While Amtrak is often inexpensive, there are some extra things you can do to reduce the cost of your trip.
Asking Someone Knowledgeable
One of the best ways to find out what discounts may apply to you is to ask an experienced travel agent (or Amtrak themselves at 1-800-USA-RAIL).
Choosing Travel Dates
As you plan your trip, keep in mind that the cheapest times to travel are those times when few other people travel. Amtrak typically offers more discounts and promotions during those times in an effort to get more people on the trains (and have fewer empty seats).
You’ll often find that these cheapest times run from late January through March or April (when spring break season starts). Also, travel after Labor Day but before Thanksgiving can be a good time – children are back in school, so vacations are more rare.
Similarly, the most expensive times to travel are during the summer and over major holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas/New Year’s, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc.) That said, the cost is not usually prohibitive; you don’t pay a surcharge, but rather just don’t have as many discounts available.
If you’re traveling along the Amtrak North-East Corridor (NEC, the area between Boston and Washington, D.C.) where business travel and commuter travel are common, try taking the train on a weekend instead of a weekday.
Very young children can often travel free with a regular adult ticket. Other children typically travel at half price.
Students can obtain the Student Advantage card for 15% discounts.
People over 62 can take advantage of the senior discounts, which provides 15% off rail fare.
Members of the AAA also get a rail fare discount. However, if you’re not already a member, I urge you to join Rail Passengers Association instead; AAA’s lobbying activities don’t always reflect the best interests of rail passengers.
Vacations and Air Rail
Amtrak Vacations (amtrakvacations.com) is a service for booking a complete travel package, including rail fare, hotels, and other services at your destination. If you’ll be needing those services, it’s worth considering.
Air Rail is a program that takes you one direction by train and the other direction by air, and can be useful if you have limited time.
Some of these options turn out to be more expensive than if you made the arrangements yourself, so be sure to shop around.
Amtrak Guest Rewards (amtrakguestrewards.com) is a program where you can earn free travel (similar to frequent flyer programs). You can also earn points towards free travel by using the Amtrak credit card or by making purchases at participating retailers.
If you will be doing a lot of traveling in a short amount of time, consider a Rail Pass. These offer you unlimited (or large amounts of) travel within a certain timeframe.
Please be aware that pricing may change and restrictions may apply; contact Amtrak for more information.
Even when you have your pass, you may still need to reserve specific tickets in advance of travel. Make sure you read those instructions carefully, and call Amtrak if you have questions.
Veterans get savings on Amtrak, and there are other promotions that periodically change. Visit Amtrak’s hot deals page for more details.
Most “percent off” discounts apply only to rail fare. This isn’t a limitation unless you have a first-class (sleeper) or upgraded accommodation.
Sleepers are priced by adding a surcharge on top of the regular coach fare. That regular fare is known as the “rail fare” and the surcharge is known as the “accommodation charge”. Discounts typically apply only to the rail fare portion of your ticket, and not to the (often higher) accommodation charge.
Links to this note
Amtrak is the only cross-country passenger railroad in the United States. Outside a few regions, Amtrak is usually the only way to travel state-to-state by rail, and is the only regular option for cross-country travel by rail. Amtrak operates the trains, and mostly runs on tracks owned by freight railroads. Amtrak is a quasi-governmental corporation, created in 1971 when the passenger railroads at the time wanted to get out of the passenger business. For more information on the history of Amtrak, see the Wikipedia article on Amtrak.
Traveling by rail can be a fun, rewarding, exciting, and inexpensive experience. There are lots of Reasons to Travel by Rail. But it’s different in many ways from air or car travel. Read on to learn all about your trip.
Generally, I have found train travel to be competitive with iir, bus, or car travel. Of course, the specifics will vary depending on where you are going, when, and on what train. Check out the How to Travel by Amtrak page for information on getting fares online or by phone. Also, there are lots of discounts available.