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How far in advance to book?

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Howdy!

 

Am hoping to take a trip from Pittsburgh to Houston around April to visit some friends there. Am a bit flexible on dates. I've got a boatload of rewards points—more than enough for this trip, though I noticed recently how fast the points needed can shoot up if you time your booking poorly.

 

So, have you more-seasoned travelers found the best timing window for booking a trip similar to this using points? Please factor in the possibility of having to tweak the dates in case something untoward happens to the schedules of either me or my friends in Houston. I don't mind suffering a little "hit" for tweaking the dates (and don't mind a voucher for travel)…

 

Would you book something this early, just to get the trip logistics started, or am I way too early for this?

 

Thanks for your opinions!

 

Linda

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It used to be that the cheapest fares were found the full 11 months in advance. Now from what I've seen and heard, the sweet spot is about five months in advance. It might vary between cases, but I would say all things being equal, you probably won't find any benefits of booking much before the five month mark.

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Points are directly tied to the cash fare, so you'd want to find the dates with the lowest fares for what you want, since those will be the lowest point redemption, too.

 

Amtrak no longer routinely opens fares in the lowest buckets when they come into inventory 11 months out. They adjust the buckets in response to demand. Best fares seems to be about 3-5 months out.

 

Use Amsnag.net to find the lowest fares around your travel window. It will display up to 30 days of fares at a time.

 

You are not too early to start thinking about it. If Amsnag shows some days with low/lower bucket fares in your travel window now, you should probably grab them. If you tweak the dates later, you might get hit with a penalty (don't know what the redemption policy is now). More importantly, the fares may be low(ish) bucket one travel day, and high bucket the next day. So the hit might not be "little" especially if you change at a relatively late date if only higher buckets are available.

Edited by zephyr17

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Oh, I'll add this: Booking this trip before November 17 nets me double Amtrak Rewards points. :)

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Oh, I'll add this: Booking this trip before November 17 nets me double Amtrak Rewards points. :)

Actually "Double Days" refers to the date that you're traveling - not the date that you book. So no matter what you do, if you're traveling after November 17, you don't get double the points. :(

Edited by cpotisch

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Oh, I'll add this: Booking this trip before November 17 nets me double Amtrak Rewards points. :)

Two points regarding the double AGR points special offer: 1) travel must be completed by November 17th, not booked by that date, and 2) it wouldnt apply in your situation because AGR points are not earned on trips booked using AGR points. 😕

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That'll teach me to skim my emails! :D

 

Original question still applies. That 3-5 month window is coming up fast, so I'll be checking things out and trying to settle on dates by the end of this month.

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That'll teach me to skim my emails! :D

 

Original question still applies. That 3-5 month window is coming up fast, so I'll be checking things out and trying to settle on dates by the end of this month.

 

Poke around on Amsnag this week to figure out what a low-bucket fare for your route actually is. Then look at dates you'd like to travel. If any of those have a low-bucket fare currently, I'd suggest you grab it. If you need to modify later, the advice above applies--you'll probably need to pay more if you modify. But if you book at low bucket, you can stop shopping for a fare for that date--you'll already have bought as low as it goes.

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That'll teach me to skim my emails! :D

 

Original question still applies. That 3-5 month window is coming up fast, so I'll be checking things out and trying to settle on dates by the end of this month.

 

Poke around on Amsnag this week to figure out what a low-bucket fare for your route actually is. Then look at dates you'd like to travel. If any of those have a low-bucket fare currently, I'd suggest you grab it. If you need to modify later, the advice above applies--you'll probably need to pay more if you modify. But if you book at low bucket, you can stop shopping for a fare for that date--you'll already have bought as low as it goes.

 

^^This is great advice. I would add that Amtrak has no change fee, so if you book a low bucket on a date that turns out not to be ideal, you can change your ticket at no cost to any other day that has a low bucket fare. If the day you change it to is more expensive, you'll have to pay that price difference, but as I said, there's no change fee.

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I go west coast to Chicago each late Aug early Sept then CHI to DC and down to WPB, Fl. Flexible dates when I book so I can select best pricing.The important one is west coast to Chi. I usually book sometime in late March for all three segments. Six months out. Long trip is booked on points and the Chi to DC I usually pay and flip a coin for how to pay on final leg. I mainly book a bedroom first two legs. On DC to WPB usually a roomette.

 

After a couple months or so I keep an eye on pricing and if lower price is found I call and change. Usually just get a voucher for difference. Seems to always happen on one of the legs at least.Twice on the CHI-DC this year. Lower then even lower! I have never had a change fee using guest rewards folks or regular reservations. And the last three years Ive gotten the same bedroom letter i desire and dont care if i get a different roomette number.

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I remember fiddling with Amsnag for my first trip in spring 2017. I think there are links to how to do that here, so I'll go a-hunting. :)

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I find the old, original AmSnag... http://biketrain.net/amsnag/amSnag.php ...a bit easier to use because it's not quite as complicated as the latest version. If you make the correct selections on the home page...

 

post-9586-0-97428600-1538495535_thumb.jpg

 

...there are fewer places to get lost and the prices (buckets) for all 2 or 3 different sleeping accommodations are displayed without the accompanying low bucket coach fares added in. In other words, you can see what the additional charge is for each type of sleeper room. However, the Fare Watch option is currently unavailable on the original AmSnag version.

 

Others may disagree, but the old version is my preference. And my recommendation is to forget all about that 3 to 5 month booking window. Simply to insure you get the type of sleeping accommodation you want on the date you want, book as soon as you know the date - even if it's 11 months away. If the price goes down, call and get your reservation modified to the lower fare.

