As some of you may remember, I attended the Chicago Seminars last month. One of the seminars that I sat in on was a talk by Bike Guy who told us about the trip he and his family did on points. Now, that’s not unusual at all, particularly with this group of travelers, but how he did his trip was – by using points to book his trip on AMTRAK. He was able to get AMTRAK points by transferring points from his Ultimate Rewards account (points you receive by using your Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink ) to his AMTRAK account.
This sounded interesting to me since we had done some train travel this summer while in Italy and we were anxious to try it here in our country. I had done a fair amount of long distance train travel when I was twelve years old and younger but not much since there. I was even more excited about a possible trip when we found out that there would be changes to the AMTRAK reward program as of January 24th When changes come to reward programs they are usually never for the best and this one is the same. Additionally, the last day to transfer points into my AMTRAK account is December 7th. Luckily Blogger Hubby and I work well together in planning a trip with each of us working on different aspects and then coming together with a plan.
To explain what is happening in case you also want to take a trip, let me explain what the reward program is now. Currently, the United States is divided into three zones and there is a redemption fee for traveling within the zones. Traveling in one zone is 20,000 points for a bedroom for 2 people. The points are for the accommodation and not per person. The change will be that no longer will AMTRAK have zone based redemptions but rather based on ticket price. What we were planning to to book would require almost double the points after January 24th. We knew we needed to act fast. Here is a link to the current redemption rates.
First of all, we needed to determine what kind of accommodation we wanted on the train. You could travel coach (not for me for this distance); roomette with two seats during the day (size is 3.6′ x 6.6′ ); bedroom with a couch and a chair in the day (size is 6.6′ x 7.6′); a bedroom suite which is two bedrooms opened and combined ; or a family bedroom (size 5.2 ‘ x 9.5’). We knew we wanted the bedroom as it was a little larger than the roomette and had the toilet and shower within the room. All tickets booked with sleeping accommodations include all your meals while you are on the train.
Now that we knew what our accommodation need was, it was time to plan our itinerary. As you look at the map, you’ll see some cities are on the border of two zones. You can use those cities to your advantage and they will be in whatever zone helps you the most. Some of the cities are Detroit, Toledo, Atlanta, Denver, Albuquerque, El Paso, Wolf Point, Port Huron and Cincinnati. Knowing that, we planned our trip to take advantage of those cities where it was practical for us.
After a few itineraries, we came up with the one that we liked. Blogger Hubby is going to fly to Chicago from our summer home in Michigan and I will fly there from our home in Virginia. We’ll get in the night before just to give us some peace of mind. I don’t want to worry about delays, etc that would prevent us from boarding our train. From Chicago’s Union station we will take the Empire Builder train through the northern part of our country through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana including through Glacier National Park, Idaho and Washington. We’ll travel along major portion of the Lewis and Clark Trail.
Not content to end this portion of our trip in Washington, we will continue on using AMTRAK bus to Vancouver, British Columbia. Using our Starwood points, we booked a Westin Hotel along the seawall and opposite of Stanley Park, the 1100 acre park that cruisers see when they are entering the harbor in Vancouver. Following two nights in Vancouver, we will get ourselves down to Seattle to spend a night there before boarding our next train. We could have used the AMTRAK bus again but that only gave us 35 minutes between the bus’ arrival and the departure of the train – too close for me.
AMTRAK has a partnership with the National Park Service and on select routes and select day they will have a ranger on board presenting different programs depending on the day of the week. I wanted to ensure that we would have a ranger on our train but the 2016 schedule had not come out yet. Even though we are going to travel mid May, that might be too early or we may be just in time.
Once we get back to Seattle we’ll board the Pacific Coast Starlight train to Los Angeles. AMTRAK states that it is “widely regarded as one of the most spectacular of all train routes, the Coast Starlight links the greatest cities on the West Coast”. We’ll go along the Pacific Coast during a stretch while in California. Again, this has the ranger program and we will find out later if we are in time for this program as well.
When we reach Los Angeles we’ll have a overnight before boarding the Southwest Chief train the next morning for Albuquerque. We chose Albuquerque since it is on the divide between two regions and it only costs us 20,000 points since it is in one region. I’ve also never been to Albuquerque so it seems like a great place to spend a few days. Perhaps Blogger Hubby will get me up in a hot air balloon – you never know.
All this, not including our hotels and meals while not on board the train, only cost us a total of 65,000 points. This is a great redemption of our points. If we had to pay for our fare, this is what we would have paid:
Is this something you are considering? Would a cross country train trip entice you? Obviously it does us and we are very excited about this very relaxing, unplugged time viewing the majesty of our country from the comfort of our room and observation car.