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Rail Pass vs multiple coach fares


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#1 grounded flyboy

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 12:55 PM

I have planned a trip this May that involves 6 or 7 segments. When I price out the segment fares, a Rail Pass is the cheaper option.

Are there pit falls to the Rail Pass option? I t appears pretty straight forward... 15 days, 8 segments, $389 for the coach portion of the fare.

But I know things are not always what they seem. I am interested in your experiences, good and bad, with the Rail Pass.

#2 caravanman

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 01:12 PM

Hi,

As you probably know, Amtrak coach seat fares start off at a low fare price (called low bucket). As more seats are sold on a particular train, the prices rise to a higher fare (higher bucket).

The drawback with the railpass is that it will only cover you to travel on each train if the seat you are seeking to reserve is still available to the public at the lowest bucket price!
If the particular train that you want is pricing seats in a higher bucket when you try to reserve, you have the option of paying the "extra", the price between the low bucket, and the current higher bucket, in order to travel.

If you can look soon and see what bucket price the routes you require are, and if they are all still low bucket, you should reserve as soon as you can. You will have to decide whether the pass still represents a saving, once you see any extra costs payable.

Booking far in advance is the best option, and you are fairly sure to save some money whatever.

Ed :cool:

#3 the_traveler

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 01:12 PM

I'm not really familiar with the Rail Pass, but I think you can not purchase it or book your reservation until 180 days prior to departure. And the Rail Pass IIRC only covers the low bucket fare. Many times by 180 days out, the low bucket is sold out, and you must pay the difference. Also there are no refunds once your initial travel begins - with "regular" tickets, you can get a refund for the unused tickets.Posted Image

Other could correct me if I'm wrong.
Take it easy .......

Take the train instead and enjoy the ride!

The view is much better at 3 feet than it is at 30,000 feet!

#4 FriskyFL

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 02:59 PM

Given the fact that the railpass only covers the low bucket fare, which would imply the need to book well in advance, what is the advantage of the railpass, and who would be the target market?

#5 Ispolkom

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 03:06 PM

I've never come up with a good answer to that.

#6 johnny

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 03:19 PM

Given the fact that the railpass only covers the low bucket fare, which would imply the need to book well in advance, what is the advantage of the railpass, and who would be the target market?


2 years ago i booked a rail pass journey from

NYP -> DC -> Chicago (cardinal) -> Austin -> Seattle -> Portland, OR -> Denver -> Baltimore

I booked in late may for a journey in mid july with no extra costs.

I guess i got lucky?
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Amtrak routes traveled: California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, Cascades, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Empire Builder, Northeast Regionals, Texas Eagle

#7 caravanman

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 03:40 PM

Hi,

As an overseas fan of Amtrak, I had used the old style pass which gave 15 days unlimited travel in coach, to good effect, covering 12,500 Amtrak miles in 15 days!

My 12,000 mile trip pics!

I have never used the new pass, but if you want to travel say, Chicago to Emeryville, or Seattle, or Los Angeles, or New Orleans to L.A. then the current pass is good value.. Most of those rides are around $150 low bucket, but with a pass work out at $50 or so. Whether you want to go on so many long rides in 15 days is another matter, as with the pass you will loose a whole travel segment even on a short trip.

I am not sure of the routes taken by Johnny, but to travel from Austin to Seattle would take at least two segments, as would Portland to Denver. It is a matter of getting lucky.. if you can find those low bucket fares, you can save a lot, at least on the longer rides, with a pass.

Ed :cool:

Edited by caravanman, 13 January 2011 - 04:16 PM.


#8 TransitGeek

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 03:51 PM

I'm currently planning out a rail pass trip for this summer. According to Amtrak reservation agents that I've spoken to, the rail pass covers coach fare for all but the top two buckets, not just the lowest possible bucket. Essentially, if the train is under 75% full when you make your reservation, you can get a seat.

Of course, I've yet to try and make a reservation, so YMMV. This is just what Amtrak told me.

Also, traveler, you can purchase the pass up to 1 year in advance, but you can't use it to make reservations until you're within 180 days of your last day of travel.

Edited by TransitGeek, 13 January 2011 - 03:52 PM.

Traveled so far: Southwest Chief #4 LAX-VRV, Coast Starlight LAX-OKJ, Capitol Corridor RIC-SAC, Pacific Surfliner BUR-SNA, San Joaquins BFD-RIC over and over again
Non-Amtrak Rail: Metrolink, LA Metro, SD Trolley, SPRINTER, San Jose VTA, BART, SF Muni Metro, Sacramento RT, Vancouver SkyTrain, DC Metro, Baltimore LRT, NYC Subway, Las Vegas Monorail, Paris Metro, Barcelona Metro, TGV Paris-Biarritz

Epic Train Trip (this summer): LAX-PDX-(VAC-VBC-SEA)-CHI-(BUF-TWO-MTR)-NYP-BOS-POR-WAS-NOL-ONA w/segments in (parenthesis) by bus/ferry.


