When people think about traveling by train, they don’t typically think about traveling around the US. But the US does have a passenger railroad service known as Amtrak.
And Amtrak points are actually one of the most valuable travel currencies out there so you don’t want to mess around and lose out on a lot of your value.
In this article, I will tell you everything you need to know about Amtrak points and their value including different ways to earn the points and how to use them.
How much are Amtrak points worth?
Amtrak points will be worth 2.9 cents per point for most redemptions and 2.5 cents per point for the high speed rail, Acela. This makes Amtrak points some of the most valuable travel points you will come across as many airline miles are worth around 1.5 cents and hotel points are usually worth less than one cent per point.
How do you arrive at this valuation?
It’s simple — just do a couple of test bookings and you will see the rates that are required for awards.
I did a test route from New York (Penn Station) to Washington DC (Union Station) and I received around 2.9 cents per point in value. The coach ticket was going for $98 and I was required to use 3,381 points which came out to right at 2.9 cents per point. I also priced out the business class ticket which was going for $109 and required 3,761 points and it also came out to 2.9 cents per point.
How to earn Amtrak points
There are lots of different ways that you can rack up Amtrak points and I will cover them below.
There are two different credit cards that you can use to earn Amtrak Guest Rewards. There is the Amtrak Guest Rewards World MasterCard and also the Amtrak Guest Rewards Platinum MasterCard. (Amtrak used to be a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner but that is no longer the case.)
The Amtrak Guest Rewards World MasterCard has a $79 annual fee and earns 3X on Amtrak purchases, 2X on travel, and 1X on everything else. Given the high valuation of Amtrak points of 2.9 cents per point, this makes this card one of the most valuable travel credit cards out there. You’re getting close to 9% back on Amtrak travel and 6% back on other types of travel which is extremely competitive.
The bonus you get on this card will just depend on when you apply. You might get a bonus for something like 20,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months after account opening. As shown above, that could be enough points to cover a handful of one way coach trips in the northeast region.
The Amtrak Guest Rewards Platinum MasterCard earns 2X on Amtrak purchases and 1X everywhere else. It’s lower earning rate is justified by the fact that it doesn’t have an annual fee. If you want to find out your eligibility for either of these cards be sure to check out the new (free) credit card app WalletFlo.
Amtrak Hotels & Cars
You can actually earn Amtrak points whenever you book hotels and cars through Amtrak Hotels & Cars. This is basically an online travel agency. Each time you make a booking, you can earn thousands of Amtrak points which can actually add up to a substantial rebate.
For example, I looked at the Cambria Hotel Chicago Loop – Theatre District which went for $199/night. If I booked two nights for $400 total I would receive back 4,800 Amtrak points. At a valuation of 2.9 cents per point that would be $139 back. For a $400 booking that would be like getting a 35% rebate which is pretty incredible.
You can also earn points with your hotel stays. Here are the different earning rates for hotels:
- Choice Privileges: Earn 250 Amtrak Guest Rewards points per qualifying stay
- Rocketmiles: Earn 1,000 to 10,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points per night
- Wyndham: Earn up to 2 Amtrak Guest Rewards points for every $1 spent on all qualified stays and go fast awards
I am most drawn to the earning rate with Wyndham hotels since two points per dollar spent is like getting an additional 6% back on your stay.
Car rentals are another popular option for earning a lot of Amtrak points. Here are the different earning rates for car rentals:
- Budget: Earn 50 Amtrak Guest Rewards points for every qualifying rental day at participating Budget locations worldwide
- Enterprise Rent-A-Car: Earn 50 Amtrak Guest Rewards points per day on qualifying rentals
- Hertz: Earn 50 Amtrak Guest Rewards points per day on qualifying Hertz rentals
On top of the standard earning rates, you can also find limited time promotions where you can earn even more Amtrak points. For example, you might also be able to earn 5X per dollar spent on Budget car rentals. That would be like an additional 15% back which is awesome! So be on the lookout for limited time offers.
Air travel and cruises
If you book a cruise vacation with the Amtrak Cruise Concierge at TravelStore you’ll earn up to 4 Amtrak Guest Rewards points for every cruise dollar spent — an additional 12% back. Considering how much money you might spend on your cruises, this could mean substantial savings for many people.
Eligible cruise lines include the following:
- Royal Caribbean
You can also earn points whenever you fly United if you take Amtrak to connect to or from Newark Liberty International Airport and either Philadelphia, Wilmington, Stamford or New Haven.
In order to earn these points you will need to book your Amtrak segment when you book your flight with United at 1-800-UNITED-1 and provide your Amtrak Guest Rewards member number. The earning rate is 1 point per mile traveled (with a minimum of 500 points). You can also get a a 25% point bonus for travel in United Business class and 50% bonus for travel in United First class.
Retail partners are another way to earn points when you make simple purchases online.
