Amtrak is About to Gut Its Rewards Program Again, Go Revenue-Based

An Amtrak marketing presentation reveals that their loyalty program is going revenue-based and that there will be two credit cards launching in September.

It also talks about onboard experience and marketing. For instance, Amtrak is looking at offering wifi-based onboard entertainment. I can’t imagine how Amtrak’s current connectivity could support streaming anything.

Of course they’re looking at installing trackside broadband to provide more reliable high speed connectivity… and ‘if funding is available’ envision completing it in “4-6 years.”

Most importantly though will be the elimination of Amtrak ‘zones’ which make getting good value out of points possible. “Amtrak Guest Rewards 2.0” will “[e]liminate the travel award ‘zone chart’ by aligning redemption point requirements with fares.”

The program re-launch will be announced August 31 and it will go into effect January 1.

After 15 years, even the most well oiled machine could benefit from a little tune-up.
Introducing the next stop for Amtrak Guest Rewards, where earning points is simpler,
building them up is surer, and redeeming them is easier. In short, it’s everything you’ve
always loved only better engineered to fit your life.

The new Amtrak Guest Rewards credit cards will launch September 12 (from a new issuing bank).

Points With a Crew writes that the name on these sample cards is a giveaway that the issuer will be Bank of America.

Interestingly Amtrak reports that getting the card drives Amtrak travel (rather than those with higher than average Amtrak travel leads one to get the card.

Increased Amtrak travel- Annual lifts increase by 49% and rail revenue increases by
33% after a member acquires a credit card

All I’ll say is that at least Amtrak is giving us notice this time. Most recently they’ve given us one month when devaluing. That’s an improvement.

They make changes with no notice. Even multiple times in a matter of days. A practice they’ve engaged in for years, and been called out in the Wall Street Journal for. (Amtrak even eliminated their satisfaction guarantee because too many customers were dissatisfied.)

(HT: Flyertalk)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary,

    Any word yet if these credit cards will let people transfer to Choice hotels at a 1:3 ratio like the old Amtrak card did? Also, is Amtrak staying a UR partner still?


  2. Gary,
    This is not related to the post, however, when I clicked on the post a window popped up with a virus that locked up my browser. This has happened about 8 times in the last week and a half. I’ve sent an email to boardingarea with no response. One other reader posted the same thing happened to them. Can you please ask the hosts to look into this virus? It doesn’t occur on my mobile device, but it has happened on 3 different computers. It only happens when clicking on links from the boarding area main page.

  3. I used the Northeast redemptions all the time – it was great to be able to use 4,000 points to get from Boston to New York.

    I assume this eliminates the UR transfer option as well?

  4. I’m in a ‘wait and see’ approach with Amtrak – if a point is worth 1.5 cents or more (not 100% likely but still good) and valid on value fares (ooh, how about AAA?!), it is a good for me. Every Amtrak trip I’ve ever taken has been Philly to from NY/DC/Richmond/Lancaster, and have never paid more than $60 for a ticket, even before factoring in companion/travel discounts. That would be 4,000 points each way today on Amtrak, so my usual fares of $16 (Lancaster) to $60(Richmond) would now cost between 1067 and 4000 points at 1.5 cents/point and 800 to 3,000 points at 2 cents per point.

    People can talk all they want about the ‘amazing redemption opportunities’ and, while I absolutely love trains, I don’t want to be on an Amtrak coach for 12-24 hours just because I’m getting a great cost per point.

  5. I know Amtrak does not have the best track record for devaluations but I personally think saying “Amtrak is about to gut their rewards program” is a bit premature. The earnings structure is already revenue based so no real surprise that they are making this change on the redemptions end. I think we need to wait and see what the redemption levels will be per $ fare before we call this a “gut” IMHO.

  6. Dang it. I’ve been waiting to redeem my Chase points for a nice trip on the SW Chief. Now I feel forced to schedule something “soon”.

    I like the wording in the press info. “Well Oiled Machine”, “Next Stop” I get it because it’s related to trains 🙂 Marketing people are funny. I wonder how many meetings they needed to come up with that stuff. Maybe they need a visit from Don Draper.

