Jump to content
Jet Peddler

Amtrak Rail Pass - Planning the great adventure - advice and questions

Recommended Posts

I'm strongly considering buying either a 8-segment over 15 day, or a 12-segment over 30 day pass and taking the following route:

 

San Antonio to LA

LA to Chicago

Chicago to SF

SF to San Diego

San Diego to Seattle

Seattle to Chicago

Chicago to San Antonio.

 

If purchased ahead of time and with some careful planning I should be able to do all for $2,150-$2,350 (train expenses only).

 

I have several of questions I need help with.

 

1) What time of year would make for the best trip?

 

2) If I did this straight through but with only one night in a hotel per segment, would it drive me nuts? My main goal is to see the country and not the cities I'll be overnighting in as I've been to most all of them already.

 

3) I'm probably going to go it alone and will be getting a Roomette. Anything (other than the obvious) I should take with me to pass the time or better enjoy things?

 

4) Any other thing I should be mindful of before I go or in planning the trip?

 

Be sure if this trip happens you'll have to suffer through numerous YouTube videos! Thanks in advance all!

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You'd get the most daylight and the most time to see stuff around June. On the other hand, you might want to see fall colors in October. If Chicago is involved, definitely avoid winter as avoid weather delays and little daylight days.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know how you came up with your cost estimate, but it seems very low for Roomettes on all those trains, especially if you take your trip during expensive high seasons, such as June when there is the most daylight.

 

The main thing that would drive me nuts by not breaking up the trip is worrying about close connections, although your itinerary looks as if you would have to overnight anyway between most trains.

 

I am not sure what things you consider obvious to bring along. There is no Wifi on many trains. If you are in a sleeper room (but not in coach), you may consume private stock of alcohol.

 

Have you ever taken an overnight trip by train before?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know how you came up with your cost estimate, but it seems very low for Roomettes on all those trains, especially if you take your trip during expensive high seasons, such as June when there is the most daylight.

All at low bucket, I did a very rough estimate and it came out to about $2,600 total. However there might be some discounted connecting tickets in the mix though (which I didn't take into account), so the $2,150-2,350 could very well be right. That said, I think it would be near impossible to find low bucket roomettes on every single segment of a trip like that. :unsure:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My quick check of low bucket Roomette upgrades (only) for your trip using AmSnag came to $1,576 That along with a 15 day, $459 rail pass adds up to $2,035. For the SAS to LAX leg, the Roomette upcharge is $80 less on the Sunset Limited (Train 1) than on the Texas Eagle (Train 421).

 

Also, there are essentially no low bucket Roomettes available on the California Zephyr after February, 2019. Post #44 in this thread... http://discuss.amtraktrains.com/index.php?/topic/73793-how-far-in-advance-to-book/page-3 ...contains a chart showing the availability of low bucket Roomettes on all the trains between their end points.

 

Planning such a trip to get low bucket sleeper accommodation on every leg is quite challenging but it van usually be done if there's a lot of flexibility in your travel dates.

Edited by niemi24s

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I worked with Amtrak reservations on the phone for over an hour on the itinerary. With advance purchase and availability, the prices are what I stated.

 

When you buy the rail pass, you pay a discounted rate for the roomettes on each segment.

 

Anyhoo, the price isn't the issue here. Curious about answers to the questions I posed.

 

Thanks!

Edited by Jet Peddler

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here’s my best advice,

 

1) October

 

2) That’s a you question and how much you LOVE to ride trains. It is a very long trip, so an absolute love of riding trains would be required.

 

3) There are a number of YouTube videos out there with great recommendations. Sounds like you’re going to record a bunch, be careful to not let that distract you from beautiful scenery. I’ll be taking a long trip next September and I will be bringing my scanner (and my wife).

 

4) Read up and completely understand how to use the Rail Pass and know it’s limitations. For instance, if you need to change plans, it won’t get you onto a train that is greater than 80% booked, etc.

 

Good luck! Sounds like a wonderful trip!

