 5,000 points earned on rail travel (BITS – Butt in a Train Seat). Partner earnings do not count. Select Elites earn 25% bonus points on train rides. They also get special offers from partners.
Qualification is 10,000 BITS points. They earn 50% bonus points on train travel. Unlimited access to Club Acela (Amtrak’s lounge) for you and a family members and one non-family guest. And, access to Continental Presidents Club!
Not a bad program at all. If you do have to travel by train, Amtrak does not make you feel bad about all the airline miles you are missing.