Good morning everyone. A few months ago, I wrote about my experience taking the Coast Starlight Amtrak from Seattle down to Los Angeles. I am very excited for my next (and probably last) “premium” long-distance train ride from Denver to Emeryville (near Oakland and San Francisco) on the California Zephyr Amtrak. I have a few friends in Denver/Boulder that wanted to experience a “premium” Amtrak experience before the January 24, 2016, Amtrak devaluation, so we planned to go on Presidents’ Day Weekend / Valentine’s Day / NBA All-Star Weekend (shout out to the BBVA NBA Credit Card).
Long before the Amtrak devaluation, Chase lost Amtrak as a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Reward Points on December 7, 2015. Since I was 99% sure I was going to use the Amtrak Points before the Amtrak devaluation, I transferred 25,000 Chase Ultimate Reward Points to Amtrak Points. With 25,000 Amtrak Points, you can get a Superliner Bedroom for 1 zone on any long-distance Amtrak route. Denver is right on the border of zone 1 and zone 2, so you can go in a Superliner Bedroom from Denver to anywhere in the Western Zone or anywhere in the Central Zone for 25,000 Amtrak Points. Since my friends are in Denver and I live in San Francisco (easy access to Emeryville), we looked at routes between those cities. After coordinating schedules and checking availability on the Amtrak website, we decided to go from Denver to Emeryville during Presidents’ Day Weekend (only Presidents’ Day on Monday was blacked out, but the weekend was fine).
The journey from Denver to Emeryville is scheduled to take around 33 hours (+/- a few hours if train delays stack up). When you tell most people that you will be on a train for 33+ hours, they look disgusted and ask why you would ever want to do that. I try to convince them that this “first class” train travel with flat beds, pretty good meals, and beautiful sights along the way. Long story short, Amtrak travel is not for everyone, which is fine with me.
I’m not a fan of comparing the retail cost of travel to the number of miles or points redeemed, but if you are, then 25,000 Amtrak Points would get you a $1287 Superliner Bedroom (5.1 cents per point). Trust me when I say this, but the majority of people who stay in the Superline Bedrooms do pay retail price. Remember, you can accommodate 2 adults and maybe 1-2 small children in a Superline Bedroom. I strongly recommend no more than 2 people in the Superliner Bedroom. All meals are included (minus alcoholic drinks), you just need to leave a small tip afterwards.
Since the California Zephyr is a 2 zone train from Chicago to Emeryville, here is the full route with all the stops along the way. Most stops are around 5 minutes long, but some stops can be 30-60 minutes. Longer stops are great for stretching your legs outside the train and walking around the train station. If you are feeling “adventurous,” you can check out the mediocre Amtrak lounges, free for Superliner Bedroom and Roomette customers. Remember to stay close to the train so they don’t leave you behind :)
Amtrak meals are surprisingly good, much better than airplane food. Meals are served at designated times and you must make a reservation for lunch and dinner. Since our train leaves at 8am and arrives the following day at 4pm, we should get breakfast and lunch both days, and dinner on the first night. The train attendant will come by your room and ask you which time you want to eat. I believe they ask the Superliner Bedroom customers first then they ask the Superliner Roomettes for reservation times. If you are traveling by yourself or with 1 companion, you will be seated at a table with 1-2 other people.
Last but not least, Amtrak is part of the Trails & Rails Program, in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS). The NPS will tell you about state and national parks and maybe some interesting wildlife facts. I’m not sure what to expect between Denver and Grand Junction, CO.
Now that the Amtrak devaluation has taken effect, Amtrak Points are worth a fixed 2.9 cents per point. If I divide $1,287 by 2.9 cents, this same trip would require 44,380 Amtrak Points, which represents a 78% increase in the previous 25,000 Amtrak Points price.
If you have traveled on the California Zephyr between Denver and Emeryville, I would love to hear your thoughts and tips regarding the journey. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. Have a great day everyone!