  7. You may want to tell whoever runs Boardingarea that the blogs seem to have been hacked. Over the past week my Chrome browser on OS X has displayed all kinds of fictitious warnings that my Apple has a virus and then the browser becomes unresponsive. This happens while browsing Boardingarea.

  8. @Allen B – known issue, all ads have been taken off of my site so that does not happen, specialist company working on the problem

  9. This is a big blow for those of us in the Northeast, IMO. Last-minute fares between DC and NY (especially those at peak times) can often run around $150 each way. For 4,000 points, you’re getting almost 4 cents/point in value. For DC-Philly it can be $75-100 each way. Yeah, you can usually get a better fare by buying way in advance or traveling in the middle of the night. But having the option of using points, last minute, with no caps on availability, has been super convenient for me. (Even higher value can be had on DC-Boston routes, although flying often makes more sense there.)

    The other issue for me is the lack of decent alternatives. Driving to NYC is basically not an option because of the expense (tolls, parking) and hassle. Same with flying. Now I’ll probably wind up taking the bus on most trips between DC/Philly/NY, because I can’t justify spending 3-5x the money to save a couple hours and add a little legroom.

  10. My Gratitude to Kurt on this issue and bringing it up!!!Bingo same problem here
    I was going to hire an expensive IT consultant to come in and examine my computer for malicious infections and now I think I am in the clear as the issue is not limited to my own computer and seems related to Boarding

    Quote by Kurt
    Kurt says:
    August 13, 2015 at 7:07 am

    This is not related to the post, however, when I clicked on the post a window popped up with a virus that locked up my browser. This has happened about 8 times in the last week and a half. I’ve sent an email to boardingarea with no response. One other reader posted the same thing happened to them. Can you please ask the hosts to look into this virus? It doesn’t occur on my mobile device, but it has happened on 3 different computers. It only happens when clicking on links from the boarding area main page.”

    I too have had this happen easily 6 or 7 times clicking on Gary’s blog and Ben’s/Lucky’s blogs
    My take is it is broader Boarding issue
    Because it is not happening anywhere else thankfully I would say the issue borders on malicious
    It locked my browser and demanded I call an 800 number that claimed to be Microsoft
    Googled it and the numbers did not reflect anything Microsoft
    Thought My computer was being hijacked and called my IT guy and in a panic I was so scared
    I haven’t had a problem though in the last number of days and shutting down and rebooting seems to have solved the problem temporarily each time
    Agree its likely the hosts

    Any other feedback is appreciated but my mind for now is reasonably at rest
    As a big fan of Gary and Ben Ill continue to take my chances but please kindly look into the matter

  11. I have the same problem as Kurt. It is very random with thESE popups that freeze the browser. I use chrome.

  12. I’ve been using pts to go from PHL to BOS; 4000 pt OW, vs cash $120 approx, so I am getting close to 3 ct/pt. Hope this doesn’t change much in the future.

  13. @James and others — the NE corridor awards points were not that great considering the competition.

    As you alluded to James, the bus very often is much more cost-competitive vis a vis fares or point awards — even last minute awards.

    Second, if Amtrak prices itself out of the market on awards, there will be at least one last minute great points alternative to the NYC – BOS/DCA runs and that is AVIOS!!

    Raise those award redemption too high, then the value of AVIOS just increases for those runs.

    In addition, if you don’t like the additional time to clear security, etc. and the fact that the train leaves you downtown in those cities, well, I simply respond that so does the many bus lines that transit that corridor — and they are much less expensive than AMTRAK fares.

    Finally, the loss of PHL – NYC is not much as it is a very short ride, and the bus really is not that much longer…

    I’m looking forward to what lays in store with partner redemption, however!!

  14. *sigh* I guess it was too good to be true. The really great deal on Amtrak was the fixed-value award redemptions for sleeper cars. Trying to book sleeper cars for cash is nightmarish – the prices vary wildly day by day, even hour by hour. When I was booking a recent Portland->Minneapolis trip the prices for 2 identical roomettes ON THE SAME TRAIN ranged from $600-$1200 over a period of a few days!! The great thing about award redemptions is that they were always the same cost, even at the last minute, as long as a single car was available. If the award redemptions are changed to follow the same insane minute-by-minute pricing algorithm as the cash prices, that will probably be the end of my newfound interest in Amtrak travel.

  15. @Horace — those points may be true for someone who is actually willing to take the bus.