Posted Image


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#9 boxcar817

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 10:16 PM

My wife and I took a great trip last spring using a rail pass. We went from SAS-LAX, LAX-PDX, PDX-CHI 1 night in Chicago, CHI-FLG 2 nights in Flagstaff, FLG-LAX, LAX-SAC 1 night in Sacramento. SAC-CHI 1 night in Chicago, CHI-FTW(home). I bought the pass in late January, and made the reservations in early Feb. We incurred no extra charges, other than the roomette upgrades. It was a trip of a lifetime for us, and we are considering doing it again. By using the Rail Pass we cut our coch fare in a little more than half.

Trains ridden: Texas Eagle, Sunset Limited, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Sthwest. Chief, Cali. Zephyr, Capital Limited, Silver Meteor. Silver Star, Cardinal, Lakeshore Limited,some NEC regionals MORR,Pac Surfs, Cascades close to 100,000(+/-) Amtrak miles since we started riding Amtrak in December of 2009 


#10 caravanman

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 12:14 AM

Hi Boxcar817,

Glad you enjoyed your "trip of a lifetime".. I don't think you can do that exact trip again, as you suggest, 'cause you would then need two lifetimes!

When you travel in sleepers, the railfare portion is always charged low bucket, so if sleepers are available, the rail pass should always be accepted by Amtrak to cover the railfare, I guess.. (Any record for use of "," in one sentance?)

Ed :cool:

#11 grounded flyboy

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 05:26 PM

Thanks for all of the suggestions and knowledge about the Rail Pass. I was not aware that sleepers made the railfare portion go to low bucket. I rechecked my coach portions and it really changed my tickets... one segment that I was scheduling for $85 coach, became $84 in a roomette on a 2am to 10 am run!! Get to stretch out for a little while and have breakfast before we pull in to CHI.

I opted against the rail pass and purchased each segment individually ( a difference of 6 bucks) to avoid pressure of schedule changes. Who knows, on the EB route I am getting off for a day in Whitefish and may fall in love with the place and need to stay longer!

This trip is in May... wish it were tomorrow.



#12 the_traveler

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 08:18 PM

When you travel in sleepers, the railfare portion is always charged low bucket, so if sleepers are available, the rail pass should always be accepted by Amtrak to cover the railfare, I guess.. (Any record for use of "," in one sentance?)

Maybe, but if I had more time, I might do better, but then again, that would require me to actually pay, which I hardly ever, almost never, do, as I usually travel via an AGR award, with most points coming from other purchases, besides Amtrak travel!

Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
Take it easy .......

Take the train instead and enjoy the ride!

The view is much better at 3 feet than it is at 30,000 feet!

#13 Bobalski

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 02:26 AM

As you probably know, Amtrak coach seat fares start off at a low fare price (called low bucket). As more seats are sold on a particular train, the prices rise to a higher fare (higher bucket).


I am travelling LAX/BOS/NOL/CHI/RNO over 12 nights next month in between two ski weeks (I'm from Oz).

I purchased a Railpass for my wife and I and then upgraded to roomettes on all the overnight legs, 7 in total. When I booked and fixed it up via the website and email (it was extremely efficient I might add), it was a saving of around $390 over the coach prices of booking the legs separately.

However, by viewing AmSnag, I see that the prices of 2 of the legs on coach has actually dropped since I made the purchases on Dec 27th, the NOL/CHI leg has dropped from $110 to $88 and the CHI/RNO has dropped from $132 to $106. We are still way in front booking when we did, even moreso since the roomette price has jumped from $255 to $384 on the LSL, but it seems to fly in the face of the above statement which would suggest fares can only ever go up, not drop as the time gets closer...

#14 the_traveler

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 05:24 PM

I just had my 1st experience with a Rail Pass. I helped someone else make reservations! (You didn't think that I would actually PAY for a ride, did you?Posted Image) It was almost painless.

I compared the prices per segment vs the cost of the rail fare. He is taking a longer trip and meeting someone on the way back. Comparing the prices, I determined his was $100+ cheaper doing a 30 day pass, while hers was $45 cheaper to buy separate tickets than a 15 day pass.

I can't say that it is only low bucket used, but some fares did not seem to be low bucket. The agent did not say anything.Posted Image
Take it easy .......

