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Why is Amtrak coach more expensive than flying?


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#1 Guest_Guest_*

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 12:02 AM

With sites like kayak.com and sidestep, I can nearly always find flights that are cheaper than Amtrak coach fares . I realize people take train for many reasons, but my guess is most are ignorant of Internet tools to find cheap flights. I suppose if you had to buy a ticket last minute then Amtrak can be cheaper.

My suggestion is Amtrak needs to lower coach fares to 50% of airline fares. An example is Chicago to Washington DC which costs $156 roundtrip, which is very close to what is costs to fly that route. For me to justify spending 18 hours to get there, the fare should be half that cost.

#2 the_traveler

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 12:22 AM

In addition to lower fares, another major obstacle for most people is time. Given a choice to fly from NY to LA for $300 in a few hours or take Amtrak for $150 and get there in a few days, most people would chose to fly - even though it cost more! Also, many people only have a week's vacation. Taking Amtrak cross country both ways would use up most of their vacation time!
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#3 Guest_Guest_*

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 12:28 AM

In addition to lower fares, another major obstacle for most people is time. Given a choice to fly from NY to LA for $300 in a few hours or take Amtrak for $150 and get there in a few days, most people would chose to fly - even though it cost more! Also, many people only have a week's vacation. Taking Amtrak cross country both ways would use up most of their vacation time!


I agree, but for overnight trips like Chicago to DC, I wouldn't mind sacrificing a rough night to save $80. With the price it is now, it makes absolutely no economic sense to take the train. If they lower fares on these overnight trains, then I am sure far more would flock to using them because money is always the prime motivator of change :rolleyes: Then my hope would be Amtrak introduce some type of budget sleeper accommodation, i.e no meals included, no shower, just a flat bunk bed. Even this would have to be 25-50% cheaper than flying for people to seriously use it.

#4 amtrakwolverine

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 03:58 AM

In addition to lower fares, another major obstacle for most people is time. Given a choice to fly from NY to LA for $300 in a few hours or take Amtrak for $150 and get there in a few days, most people would chose to fly - even though it cost more! Also, many people only have a week's vacation. Taking Amtrak cross country both ways would use up most of their vacation time!


I agree, but for overnight trips like Chicago to DC, I wouldn't mind sacrificing a rough night to save $80. With the price it is now, it makes absolutely no economic sense to take the train. If they lower fares on these overnight trains, then I am sure far more would flock to using them because money is always the prime motivator of change :rolleyes: Then my hope would be Amtrak introduce some type of budget sleeper accommodation, i.e no meals included, no shower, just a flat bunk bed. Even this would have to be 25-50% cheaper than flying for people to seriously use it.


the train should be a vacation. its fun and relaxing. i refuse to fly. amtrak is cheaper and more fun. i may only have a week vacation but i spend it on a nice train ride.

#5 RTOlson

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 04:21 AM

That's funny because I'm sure I can find some Amtrak tickets that are cheaper than flying. For example, I can walk four blocks to the depot and hop a train to the Bay Area for less than flying. I can do the same thing for a trip to San Diego (although that depends on when you book).

For any mode of transportation, there are several advantages and disadvantages. Many depend on personal preferences. For the case of trains, I'm enjoying seeing things from a different perspective at a reasonably affordable price (at around coach plane prices or less).

Besides, no one has ever said that people have to commit to one mode of transportation over another. I'm sure many train riders use air travel as part of their travel plans (I know I will this summer). I believe it's true that the journey is part of the adventure.

Edited by RTOlson, 09 June 2008 - 04:21 AM.


#6 jackal

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 04:47 AM

I have tried to pressure Kayak, Sidestep (now owned by Kayak), and some of the online travel agencies like Travelocity, etc., to include Amtrak routings in their ticket search results. Travel agencies can sell Amtrak tickets, I believe, so Amtrak city pairs and fares are published to GDS systems. Therefore, it shouldn't be too difficult for some of these sites to add Amtrak to their results.

I believe that if Amtrak travel were more visible to the general public, people might be more likely to book it--especially if the fare is less! (Most of our population probably doesn't even know Amtrak exists!)

I've also written Amtrak and asked them to share their data with Google Transit--I imagine a day where I can search for directions from the Queen Mary in Long Beach to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in DC and receive a seamless set of directions across multiple transit systems from start to finish!

I think both of these options would help increase train travel immensely...
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#7 Walt

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 07:27 AM

The airlines that fly out from here to Orlando, advertise $80 one way. Well, what I have found out, is that there is about 4 seats at that price (in Amtrak speak, "bucket"). Most of the rest of the seats are $150 one way.

