InsideLook: Amtrak Guest Rewards

InsideLook: Amtrak Guest Rewards

Each day an average of more than 86,000 passengers ride over 300 Amtrak trains, totaling over 31 million passengers annually.

Amtrak’s nationwide rail network serves over 500 destinations in 46 states, Washington, D.C. and three Canadian provinces. The railroad’s most popular routes are located in the Northeast Corridor (Boston-New York-Washington), which carries over 10 million passengers a year, and California. It’s the nation’s only high-speed intercity passenger rail provider, with more than half of its trains operating at top speeds of 100 mph or more.

Earning Ability
Amtrak Guest Rewards members earn two points per dollar spent on Amtrak travel with a 100-point minimum per trip. When traveling on the high-speed Acela Express along the Northeast Corridor (with destinations from Washington, D.C. to Boston), passengers can earn 500 points in business class and 750 points in first class when they travel between select city pairs, or two points per dollar spent, whichever is greater.

New members earn 500 bonus points when they enroll and travel on Amtrak within 90 days of joining Amtrak Guest Rewards. They also earn 500 points per person when referring friends to the loyalty program.

In addition to earning points for Amtrak travel, members can accumulate points for stays at partner hotels, car rentals, flights and cruises, retail shopping, co-branded credit card usage and for membership in and donations to the National Association of Railroad Passengers, among other services.

Award Choices
Amtrak divides the U.S. into four zones for award travel: Eastern, Central, Western and Northeast. Most awards are determined by the number of zones you travel through including One-Zone awards, Two-Zone awards and Three-Zone awards. However, in addition to zone awards, members can redeem points for Acela Express awards in the Northeast or for Special Route awards on select itineraries across the country.

The least expensive awards are one-way Special Route coach tickets that are 1,500 points. Business class tickets on these same routes are 2,000 points. There are 18 special routes including Pacific Surfliner, Heartland Flyer, Missouri River Runner, Capitol Corridor, Cascades and others.

Northeast Zone awards are 4,000 points in coach and 6,500 in business class. One-Zone awards are 5,500 points in coach and 6,500 points in business class. Two-Zone awards are 8,000 points in coach and 10,500 points in business class. Three-Zone awards are 10,500 points in coach and 12,500 points in business class.

Members can redeem additional points for a roomette or a bedroom. Roomette travel starts at 15,000 points for One-Zone awards up to 35,000 points for Three-Zone awards. A One-Zone bedroom award requires 25,000 points, a Two-Zone bedroom is 40,000 points and a Three-Zone bedroom is 60,000 points.

Select Plus and Select Executive elite-level members are the only members eligible to redeem points for “Rule Buster” awards. These allow travel during blackout dates (at higher redemption rates). For example, a standard One-Zone business class award is 6,500 points, while a Rule Buster One-Zone business class award is 11,500 points.

In addition to travel awards on Amtrak, points also can be redeemed for one-class upgrades or single-day lounge passes to ClubAcela. Other awards available include hotel stays, car rental, cruises, dining, retail and entertainment gift cards and carbon emission offsets.

Points can be redeemed for hotel stays, hotel gift cards or converted into points with select hotel partners. Redeem 10,000 points for a night at a Level 1 Starwood Hotel, up to 27,500 points for a Level 4 Starwood Hotel. Another option is to redeem 10,000 points for a $100 Hyatt gift card. Select, Select Plus or Select Executive tier members and Amtrak Guest Rewards credit cardholders have the additional options of redeeming 5,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points for 15,000 Choice Privileges points or 10,000 Hilton HHonors points.

Car rental redemptions are available starting at 6,000 points for a $50 Hertz gift certificate or 10,000 points for a $100 Hertz gift certificate.

Cruise certificates are available starting at 10,000 points for a $100 Celebrity Cruises Gift Certificate. Carnival Cruises awards begin at 75,000 points for a three-day cruise or 175,000 points for a seven- to eight-day cruise.

When redeeming points for gift cards, members can choose from 23 options, including restaurants, department stores, specialty merchandise, movie theaters and more. For example, AMC Theatres, Applebees, Lowe’s, Macy’s, Pottery Barn, GAP and Staples offer $50 gift cards for 6,000 points and $100 gift cards for 10,000 points. Members can also redeem 1,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points for 1,000 Audience Rewards Broadway Showpoints, which can be used for tickets to live performances, as well as collectibles and special packages.

Amtrak does not offer a cash and points option for award tickets.

Amtrak Guest Rewards partners with six hotel groups, including Choice Hotels (250 points per stay), Hilton Worldwide (10 HHonors points plus one Amtrak Guest Rewards point per $1 spent), Hyatt (500 points per stay), La Quinta Inns & Suites (250 points per stay), Starwood (up to three points per $1 spent) and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts (two points per $1 spent or 500 points per stay).

Members receive 50 points per day for car rentals with Budget, Hertz and Enterprise, and two points for every cruise dollar spent with TravelStore. Members who fly United and take Amtrak to connect to or from Newark Liberty International Airport and either Philadelphia, Wilmington, Stamford or New Haven are eligible to earn Amtrak Guest Rewards points on the entire trip, including the flight. Members will earn one point per mile (500 minimum) plus a 25 percent point bonus for United business class and 50 percent bonus for first class, in addition to the points earned for Amtrak travel.