Edited by niemi24s

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And my recommendation is to forget all about that 3 to 5 month booking window. Simply to insure you get the type of sleeping accommodation you want on the date you want, book as soon as you know the date - even if it's 11 months away. If the price goes down, call and get your reservation modified to the lower fare.

 

This is what I recommend. Trains do sell out if you wait, and by booking early you get the best choice of rooms.

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Use Amsnag find the cheapest dates in your time frame. Cheapest dates should equal lowest points. Its really all over the place with no rhyme or reason. I got low bucket roomettes over prime Christmas dates 5 months in advance Chi-lax. I say no rhyme or reason because some dates early December were priced more then Christmas/New Years 10 day period. Amsnag if your dates are flexible.

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I'm booked!

 

But I'll keep an eye out for lower fares between now and April. If I find the rates drop during a random re-search of the same itinerary, I should just call Amtrak and ask for... what? For them to price-match or something? I assume it would have to be significantly lower so that I could absorb the points-deduction/fee for switching/modifying. Sorry... I don't do this often enough to fully "get" all the subtleties, though I have had excellent service when I've had to call Amtrak over stupid mistakes I myself have made with my own bookings. (And I hate dealing with customer service over the phone.)

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You want to call and ask to have your reservation "modified" to the lower fare. You do not want to have your reservation canceled and rebooked, because that would incur a penalty of 25% of the total fare. There is no fee for the change per se, but apparently there might be a penalty of 25% of the fare difference.

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I just checked your other threads to see if you had booked Roomettes. Keep your eyes on the Bedroom fares too, because maybe you will see a good deal on an upgrade.

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I'm booked!

 

But I'll keep an eye out for lower fares between now and April. If I find the rates drop during a random re-search of the same itinerary, I should just call Amtrak and ask for... what? For them to price-match or something? I assume it would have to be significantly lower so that I could absorb the points-deduction/fee for switching/modifying. Sorry... I don't do this often enough to fully "get" all the subtleties, though I have had excellent service when I've had to call Amtrak over stupid mistakes I myself have made with my own bookings. (And I hate dealing with customer service over the phone.)

If a lower fare pops up and you want to snatch it, call Amtrak and (as was said) ask them to *modify* your reservation to that lower fare. There should be no fee. :)

Edited by cpotisch

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I'm booked!

 

But I'll keep an eye out for lower fares between now and April. If I find the rates drop during a random re-search of the same itinerary, I should just call Amtrak and ask for... what? For them to price-match or something? I assume it would have to be significantly lower so that I could absorb the points-deduction/fee for switching/modifying. Sorry... I don't do this often enough to fully "get" all the subtleties, though I have had excellent service when I've had to call Amtrak over stupid mistakes I myself have made with my own bookings. (And I hate dealing with customer service over the phone.)

 

Curious as to your choice of itinerary, obviously there are several ways to plan your trip. Whatever you decided on, have a good trip😎🚂

Edited by Ronbo

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Be aware that when and if you get your fare modified to the lower fare, the new booking may be in a different room (of the same type) and also in a different car. Use the Fare Watch feature of Version 2.02 of AmSnag... http://biketrain.x10.mx/amsnag2.0/amSnag.php ...to help you look for a fare decrease.

I would add (as I always do) that AmSnag Fare Watch is extraordinarily unreliable. Sometimes it won't notify you about price changes. Other times it will send you 10 emails at once claiming that in the span of one second, the price has gone up through every single bucket, then sold out, and then available again at the previous price. It's just too damn glitchy to be at all worth using, IMO.

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Cpotisch is correct in what was said, above. However, I wouldn't let that keep me from using it. Although it can send spasmodic and nonsensical notifications, if it comes through with a correct notification of a fare drop once in a while it's worth establishing a Fare Watch. Who knows. . .

 

. . .that may be the day you would have forgotten to do a manual fare check. . .and maybe the fare would have gone back up some hours later . . . just before you finally remembered to do your daily manual fare check.

 

You can't always sometimes tell what you least expect to happen the most. :blink:

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There seems to be a rule of thumb that the best time to book a sleeper is 2 to 5 months or maybe 3 to 5 months in advance of the trip in order to garner the lowest sleeper fares. Did a check of two LD trains for the total number of days when low bucket Roomettes were available for each of the 11 months starting tomorrow and found (in chronological order): 9,38,32,16,18,24,28,30,34,39,42.

 

• As expected, the fewest days when low bucket Roomettes were available was during the 30 days hence.

• The next fewest were available during the January & February periods

• The most days when low bucket Roomettes were available was during the November, July and August periods

 

Of course this was only for 2 of the 32 possible LD trains with sleepers (both directions) so is but a small sample of the whole. But based on this small sample I'd venture a guess that the "best time" to look and book is 10 or 11 months out - or as soon as you know when you want to go. Methinks this much-touted rule of thumb has little merit. Others are cordially invited to use AmSnag to conduct their own checks and post their results - with data of course.

Edited by niemi24s

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There seems to be a rule of thumb that the best time to book a sleeper is 2 to 5 months or maybe 3 to 5 months in advance of the trip in order to garner the lowest sleeper fares. Did a check of two LD trains for the total number of low bucket Roomettes available for each of the 11 months starting tomorrow and found (in chronological order): 9,38,32,16,18,24,28,30,34,39,42.

 

• As expected, the fewest low bucket Roomettes were available during the 30 days hence.

• The next fewest were available during the January & February periods

• The most low bucket Roomettes were available during the November, July and August periods

 

Of course this was only for 2 of the 32 possible LD trains with sleepers (both directions) so is but a small sample of the whole. But based on this small sample I'd venture a guess that the "best time" to look and book is 10 or 11 months out - or as soon as you know when you want to go. Methinks this much-touted rule of thumb has little merit. Others are cordially invited to use AmSnag to conduct their own checks and post their results - with data of course.

 

Which two trains?

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