So, for my kid and I to fly, it would be around $600 coach round trip.

Amtrak charges me $700 for a round trip. That's for a roomette. Basically, first class.

With that, I really need to compare waiting in not one, but two very long lines at the airport. One for checkin and one for security. For Amtrak, no lines but instead a pleasant stay in the Acela Lounge and an elevator which takes me directly to my train. :D

So, yea, Amtrak is $100 more. Well worth it!

Edited by Walt, 09 June 2008 - 07:29 AM.


#8 frj1983

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 07:44 AM

With sites like kayak.com and sidestep, I can nearly always find flights that are cheaper than Amtrak coach fares . I realize people take train for many reasons, but my guess is most are ignorant of Internet tools to find cheap flights. I suppose if you had to buy a ticket last minute then Amtrak can be cheaper.

My suggestion is Amtrak needs to lower coach fares to 50% of airline fares. An example is Chicago to Washington DC which costs $156 roundtrip, which is very close to what is costs to fly that route. For me to justify spending 18 hours to get there, the fare should be half that cost.


Ah yes,

and at the ridiculously low prices that the airlines charge they are of course making tons of money right? NOT. They are as badly in debt as Amtrak is and had to be propped up by the Federal Government after 911 and continues to do so even now. Amtrak charges closer to what it costs to move their passengers and the airlines do not...which is why so many are in financial trouble (as well as not being prepared for the fuel price boom). When the airline problems shake themselves out over the next few years, you will see the end to "cheap" airfare.

Except for speed, there is nothing else good about the airline "experience!" :blink:

Edited by frj1983, 09 June 2008 - 07:52 AM.


#9 Larry H.

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 07:45 AM

In addition to lower fares, another major obstacle for most people is time. Given a choice to fly from NY to LA for $300 in a few hours or take Amtrak for $150 and get there in a few days, most people would chose to fly - even though it cost more! Also, many people only have a week's vacation. Taking Amtrak cross country both ways would use up most of their vacation time!


I agree, but for overnight trips like Chicago to DC, I wouldn't mind sacrificing a rough night to save $80. With the price it is now, it makes absolutely no economic sense to take the train. If they lower fares on these overnight trains, then I am sure far more would flock to using them because money is always the prime motivator of change :rolleyes: Then my hope would be Amtrak introduce some type of budget sleeper accommodation, i.e no meals included, no shower, just a flat bunk bed. Even this would have to be 25-50% cheaper than flying for people to seriously use it.



Not to much sympathy here for that cheaper idea I find. In fact many think that no matter what amtrak charges as long as someone will pay then they can again raise the price even higher! I am a realist however and it is true that the cost of sending passengers overnight is probably greater in labor and equipment and track cost than an airplane pays. But I have also felt there is some sense to the idea that if you were running full trains at maximum consist length, then a more reasonable price might actually be better in overall income to amtrak in the long run. But then there is the problem. income to amtrak.. Its supposed to be a government run passenger system, but it has always been one in which the politicians have felt it should pay its own way, no such thing when dolling out highway funds!

#10 AmtrakWPK

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 08:01 AM

The cost of the ticket can be a small part of the cost of the trip. More considerations: (1) Parking cost; If you go on a week's trip, and park your car at the Orlando airport, it will cost more than your airline ticket did to bail out your car when you return. (2) For me, the train station is actually a lot closer than the airport, the train station has free parking, and I park my car within about 75 feet from the tracks. That beats the roughly 2 mile distance between where you park and where you actually get on the airplane at the airport. (3) And you don't have to get to the train station more than 2 hours prior to the train leaving. And baggage pickup from the train is perhaps a 50 foot walk from the train, and 75 feet or less from there to my car.
So if I need to catch a plane, it means leaving the house 3 hours before the flight is scheduled. More than that if I want to use one of the cheaper satellite parking operations. On the other hand, I can leave the house 15-20 minutes before the train is expected to arrive at the station and have a few minutes of slack when I get to the station before the train arrives.
There is a LOT more to taking a trip than just the cost of the ticket.

#11 da40flyer

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 10:30 AM

With sites like kayak.com and sidestep, I can nearly always find flights that are cheaper than Amtrak coach fares . I realize people take train for many reasons, but my guess is most are ignorant of Internet tools to find cheap flights. I suppose if you had to buy a ticket last minute then Amtrak can be cheaper.

My suggestion is Amtrak needs to lower coach fares to 50% of airline fares. An example is Chicago to Washington DC which costs $156 roundtrip, which is very close to what is costs to fly that route. For me to justify spending 18 hours to get there, the fare should be half that cost.