 

Aaron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great trip plan for a "twentysomething post-college, pre-life"; otherwise, "too much". That you are using Sleepers and, if I read your originating post correctly, hotels for one night at each end point, certainly will "help". I took "marathons" like that, both here and overseas, when I was in that demographic. Now in my later seventies, any such are in my memory bank.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

..... I took "marathons" like that, both here and overseas, when I was in that demographic. Now in my later seventies, any such are in my memory bank.

Ahhhh.....Memories! Reminds me of a USARail Pass adventures 40 years ago:

 

http://discuss.amtraktrains.com/index.php?/topic/57357-a-usa-railpass-adventure-in-1976/

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

During Amtrak's first decade, I took at least two of the then-current 14-day Rail Pass trips each year. It was my vacation for about eight years. No regrets. BTW it was 14 days unlimited riding in coach for $150 back then. Upgrades could only happen 30 minutes before departure, or on board.

 

Of course there were more connecting options back then, and I was able to stay in hotels, get meal vouchers, etc. for missed connections. Not sure how today's policy works with a Railpass. That threw off the itinerary ahead, and it made for quite a challenging time trying to rearrange everything. There were no cell phones or websites or apps then. It all had to be done from a pay phone or in front of a ticket agent where existing.

 

Eventually I was able to cover every (then-existing) mile on Amtrak, and later, VIA Canada.

 

If I would do what you're planning now, I would want to pre-schedule an overnight hotel in any city where the advertised connection was less than six hours. Even then, you takes your chances. It seems as if you've built that in some places.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I too was fortunate to be able to use the Bargain Rail Passes back in the day when they included Unlimited Travel on Amtrak and VIA!😙

 

"..Those were the Days My Friend,I thought they'd Never End.."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was another one of those "marathon rider's" back in the '70's. IIRC, things were a lot more flexible then...I think you could just obtain tickets as you went, according to whim...the only limitation was that you could get 'stuck' somewhere, if the reserved trains were 'sold out', but then you go later, as long as the pass was still valid.

 

It was the next best thing to having an employee pass in some ways....employees only paid half price for rooms, but then again, they could not reserve more than 24 hours in advance, even for coach...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd just warn you that San Francisco isn't directly served by trains, so that would require a bus segment. As far as I recall, even a short bus segment (these often add only $1 to the cash fare) counts as a segment on a rail pass regardless of how much it costs.

 

There are alternate means to get to San Francisco from Emeryville. Either AC Transit (local bus service), or the free Emery-Go-Round bus to the Macarthur BART Station and then on to San Francisco.

 

You can't purchase the bus segment individually, but there are workarounds since these buses are the most convenient way to get there. You could do something like end in Martinez and then take San Joaquin or Capitol Corridor to Emeryville with a bus transfer to San Francisco. Or possibly buy a ticket (must use multi-city to force the schedule to the 5005 bus connecting with the Zephyr) from maybe Berkeley to San Francisco ($11.50), and throw away the Berkeley to Emeryville segment.

Edited by BCL

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just thinking about your schedule, and that's 11 segments. If you pack light there might be ways to use an 8-segment pass by taking alternate transportation (baggage might be limited) or just paying a cash fare on Amtrak. I mentioned the ways around it from Emeryville to San Francisco.

 

San Antonio to LA - 1 segment
LA to Chicago - 1 segment
Chicago to SF - 2 segments
SF to San Diego - 3 segments (bus/Coast Starlight/Pacific Surfliner)
San Diego to Seattle - 2 segments (Pacific Surfliner/Coast Starlight
Seattle to Chicago - 1 segment
Chicago to San Antonio. - 1 segment

 

For SF to San Diego it might be possible to take Caltrain down to San Jose and then the Coast Starlight to LA. Then a cash fare on the Surfliner. I'm not sure you could do this schedule in 15 days though, or if you'd want to.

 

12 segments and you can get it all in. I'd think your bigger concern is time. 30 days should be enough.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am surprised that an Amtrak Only, Thruway bus trip is charged as a separate segment.... :unsure:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

The USA Rail Pass is valid for travel on all Amtrak trains except:

  • Thruway bus connections (7000-7999 series)

 

Never mind, Emeryville to SF is #5005.