Members can also earn points for online purchases through Teleflora,, Vinesse, Samsonite luggage and over 1,000 merchants participating in Amtrak’s online mall, Points for Shopping. Currently, Guest Rewards members also can earn 5,000 points with Energy Plus is some states and 100 points or more with Audience Rewards purchases.

Amtrak Guest Rewards offers a co-branded Chase MasterCard that requires no annual fee. Cardholders earn two points per $1 spent on Amtrak travel and one point per $1 spent elsewhere. The card comes with a 12,000-point welcome bonus after spending $500 in the first three months. Cardholders also receive a five percent rebate on Amtrak travel awards.

Elite-Level Program
Amtrak Guest Rewards has three elite membership levels: Select, Select Plus and Select Executive. Members who earn 5,000 Tier Qualifying Points in a calendar year are granted Select status. Only points earned on Amtrak travel and special tier-qualifying bonuses apply; partner offers and standard bonus offers are not included. Members with Select status receive a 25-percent point bonus on Amtrak travel, exclusive offers and partner promotions, a dedicated service number, priority service, exclusive redemption opportunities and “Fast Track” to HHonors Gold VIP status.

Select Plus status is granted to members who accumulate 10,000 Tier Qualifying Points in a calendar year. In addition to the benefits offered to Select members, Select Plus members receive a 50-percent point bonus on Amtrak travel, access to Rule Buster awards that can be redeemed for Amtrak travel during blackout dates, unlimited access to ClubAcela, Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge and first class lounge locations as well as United Club admission. Both Select and Select Plus members receive extra bonuses on purchases with program partners including cruises, car rentals and flower delivery.

In 2013, Amtrak Guest Rewards added Select Executive status for members who accumulate 20,000 Tier Qualifying Points in a calendar year. In addition to the benefits offered to Select Plus members, Select Executive members earn a 100-percent point bonus on Amtrak travel, one upgrade for every 3,000 Tier Qualifying Points, unlimited Buy and Share points and no annual transfer points limits.

Rules and Conditions
Membership is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada. Points expire 36 months after a member’s last paid Amtrak trip; however, for cardholders of the Amtrak Guest Rewards World MasterCard, points do not expire.

Awards can be transferred to anyone. Points can be purchased in increments of 500 points for $13.75, up to a total of 10,000 points per calendar year. Share points with another member in increments of 1,000 for $0.01 per point, up to 100,000 per year. Award travel is subject to blackout days and times. There are no fees to cancel an award ticket or to book last-minute travel.

Amtrak limits the number of points members can transfer into partner points. Amtrak Guest Rewards members who are also Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard cardholders can transfer up to 25,000 points and Select and Select Plus members can transfer up to 50,000 points, although Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard cardholders must spend a minimum of $200 per year on Amtrak travel to receive this benefit. Select Executive members are not subject to point limits.

Service Support
The service center is open seven days a week, and fields phone calls from 5am to midnight ET. When we called, it took less than five minutes to be connected with a service representative who answered our questions in a prompt and professional manner. You also can reach the service center via email or follow Amtrak on Facebook and Twitter.

Online Services
Gift cards, car rentals, hotel stays and other partner awards can be redeemed online and most Amtrak travel awards can be booked at Some travel awards, such as travel that includes sleeping or car (Auto Train) accommodations, must be booked over the phone. There is no fee to make, modify or cancel reservations via the call center.

Plus Features
Amtrak Guest Rewards does not charge cancellation or close-in award booking fees and if you book via the call center, there is no additional charge. The Amtrak MasterCard has no annual fee. Amtrak has blackout dates but there are no capacity controls on awards so any available seat can be booked as an award (except on the Acela Express, which has restrictions on weekday seats). Award tickets start at only 1,500 points for a one-way ticket on select routes. Lounge access includes access to the United Club for Select Plus members.

Minus Features
Amtrak has quite a few blackout dates, so if you are not an elite member, you cannot book award travel around major holidays. Unless you travel often on Amtrak or spend quite a bit on the co-branded credit card, it can be difficult to earn many points and when you do, there are no truly aspirational awards to redeem your points for. There is also no cash-plus-points option for redemption. Members complain about poor recognition of elite tier members. The program could benefit from adding additional elite tier benefits such as priority lines at the ticketing counter, priority boarding, priority diner car reservations and on board recognition or on board amenities for elite members.

Report Card from Readers
Rating: B+
Pros: Any available seat/accommodation is available as a reward, except for blackout dates/times; no close-in award ticketing fees; no fees to cancel an award ticket; extremely high cents/point redemption value, especially in the NE Corridor and on long-distance sleeper trains; Amtrak MasterCard is free.

Cons: Unless you have the AGR credit card, take Acela or buy Amtrak tickets on cheap commuter routes, it’s hard to accumulate points in the program; no significant travel partners for earning/redeeming.
Nerd [FlyerTalk]

Rating: A-
Pros: Great value for sleeper and regional train (special route) travel; friendly, U.S.-based customer service agents; instant ticketing; free Amtrak MasterCard.

Cons: More to do with the quality of American train service (late, slow routes, inconsistent conductor and LSA service) than with the program. Like all programs they continue to devalue.
Calwatch [FlyerTalk]

Rating: C+
Plus: Select Plus lounge access including United Club; ease of redemption on NE Corridor; last seat availability; no annual fee credit card.

Minus: Limited earning, redemption and transfer options; zero elite recognition onboard; have to call in to redeem elite upgrades; limited to four for Select Plus; worthless (for many) companion coupons; no free same-day change opportunities.
Vatraveler [FlyerTalk]

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