Let me be honest, I have never been on an Amtrak train before. Living in SoCal my entire life, I have never had a need or desire to take Amtrak, but every time I go to travel conferences or do OC/SD meetups, someone always shares awesome Amtrak stories. Therefore, I decided to break my 24 year streak of no Amtrak rides and book one of Amtrak’s premier routes, the Coast Starlight (link), from Seattle down to Los Angeles. The journey takes 35-36 hours non-stop on a train. Before you think I am crazy, let me explain…
- George (Travel Blogger Buzz) wrote a nice
triptrain report (link) about the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles up to Seattle.
- Shawn (Miles to Memories) has a similar train report (link) starting in Santa Barbara / Oxnard up to Seattle.
The Coast Starlight leaves Seattle everyday at 9:30am and arrived in Los Angeles 9pm the following night. Here is the map and list of cities where the train stops (probably for just a few minutes):
One of the coolest things about Amtrak is their award chart. They have 3 major zones and a minor zone (Northeast Zone) inside the Eastern Zone. Learn more about Amtrak routes and rewards from Hack My Trip (beginner) and Travel is Free (advanced).
Travel entirely inside one zone has a set price, regardless of how far you travel. There are also various prices depending on the level of service (5,500 for coach class up to 25,000 for a private bedroom). Taking the Coast Starlight route as an example, you could use 5,500 Amtrak Points for a coach ticket for one person or you could use 25,000 Amtrak Points for a private bedroom for up to 4 people (2 adults and 2 children) with meals included.
There are the occasional blackout dates to be aware of as well.
These are the Rule Buster (higher priced awards) during blackout dates.
Amtrak Points are difficult to earn if you only do so by riding Amtrak. You get 2 Amtrak Points per dollar per ride, with a 100 point minimum. If you do not have an Amtrak account, please sign up with my referral link. Pleas note, if you travel within 90 days following your enrollment in Amtrak Guest Rewards, 500 bonus points will automatically be added to your account, so you may want to wait to sign up for an Amtrak account.
You can also earn Amtrak Points by transferring points from a variety of programs (SPG and Chase Ultimate Rewards being the most popular options) or buy converting miles/points from Points.com. I wrote a post in June called Transfer Chase Ultimate Reward Points to Non-Chase Partners which shows how to convert Amtrak Points into various other miles/points. Follow that post, but convert miles/points into Amtrak Points.
To see all possible routes, plug in your starting and ending Amtrak stations, select a date, the number of passengers, and click Find Trains.
You will be presented with several paid options with varying prices based on the level of service you desire. It is important to remember the One Zone chart when looking at availability. What I have heard many times is that you will want to spend the extra 10,000 Amtrak Points for the private bedroom over the roomette.
Here are the available classes of service, starting with the reserved coach seats (5,500 Amtrak Points per person):
Up next is the Superliner Roomette (15,000 Amtrak Points per room):
For large families, the Family Bedroom would be ideal (25,000 Amtrak Points per room):
And the best of the best is the Superliner Bedroom (25,000 Amtrak Points per room):
Notice the private bathroom, toilet, and shower? Ohh laa laa!
To round out the classes of service, there are also business class seats and unreserved coach seats on smaller, regional Amtrak trains.
The title of this post is Advice for an Amtrak Noob (referring to me), so please share some of your train expertise. Have you gone on the Coast Startlight or other premium Amtrak routes? What was it like? What should I do while on board for 35+ hours?
I will post Amtrak Coast Starlight Trip – Part 2: Transferring Points and Booking Trains later this week. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.