The best thing about the Amtrak Guest Rewards program is that the points redemptions have a fixed cost. That is, the cost of a trip paid with points does not vary in accordance with demand.
There are blackout dates on popular travel days when you cannot redeem your points for travel. But if you can work around those dates, you can find great value.
We recently returned from a spring break trip to Florida on the Amtrak Auto Train. This was a great adventure and a lot of fun, because we were able to use our points to reserve sleeper compartments.
Travel Free on the Amtrak Auto Train with Miles and Points
The auto train departs from the Lorton, Virginia station south of Washington, DC every day at 4 p.m. It arrives in Sanford, Florida, near Orlando, the next morning by 10 a.m. Your car travels with you. If you pay $50 extra for priority off-loading of your vehicle, you can be on your way within minutes of arrival.
I traveled to Florida in style with my daughter, her friend, and our Honda Civic Hybrid for 45,000 points. The car transport costs 15,000 points one way, and a “roomette” sleeping compartment, which sleeps two, costs 15,000 points. Since there were three of us traveling, we required two compartments.
I was able to instantly transfer 45,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Amtrak, to get the trip for free. The points were earned by opening a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card. The cash value of the points was $450.
Because we were traveling in “high season,” we received three times that value for our points. The cost of the one-way trip paid in cash would have been $1,435. The cost is less at other times of the year — but if you have kids in school — your vacation times are dictated by the school schedule.
I do believe I have discovered the best value in the world of miles and points for budget domestic travel. It’s not exotic or foreign, but it is a whole lot of fun.
What’s It Like Traveling in a Roomette on the Auto Train?
If you are traveling in a sleeping car, you have the services of a porter to make up your bed at night, and to assist you with you bags. You can eat in the dining car, or they will bring your meal to your room, complete with a white tablecloth.
The roomettes are very well designed. Each compartment has a closet to hang your coat, some storage shelves, curtains for full privacy, clean towels, an electrical outlet, and a night light. The porter makes up the lower bunk with fresh sheets, a futon like mattress pad, two pillows, and a blanket. The bed is quite comfy, and the lower bunk offers a view of the scenery whizzing by. I didn’t try the upper bunk, but it is fairly spacious, and certainly comfortable enough for kids.
There is a drink station in each car for free coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. The sleeping cars are double decker. If you are on the upper deck, you will likely have to go downstairs to use the bathroom, though some sleeping cars have a bathroom on the upper level. There is a small shower with an adjacent dressing room on the lower level, if you are so inclined.
There are several dining cars to accommodate guests, and a lounge car with limited WiFi passwords.
A full dinner is served in the dining car. The dinner service offered bread, salad, ice tea, a choice of five entrees, dessert and coffee. The food was quite decent. There is also a continental breakfast of orange juice, coffee, cold cereal, warm muffins, and bagels.
Both meals are included in your fare.
The auto train features Disney movies in the lounge car in the evenings.
The negatives: no WiFi in the sleeping cars; small bathrooms with tiny sinks, loud announcements in the morning calling you to breakfast.
It was great to arrive in Florida refreshed and ready to start our vacation!
Do you have any questions about the Auto Train? Ask away in the comments!