Despite living in the Northeast for 18 years, and taking the Acela Express between Washington DC and New York myriad times, I had never ridden up in the first class car. That’s largely because I didn’t think it was worth the upcharge, and my airline obsession means that I never earned Amtrak Guest Rewards elite status either.
However I had to head up from DC to Wilmington, Delaware to speak about co-brand credit cards and share some data about the effects of regulation abroad. I wasn’t picking up the cost of my own ticket, it was purchased for me, and first class was only ~ $65 more. So I finally had my chance.
It wasn’t my first time in the Amtrak club. United Club members have access and there are day passes floating around. But this time my ticket got me access.
The club is dated. There are packaged snacks, and not much else. Furniture is worn. Bathrooms are dirty. But the place is cleaner, quieter, and far more comfortable than the rest of the terminal. Access to the tracks is also via the club without going back out into the terminal. They announce boarding in the lounge before they start letting other customers onboard. That way you have your choice of seats.
The first class car was the last car on the train. Seats are basically the same as in Acela Express business class. They’re a bit wider, a bit more legroom, but they’re similar. The benefit I think is that there are solo seats (seating 1-2 rather than 2-2) so you can have more personal space if you’re traveling alone.
In my view if you travel alone you want a solo seat. If the first class car isn’t full then it’s better to take two solo seats facing each other, or next to each other, and camping out in both. But if you don’t know whether hte car is full I’d just take a solo seat.
In first class you get a cocktail, there’s a packaged snack mix, and meal service from a tray. Here’s the menus from onboard:
I ordered w Woodford on the rocks. That was brought out prior to meal orders being taken. I skipped the snack mix. And I ordered the beef. My train ride was about 75 minutes, and it was 55 minutes before they had my meal out. The pasta was dry. There wasn’t much beef and it wasn’t very high quality. Frankly Amtrak’s meal made the airlines look good. (Somehow they’ve managed to lose about a billion dollars on their meal service.)
The increment for first class wasn’t much. The benefit of first class wasn’t much. Early access to the train has some value for some people. Club access I suppose does too, and so does the included cocktail and food. But I don’t value those enough to pay for it out of my own pocket for sure.