The train has once again become a viable travel option. With fluctuating airfare prices, steep baggage fees, delay-prone airlines, and other airport hassles, using Amtrak can seem like an attractive alternative to flying. Train travel is often cheaper than taking to the air, but perhaps not as much as people think. Luckily, there are plenty of strategies for finding the cheapest possible Amtrak tickets.
Amtrak's Regular Discounts
Amtrak has ongoing discounts for people who fall into a certain demographic categories or are members of certain groups.
- Children between the ages of two and fifteen are eligible for half-price tickets every day. Infants and toddlers under the age of two ride for free.
- Seniors over the age of 62 receive a 15% discount on the lowest available rail fares. The discounts cannot, unfortunately, be applied to premium class tickets or sleeper car tickets.
- Not all of Amtrak's discounts depend on age. AAA members get a 10% discount if they show their membership card when purchasing tickets. Frequent rail riders can get a membership to the National Association of Rail Passengers and earn a 10% discount every time they ride on an Amtrak train.
- Students in high school and college can apply for a Student Advantage card and earn 15% off all their Amtrak purchases. International students only need to show their International Student Identity Card to receive the same 15% discount.
- Veterans who have a Veteran's Advantage Card also qualify for the 15% discount. This is worthwhile even for vets who currently do not have the card. New members are given a membership number as soon as they are approved for the card. They can use the number to get the discount when buying their rail ticket online.
- Finally, large groups may qualify for the steepest discount of all. Unfortunately, a "large group" means 20 or more people, so this is not typically helpful for large families or small traveling groups.
Where to Find Amtrak Specials
Train travelers have a slight disadvantage compared to air travelers because rail deals are not as widely advertised as airfare sales. However, looking in the right place can lead to some good deals on Amtrak tickets.
- The first place to look for deals is on Amtrak's Weekly Specials page. The special prices are available from Tuesday through Friday each week. Most specials are categorized by region. Deals change weekly, so it pays to check back each Tuesday. Most discounts range from 15%-25%, though deals that offer 50% or more off do occasionally pop up.
- Amtrak also has a Latest Promotions page that lists all current deals offered by the company. Again, these are usually categorized by region, so they are not universally useful. However, the deals on the Latest Promotions page do not expire at the end of the week, so they are not quite as time sensitive as the Weekly Specials.
Rail Passes and Vacation Packages
Another way to ride the rails for less than full price is to purchase one of the many available rail passes or train-centered vacation packages. Rail passes allow users to make a certain amount of train trips within a specific period of time, while themed packages are useful for people who plan to take a vacation in a specific area and want to travel by train.
- Multi-ride tickets are a good deal for people who plant to travel frequently by train. The most flexible of these passes is the Monthly Rail Pass, which is good for an unlimited amount of rides within any calendar month. These passes do carry some restrictions however. They cannot be used, in general, on long haul train routes. Nonetheless, frequent rail riders traveling within one region or between two neighboring regions will find this pass a worthwhile money-saver.
- Ten-ride passes can carry 45-day, 60-day, or six month usage periods. As the name suggests, these passes are good for ten rides, though prices vary according region and the user's travel plans. The longer usage period means that these passes are more useful for casual rail riders who want to save money on travel over a two or six month period.
- People who want to make their train journey the center of their vacation might be interested in Amtrak's themed rail vacation packages. Though these packages might be more than the price of a direct ticket, they include some meals, guided tours or narrated train rides, and even hotel stays. Overall, these packages might actually be a money-saver because of the extras that are included along with the train ticket. Options range from ski tours of Montana and Colorado, including lift tickets, lodging and train service to the ski resorts, to an overnight West Coast trip that includes a stop at California's famous Hearst Castle.
It's Easy to Save on Amtrak Rail Fares
Between the regular promotions, multi-ride passes, discounts, and vacation packages, it is pretty easy to avoid paying full price for an Amtrak trip no matter what your train travel needs are.