Here are some of the retail partners and earning rates:
- 1800Flowers.com: Earn 10 Amtrak Guest Rewards points for every $1 spent
- Teleflora: Earn 750 Amtrak Guest Rewards points for every bouquet
- Audience Rewards: Earn 100 Amtrak Guest Rewards points or more for each ticket purchased to a participating Broadway show
- NRG Home: Earn 10,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points when you select NRG as your electric supplier.
- Vinesse: 2,000 points and six great wines for only $6.99 per bottle, plus three points per $1 spent on all future wine purchases.
- Samsonite: Earn 1,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points plus a 15% discount.
- Rail Passengers Association: Earn up to 25,000 points with a membership.
Another way to build up your Amtrak point balance is to utilize their shopping portal.
Basically, you will earn points for all of your purchases at major online retail stores.
For example, you could earn two points for every dollar that you spend at Target. You can purchase your same every day items and the prices will be the same — the only difference is that you will be earning additional points!
Another method to earn Amtrak points is to transfer your points from other programs, such as hotel programs.
- Audience rewards: 1,000 to 1,000
- Choice privileges: 32,000 Choice Privileges points to 5,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards
- Hertz Gold Plus Rewards: 600 Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Points into 500 Amtrak Guest Rewards points
- Hilton Honors: 10,000 Hilton Honors Points into 1,500 Amtrak Guest Rewards points.
- Wyndham Rewards:
- Transfer 6,000 Wyndham Rewards points into 1,200 Amtrak Guest Rewards points.
- Transfer 16,000 Wyndham Rewards points into 3,200 Amtrak Guest Rewards points.
- Transfer 30,000 Wyndham Rewards points into 6,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points.
A lot of times when you transfer points between different types of travel programs such as hotels to airlines you lose substantial value.
So let’s take a look and see what type of value you retain when you transfer hotel points to Amtrak.
At a valuation of .71 cents per point, 32,000 Choice Privileges points = $227 and at a valuation of 2.9 cents per point, 5,000 Amtrak points equals $145. So that is a 37% loss in value with that transfer.
But let’s take a look at another program and see if it is always that bad. Let’s look at Hilton.
At a valuation of .52 cents per point, 10,000 Hilton points comes out to $52. This would convert to 1,500 Amtrak points which would be worth $43.50. So that is only about a 16% loss in value — not bad, especially since some people value Hilton points even less than .52.
How to use Amtrak points
Amtrak train rides
Using your Amtrak points on Amtrak train rides is the optimal way to cash in on value.
As already mentioned several times in this article your point values will be close to three cents in many cases which is just fantastic.
By the way, if you want to learn more about the Amtrak cancellation policy you can find out details here.
You could redeem 5,000 points for a pack of five single-visit station lounge passes. Each pass provides access at any ClubAcela, Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge, or First class lounge.
Another route to go is redeeming 10,000 points for four One-Class Upgrade coupons. (Each coupon is valid for one space available upgrade from Coach to Business or Business class to First class.)
Hotels cars and cruises
If you would like, you can use your Amtrak points for other forms of travel like hotel stays and cruises. I was curious to see as to how much value you would get for a hotel booking with Amtrak points and so I tested it out.
I found one night at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina for a King Room going for 79,300 Amtrak points. At that 2.9 cents valuation, that comes out to $2,300 worth of Amtrak points. I then checked the going rate for this room and found that it went for $639.
So that would be around a 73% loss in value which is pretty horrible!
Therefore, I would exercise caution when using your points for hotel bookings.
Now, when it comes to cruises, let’s see if it’s any better.
You can redeem your Amtrak points for gift cards for Disney cruises and also for Celebrity cruises. The redemption rate is 12,000 points for a $100 gift card which comes out to a valuation of .83 cents per point. So you are still looking at a 72% loss in value with this!
So once again, I would stick to train rides for optimal value.
Dining and entertainment
If you have no use for travel, you might be tempted to use your points for gift cards that you can use for dining and entertainment.
It will take 6,000 points for a $50 gift card so you will be losing value at the same rate as the gift cards above.
If you redeem for a $100 gift card it will require 10,000 points so the redemption rate is one cent per point which is a little bit better but still nearly only 1/3 of its actual value.
So once again, these redemptions are definitely not optimal.
However, if you don’t have any need to travel then you can look into getting gift cards for the following types of restaurants:
- Outback Steakhouse
- Red Lobster
- Panera bread
And finally, you can also use your points for shopping to redeem $50 and $100 gift cards. For the most part, the redemption rates will be the same 6000 points for a $50 gift card and 10,000 points for a $100 gift card. There are a lot of popular retail establishments that you can redeem your points at for gift cards and you can find those here.
Amtrak points are pretty awesome because they are so valuable. At nearly 3 cents per point they are double or triple the value of many other types of travel programs.
However, if you choose to use your points to book travel like hotels or redeem for gift cards, you will be losing substantial amount of value so I would recommend not doing that unless you have absolutely no need to travel anytime soon.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.