When I planned my vacation to Oregon, I chose Amtrak because the price was 1/3 of the cost of flying. It was just over $300 round trip for 3 of us on the train, it was close to $1000 to fly. And to another posters point, I'm on vacation, and the train is part of the vacation. If you're going on business and have a time constraint, I can totally understand if the price is close to the same, take the plane. But if time isn't a factor, I think that changes the equation a little.

#12 had8ley

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 10:52 AM

The cost of the ticket can be a small part of the cost of the trip. More considerations: (1) Parking cost; If you go on a week's trip, and park your car at the Orlando airport, it will cost more than your airline ticket did to bail out your car when you return. (2) For me, the train station is actually a lot closer than the airport, the train station has free parking, and I park my car within about 75 feet from the tracks. That beats the roughly 2 mile distance between where you park and where you actually get on the airplane at the airport. (3) And you don't have to get to the train station more than 2 hours prior to the train leaving. And baggage pickup from the train is perhaps a 50 foot walk from the train, and 75 feet or less from there to my car.
So if I need to catch a plane, it means leaving the house 3 hours before the flight is scheduled. More than that if I want to use one of the cheaper satellite parking operations. On the other hand, I can leave the house 15-20 minutes before the train is expected to arrive at the station and have a few minutes of slack when I get to the station before the train arrives.
There is a LOT more to taking a trip than just the cost of the ticket.


I have to agree wholeheartedly with AmtrakWPK but only want to add just wait until you see the airplane fares by the end of the year. You won't be able to get a low bucket Amtrak ticket too often next year.

#13 AlanB

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 11:14 AM

But I have also felt there is some sense to the idea that if you were running full trains at maximum consist length, then a more reasonable price might actually be better in overall income to amtrak in the long run.


Actually for the past several years Amtrak has seemed to be more interested in maximizing revenue per seat, keeping trains shorter on the NEC just to keep the prices for the seats higher. Lately however it seems that they are starting to see the folly of that idea. Now, they are again putting longer trains back on the NEC and I hear even adding an extra car to a train that sells out (when one is available), since it doesn't cost that much more to add another car and so much more revenue can be had from that extra car.
Alan,

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#14 RRrich

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 11:16 AM

When I planned my vacation to Oregon, I chose Amtrak because the price was 1/3 of the cost of flying. It was just over $300 round trip for 3 of us on the train, it was close to $1000 to fly. And to another posters point, I'm on vacation, and the train is part of the vacation. If you're going on business and have a time constraint, I can totally understand if the price is close to the same, take the plane. But if time isn't a factor, I think that changes the equation a little.


With Amtrak if you buy early, you get good prices, but as the low price buckets fill, prices go up and the plane seems to be more competitive.

I also consider the train trip as part of the vacation - when I was younger, someone used the slogan Getting there is half the fun I don't think it was Amtrak, but now it should be ;)

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#15 da40flyer

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 11:41 AM

When I planned my vacation to Oregon, I chose Amtrak because the price was 1/3 of the cost of flying. It was just over $300 round trip for 3 of us on the train, it was close to $1000 to fly. And to another posters point, I'm on vacation, and the train is part of the vacation. If you're going on business and have a time constraint, I can totally understand if the price is close to the same, take the plane. But if time isn't a factor, I think that changes the equation a little.


With Amtrak if you buy early, you get good prices, but as the low price buckets fill, prices go up and the plane seems to be more competitive.

I also consider the train trip as part of the vacation - when I was younger, someone used the slogan Getting there is half the fun I don't think it was Amtrak, but now it should be ;)


Very true, but even at this late date (we leave in 2 weeks), the price is still 1/2 of flying. So in this case, even the higher buckets are cheaper.

#16 ourlouisiana

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 12:44 PM

Irregardless, some would rather take the train !!!

Last year for our son's wedding in New Jersey, Donna took the van up so that we could have a vehicle. I - AKA the train freak - opted from day one to take the train. Initially I was going alone by sleeper, as a mini-vacation. Wound up bringing the whole family and going coach - which I'm not sure we'll do again (either the entire family - or coach).

Earlier this year, Donna was going back up for Easter week. The train trip from NOL to PHL - by coach, was the same as the US Air flight from NOL to PHL Told her I'd rather go by train, but I wasn't going only her. She opted for the flight.

It's a personal thing. I'd rather take the train, even it it did take 2 days, and eat in the diner, and be rocked to sleep, than fly.

