Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Travel Tip Tuesday: Ridin’ the Rails for Free!

washington wednesdays 005Mary and her husband, who live in south central Washington State, will be traveling round-trip to Chicago aboard Amtrak this fall – on free tickets – thanks to Amtrak’s Rewards Program and a Chase credit card offer she received.

That is a savings of $636.

The Amtrak card – which doesn’t have an annual fee -- works much like those cards that offer airline points.  Mary received 16,000 points from Amtrak for joining the rewards program and another 16,000 from Chase for signing up for the card. The Chase points were added to her Amtrak account as soon as she made a purchase using that card.  It took between a month and six weeks for the points to be posted.

Once they appeared in her account, she put in their travel dates and destination ‘hoping to get a few dollars off the cost of the tickets’. Instead, she found that the amount of points required for the trip was 32,000. Her points paid for the trip. She’s booked it!

“I already had booked a neat brownstone in the Lincoln Park area and will use the card to pay for it and hopefully accrue some more points by next May, when we plan to take Amtrak to Carmel,” she wrote.

Mary’s note came right before news of the latest round of price increases on airline tickets. If you’re tired of airports and want to give Amtrak a try, you might want to also check out the Amtrak credit card site. (Offers can change so you may not find the same deal that Mary got.)

If you missed last week’s money-saving Travel Tip,’ click here to read it.

If you’ve got a tip – place to stay, a good deal, a way to save travel dollars – send us an email to travelnwrite@msn.com Be sure to include details and we’ll use it in a future Travel Tip Tuesdays! 

And, if this is your first visit to TravelnWrite, welcome! Hope you’ll return soon or better yet, sign up to have TravelnWrite posts delivered to your inbox.


  1. I read this article because I saw the Tweet from @Amtrak and I follow Amtrak. But I'd like to clarify that this is promo for a Chase mastercard, not for the abysmal Amtrak Rewards Program. Without the bonus for opening a credit card, the Amtrak program is virtually worthless.

    I have been a faithful Amtrak customer and member of Amtrak Guest Rewards for 12 years. In that time, I have logged 86 trips on Amtrak, mostly commuting the 350 miles from Portland to Seattle and back, plus one trip for 4 from Portland to Chicago and back. After 12 years of accumulating points for these, I have a whopping 10,500 points. This is only 1/3 the points Mary needed for her trip. And won't even get me a round trip business class trip to Seattle (13,000).

    I have written to Amtrak and explained how useless this program is for regular commuters of short distance like myself. But they have never responded.

    Your readers deserve to know the difference between "guest rewards" and "bank promotions." Don't get me wrong – I love the train, but the program is a waste of effort, and the points you write about have nothing to do with the Amtrak Guest Rewards program. They are a kickback from Chase Bank for opening a high-interest credit card. They know they'll recoup that $636 from the customer soon enough in bank fees.

    To smarter travel–

    1. Isaac you are right. This was a post about how credit card points really do contribute to reducing and sometimes eliminating the cost of travel. In this case, I focused on train travel, but long-time readers of this blog know we sing the praises of our Alaska Airlines credit card - those points coupled with our actual travel points have gotten us to Europe and back again for only the cost of taxes and fees of the ticket - the tickets have been free. If you have a money saving tip you'd like to see highlighted, please send it to travelnwrite@msn.com Thanks for stopping by - hope you'll become a follower of TravelnWrite.

  2. I, too, have been a member of the Amtrak Guest Rewards program and, which accruing points takes a while, I have been able to get a few one way trips between NYC and Boston for free. I agree that it would take a while to get the amount of points needed for a roundtrip business class ticket. I guess Amtrak is more generous with their credit card members?

    1. I too am a member of the Amtrak Guest Rewards program but living on the West Coast, we don't have as many Amtrak options to earn a lot of miles with travel as they do on the East Coast so I am not counting on using them anytime soon. I think all credit card companies that promote travel rewards do offer a hook to entice one to sign up, the real test of the program is how the accrued points can be used after one has become a card holder and is earning points.

  3. People just don't get the concept about Guest Rewards. To accumulate points, get the credit card and charge everything you can on it. Groceries, utilities, auto fuel, etc. Then pay it off monthly to avoid the charges. I just redeemed 55,000 points for a roomette L.A. to N.Y. and Indianapolis back to L.A. If you just set back and wait for the points to show up it will take a long time.

    1. That's exactly how we use our rewards credit cards. Paying it off monthly eliminates the charges and using them for all purchases - not just travel - can really build up the points quickly. We are flying to Rome from Seattle and back this fall using our points -- a savings of several thousand dollars!

  4. EmpireBuilder3132July 27, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    I agree with rogers55. That is how I do it---charge everything, pay it off at the end of the month, and enjoy free travel. I ride Amtrak a lot for a west coaster, but those points accumulate slowly. Using the credit card I have enjoyed two free first class long haul trips in the last two years. It's a great program.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Sounds like you've had some good rail trips in recent years thanks to that credit card and its points. Hope you'll be a regular visitor to travelnwrite.com


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