Edited by Maglev

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

 

The USA Rail Pass is valid for travel on all Amtrak trains except:

  • Thruway bus connections (7000-7999 series)

 

Never mind, Emeryville to SF is #5005.

 

 

It's certainly valid, but it kind of a waste of a travel segment. I remember a lot of discussions about how to avoid using a segment, whether it was a throwaway train segment to book the bus on a cash fare, taxi, or alternate means.

 

The bus segments were often a good way to rack up AGR points though. My cheapest was 400 points in under 2.5 hours on a weekend special. It could have been cheaper although I wasn't sure about whether or not I'd get my ticket scanned.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sounds like a glorious plan! I would take the trip in June to maximize daylight. And I would pack some good books, especially since numerous areas on those routes have no cell service.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would prefer the Fall (September/October). June can get quite expensive on the SEA to CHI segment, plus the trains are often less crowded then (fewer families traveling). In June the Empire Builder for example is totally full. Just my two cents worth.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would prefer the Fall (September/October). June can get quite expensive on the SEA to CHI segment, plus the trains are often less crowded then (fewer families traveling). In June the Empire Builder for example is totally full. Just my two cents worth.

 

Is that really an issue with the flat rate for the USA Rail Pass? I'd think the main concern would be availability since rail pass reservations are supposedly limited.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd just warn you that San Francisco isn't directly served by trains,

San Francisco certainly IS served by trains... take the CalTrain from San Jose! (And there's always BART...)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have taken a couple of 12, 000 mile rail pass coach trips when in my late 50's so riding in roomettes would be pretty luxurious!

 

I believe the rail pass is only valid to make reservations when the coach seats are at bottom bucket price, although one can pay extra to get aboard a higher bucket train. One pays the difference between the low bucket price, (covered by the pass) and the current bucket coach seat price.

 

As one always pays low bucket for the transport element of sleepers/roomettes the only thing that matters is finding them cheap, the rail pass will always be valid for the sleeper transportation element.

 

All bus and coach connections are a segment, so it makes sense to pay cash for any fare under about $50, if you wish to save segments for the more expensive rides.

 

Please be aware that not all Amtrak phone agents are always 100% correct. I would run your plans past a few of them to see if they all agree on your pricing and segment use. It should be easier now you have your route plan.

 

Jan to March tends to be low season, so most of my trips happened then.

 

At the end of the day, how much you will enjoy such a trip depends on your own preferences, I would love it, many folk I know would not. :D

 

Ed

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please be aware that not all Amtrak phone agents are always 100% correct. I would run your plans past a few of them to see if they all agree on your pricing and segment use. It should be easier now you have your route plan.

This! Honestly, it might be a bit generous to say that "not all Amtrak phone agents are always 100% correct". I've found that there's usually at least a 50% failure rate when trying to get actual, correct info from USA-RAIL. Phone agents are not exactly Amtrak's strongpoint. :wacko:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

 

 

 

 

I'd just warn you that San Francisco isn't directly served by trains,

 

San Francisco certainly IS served by trains... take the CalTrain from San Jose! (And there's always BART...)

But not Amtrak trains, which should be apparent in the context of the discussion of USA Rail Pass travel segments. I did mention Caltrain as a means to get from San Francisco to San Jose in order to avoid using a segment to connect to the Coast Starlight.

 

San Franciscos MUNI has 3 different rail systems itself. Dont know if the steam train at the zoo counts either.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In June the Empire Builder for example is totally full.

The Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago is not really full in June, it just has no low bucket roomettes available - but higher bucket ones are available every day June.

 

However, 11 low bucket Roomettes are currently available on the Empire Builder from Portland to Chicago.

 

But from what Jet Peddler said in Post #6 it sounds as if he's already booked his trip, so all these suggestions about routes is of no value if that's true.

Edited by niemi24s

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×