    I’ve taken the bus enough to know that I hate it. There’s almost always traffic on 95 (especially around rush hour), and a 2:45 ride on the train between Baltimore and NYC becomes a 4+ hour one with the bus. Furthermore, the NYC stop for the major bus lines is on 11th Avenue, which is basically the middle of nowhere.The money saved on the bus isn’t worth the hassle.

    Amtrak points were excellent especially for last-minute trips, considering the lack of capacity controls. There were times where you could buy points on sale for less than the published Amtrak fare, so it was really an excellent value. The bus certainly is an alternative but not really a comparable replacement.

  16. @Taylor, some of your observations may be accurate – a trip during rush hour is no fun — but even you concede it usually adds only 1 hour and 15 mins to the trip — and that is during rush hour, which no sane individual would schedule themselves to take, some commentators excepted, I guess.

    Second, as to your observation that the buses leave you on 11th Avenue — many leave you between 8th and 9th Avenue in Midtown — certainly no wasteland, and near to other public transit links — while others leave you at Port Authority and I do mean Greyhound which often is only a bit more expensive than BoltBus, MegaBus, TripperBus and the like.

    Actually, why don’t you inform the rest of the readership which buses among those mentioned above, and the others actually does leave you in the empty wastes of 11th Avenue — and mind you, take a gander at the construction in that area in Mid-town and the already gentrified chi chi area above 42nd Street.

    Consequently, I think your points are all overblown and even if they were true — and they are not — you are SOL with respect to your likes, anyway.

    My advice — Suck up and deal with it!

  17. What is the Amtrak change policy on points reservations? I have an NEC trip early next year where I know the date but not yet what time I will be travelling. Can I book a certain time and switch it easily? What about after the Jan 1 change?

  18. @Horace – dude what the hell are you talking about ? The bus sucks and is a last resort for pretty much everyone – especially on a blog called View From the WING. Talk about NOT knowing your audience – smh …

  19. @SE — I would think that if the originator of this blog, Gary, thought that only airline related matters were relevant to his target audience, he never would have even mentioned an items that solely relates to RAILROAD TRAVEL, dude.

    As to the bus sucking, no, not everyone thinks the bus sucks — I for one do not, nor do the many people who think that its cost and efficiency much outweigh Amtrak.

    Finally, having read a number of the post-mortems about the use of points on the NE corridor, I have learned that AMTRAK regularly blocked many scheduled departures in and around Rush Hour from redemption, in any event, so, that puts the nail in the coffin about the supposed availability for such redemption in order to avoid rush hour traffic on the roads — a factor mentioned by some supporters of train travel in lieu of the bus. Consequently, the thought of sitting comfortably on the train as opposed to sitting on a bus stuck in rush hour traffic is and always was illusory.

    True, last minute black-out free award availability during holidays or peak travel times is supposed to be offered by the new card issuer — likely BOA. We’ll see about that, but I am still hoping for a Choice transfer at decent rates to remain. I just could never find the time in my schedule to use those 1.500 point train travel steals, and there was no way in hell, you were going to find me on a sleeper on a train.

  20. Avios redemptions only work for a handful of us, and often fill up. Even the last-minute busses fill up (I’m looking at you VaMoose). They’re also subject to traffic and weather conditions. The NE Corridor has a train every hour, it has more capacity, more resilient to snow, and is more pleasant to ride, esp the quiet car. This redemption will be sorely missed.

  21. If rewards are a function of price, does that mean that an $86 saver ticket from NY to DC will be worth 860 AGR points, or 8,600 AGR points?

  22. @A — That is a very good question.

    However, since the new card has yet to be unveiled, and the rewards structure has yet to be disclosed, don’t you think your are jumping the gun asking a question such as this?


  23. @HORACE – The title of this article , “Amtrak is About to Gut Its Rewards Program Again, Go Revenue-Based” sets a negative tone for the new rewards program. Since the remainder of the comments admit concerns and disappointment over this change, don’t you think there’s a chance one of the posters might have more info to justify his/her disappointment? It was worth a shot. Thanks for your sarcasm though. SMH.

  24. A — ” don’t you think there’s a chance one of the posters might have more info to justify his/her disappointment?”

    No, I don’t.

    You are most welcome.

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