Take the train instead and enjoy the ride!

The view is much better at 3 feet than it is at 30,000 feet!

#15 caravanman

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 05:43 PM

Hi,

The basic idea of the lowest fare "bucket" is that the more in advance you reserve, the less seats will have been sold, and so you achieve a low bucket (or railpass valid) seat.
Quite why prices drop back to low bucket after rising to a higher one is complicated. It could be that "expected" ridership has not happened on that train, so they want to "put bums on seats", or some people have cancelled, or even that an extra coach has been added to that train.
What I meant to illustrate in my original post was the concept of different "buckets", and the best way to get a low one. (yep.. you could place it on the floor.. that would keep it low...)

Cheers,

Eddie :cool:

Edited by caravanman, 18 January 2011 - 05:45 PM.


#16 the_traveler

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 05:48 PM

BTW: These reservations using the Rail Pass were for travel beginning on January 24, and were made on January 18!Posted Image
Take it easy .......

Take the train instead and enjoy the ride!

The view is much better at 3 feet than it is at 30,000 feet!

#17 amamba

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 06:33 PM


As you probably know, Amtrak coach seat fares start off at a low fare price (called low bucket). As more seats are sold on a particular train, the prices rise to a higher fare (higher bucket).


I am travelling LAX/BOS/NOL/CHI/RNO over 12 nights next month in between two ski weeks (I'm from Oz).

I purchased a Railpass for my wife and I and then upgraded to roomettes on all the overnight legs, 7 in total. When I booked and fixed it up via the website and email (it was extremely efficient I might add), it was a saving of around $390 over the coach prices of booking the legs separately.

However, by viewing AmSnag, I see that the prices of 2 of the legs on coach has actually dropped since I made the purchases on Dec 27th, the NOL/CHI leg has dropped from $110 to $88 and the CHI/RNO has dropped from $132 to $106. We are still way in front booking when we did, even moreso since the roomette price has jumped from $255 to $384 on the LSL, but it seems to fly in the face of the above statement which would suggest fares can only ever go up, not drop as the time gets closer...

Amtrak is running a special with some trains 20% off right now, in coach. I would assume that is why you are seeing the reduction. It is a special sale.

#18 the_traveler

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 09:19 PM

Yes, the 20% is the reason.

On my above reservation, the LAX-TUC segment was $30. However, when I attempted to get a AARP rate (15% off), the fare rose to $32.50!Posted Image The $30 fare was 20% off!Posted Image (BTW: It was bought, not used via the Pass!)
Take it easy .......

Take the train instead and enjoy the ride!

The view is much better at 3 feet than it is at 30,000 feet!

#19 TransitGeek

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 02:21 AM

A brief update on this topic- I made my rail pass reservations for this summer over the weekend. When I had the station agent do it (who, to his credit, said he was unfamiliar with rail pass reservations), nearly every train charged us an extra fee for coach (ranging from $2 on the LSL to a cool $200 for the EB). However, upon calling in to the call centre, the agent re-booked everything and snagged a rail pass-eligible seat on every segment I wanted. The difference in fare was $600 for my wife and I.

Just a suggestion- if you book a rail pass and you have a lot of extra charges, ask another agent. It might be worth it!
Traveled so far: Southwest Chief #4 LAX-VRV, Coast Starlight LAX-OKJ, Capitol Corridor RIC-SAC, Pacific Surfliner BUR-SNA, San Joaquins BFD-RIC over and over again
Non-Amtrak Rail: Metrolink, LA Metro, SD Trolley, SPRINTER, San Jose VTA, BART, SF Muni Metro, Sacramento RT, Vancouver SkyTrain, DC Metro, Baltimore LRT, NYC Subway, Las Vegas Monorail, Paris Metro, Barcelona Metro, TGV Paris-Biarritz

Epic Train Trip (this summer): LAX-PDX-(VAC-VBC-SEA)-CHI-(BUF-TWO-MTR)-NYP-BOS-POR-WAS-NOL-ONA w/segments in (parenthesis) by bus/ferry.


Posted Image


If it has wheels, and I don't have to drive it, count me in!

#20 Devil's Advocate

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 11:02 AM

When merely talking to a different agent can result in a $600 decrease (or increase) in unexplained fees I begin to wonder what possible purpose Amtrak's rail pass still serves and who remains as the target audience.

Game show fans who want to try their hand at Rail Pass Roulette?

Is there some sort of archaic rule that the rail pass must remain in some form or other?

If I didn't know better I'd say Amtrak was doing their very best to let us know they don't want us using this thing anymore.

I used to be with ‘it,’ but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it,’ and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary.





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