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#17 saxman

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 01:45 PM

Airlines may be cheaper in some markets. Some of you are only looking at major city pairs, Orlando to NYC, Chicago to DC, or LAX to Seattle. But it's a different story when you look at smaller cities that may be served by only a few regionals. Almost everytime Amtrak will be cheaper. I use to live in Grand Forks, ND which is only served by Northwest Airlines only with flight to MSP. A flight to there would be at least $200 or $300. Even more when you connected somewhere else. Amtrak OTOH was about $80 round trip. So consider the smaller city pairs too, something the airlines can't compete with. Havre to Seattle. Minot to Milwaukee, Lincoln to Cleveland. Flagstaff to LA.

Also keep in mind airfares aren't going to be cheap anymore. I believe gone are the days of $99 fares from Chicago to LAX. Thats even if you take Southwest. I read some city pairs have gone up 4 times since last year. The article said the going rate for Houston to Providence is $749 verse $350 a year ago. Thats on the extreme side though. I think we'll see more people combine train and plane trips. We just need to make our infrastructure more intermodal.

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#18 Guest_colobok_*

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 01:53 PM

In addition to lower fares, another major obstacle for most people is time. Given a choice to fly from NY to LA for $300 in a few hours or take Amtrak for $150 and get there in a few days, most people would chose to fly - even though it cost more! Also, many people only have a week's vacation. Taking Amtrak cross country both ways would use up most of their vacation time!


I agree, but for overnight trips like Chicago to DC, I wouldn't mind sacrificing a rough night to save $80. With the price it is now, it makes absolutely no economic sense to take the train. If they lower fares on these overnight trains, then I am sure far more would flock to using them because money is always the prime motivator of change :rolleyes: Then my hope would be Amtrak introduce some type of budget sleeper accommodation, i.e no meals included, no shower, just a flat bunk bed. Even this would have to be 25-50% cheaper than flying for people to seriously use it.


I agree. In Ukraine where I am from almost all trains are "sleepers". It's not luxury, it's just the way trains should be. The standard room is for 4 adults (4 beds). So even if you travel for 2 hours you get a bed. The size of the room is approx. size of Amtrak "bedroom". You may also buy "luxury" room for 2 adults with the same size. No toilet or shower in the room, only a public restroom in the car. No meal included, you may go to the dinner car and buy meals yourself. This way one car takes 52 passengers, passengers get more room than in Amtrak roomettes, they pay for travel only, not for meals, shower, etc. and tickets for overnight trip are as low as $10-20. This is the way it should be. Price of $950 for one night in bedroom on Florida trains that I see very often is nonsense. I took it once (for points, not for cash!) and it was not any special from any Ukrainian trains for $10-20.

#19 Green Maned Lion

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 02:49 PM

Personally, I think you are ignoring the costs of taking the plane too much. Plane travel is painful, undignified, annoying, unpleasant, and extremely dehumanizing. The most unpleasantness you get on Amtrak is boredom, and the occasional slightly surly employee. And that is if you don't like taking the train. I'm never bored on the train.

I don't get the pains in my ears. I don't get the very limited or non-existent food service. I don't get crammed into a seat barely bigger than one in a pre-school classroom. I don't get patted down by security guards, I don't go through massive metal detectors, I don't have people rummaging through my luggage. I don't get executed if I forgot to take my 1.5 inch swiss army knife off my keychain and my Swisscard out of my wallet. You know those knives are dangerous weapons. You can kill someone because they'll laugh too much when you brandish it at them.

I hate going by plane. If I, for some god forsaken reason, need to get to LAX tomorrow because someone is dying and I need to say good bye, I'll fly, sure. Otherwise, I'm taking the train or the boat. I enjoy riding trains. I enjoy going by ship. Its FUN. If I have no emergency, and I mean EMERGENCY, you couldn't PAY me enough to fly, let alone charge me any amount, even if Amtrak is more.

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#20 BillyJo

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 07:19 PM

I'm probably not qualified to comment, since I've never taken a LD train before.

However, the fly/train issue does come up from time to time if I need to go to Washington for work. In order to fly, I'd have to go from central NJ to get to Queens to take the plane. I'd have to arrive an hour early, leave myself about 1.5 hours to get to the airport, and then, I'd have to take a long cab ride from the Airport in to DC. It is far cheaper, and takes far less time overall, to simply get to Metropark and take the Acela to and from DC.

Obviously, if I have to go to Chicago for work, I'm taking the plane. I can't justify all the extra time that it would take for the train to get in. However, based on what I've seen, the train from NYP to CHI is far less than the cost of airline tickets.

I'll be going on my first LD trip in August, so perhaps I won't be such a train fan after that. However, I am really looking forward to it, and consider it to be a very unique way to spend part of our vacation. Oh, it's a great conversation piece, too!



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