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Guest mbraun

First Trip - Group of 18 riding Empire Builder

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Guest mbraun

Hi

We're looking at a group of about 18 taking a trip on the Empire Builder from Milwaukee, WI to Whitefish, MT next August. We're looking at the Saver option.

  • If we want to be able to stay somewhat together do we have to book as one or is the seating general and we can all book on our own (frankly, I don't have the cash to cover everyone)?
  • When I was perusing Amtrak's site for booking, I entered 6 guests and under the Saver it stated "1 reserved coach seat". What does that mean? That seating is as available but we'll have one seat reserved?
  • With regard to traveling on the Empire Builder, is upper or lower generally preferred?
  • How are dining and drinks handled and are they reasonably priced?
  • Can you bring your own food and drink on board? If yes, what about alcohol?

Thanks much for the education.

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22 minutes ago, Guest mbraun said:

When I was perusing Amtrak's site for booking, I entered 6 guests and under the Saver it stated "1 reserved coach seat". What does that mean? That seating is as available but we'll have one seat reserved?

I'm not sure what you were seeing but it should list 6 reserved coach seats if there are 6 passengers. Try the search again and see if that's what you get.

 

22 minutes ago, Guest mbraun said:

If we want to be able to stay somewhat together do we have to book as one or is the seating general and we can all book on our own (frankly, I don't have the cash to cover everyone)?

Normally I would say that since seating isn't assigned, it shouldn't make any difference, but with this big a group there's a good chance that booking it as as few reservations as possible will help your odds. If the conductor and coach attendants see that there's an 18 person group boarding (or three six person groups), they will almost certainly try to find seats together for you. But there isn't any guarantee either way.

 

22 minutes ago, Guest mbraun said:

With regard to traveling on the Empire Builder, is upper or lower generally preferred?

The upper-level offers better views, and since that's also where you go between cars, it's much more convenient if you're going to and from the Sightseer Lounge or dining car. But perhaps the most important factor here is that there are only six seats on the lower level, so at least 12 of you will be on the upper no matter what.

 

22 minutes ago, Guest mbraun said:

How are dining and drinks handled and are they reasonably priced?

Here's the dining car menu, and here's the cafe car menu. Sleeper passengers get breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the dining car for free, but coach has to pay. Normally I would recommend you look into a sleeper, but for this big a group, and since you currently intend on getting Saver coach seats, I doubt that's an even remotely realistic option.

 

22 minutes ago, Guest mbraun said:

Can you bring your own food and drink on board? If yes, what about alcohol?

You are allowed to bring and consume your own food and beverages onboard, but no booze. If you want a drink, you'll have to get it from either the dining car or the cafe car. Sleeper passengers are allowed to consume their own alcohol in their rooms, but again, that's probably not realistic here.

Hope this helps!

Edited by cpotisch

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I believe there is a way to link all reservations together.  There may be a group sales option that would insure all of you can sit in close proximity to each other.  I would phone the Amtrak 800 phone number and ask them (unless someone here knows more than I do and gives you better guidance).

I believe there is a limited number of saver fares available.  Each person in your group will need one reserved coach seat.  The train is a "reserved" train but the seat will not be identified until you board.  

I prefer upper level seating, but others may prefer lower.

If you are in coach, your food options are the dining car and cafe.  "Reasonably priced" is relative.  Some may think yes and some may think no.  Prices will be more than what you would pay at an inexpensive restaurant or convenience store.  You may bring food and non-alcoholic beverages for your own consumption.

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1 hour ago, pennyk said:

I believe there is a way to link all reservations together.  There may be a group sales option that would insure all of you can sit in close proximity to each other.  I would phone the Amtrak 800 phone number and ask them (unless someone here knows more than I do and gives you better guidance).

I would definitely follow this advice. I believe they may even offer you a group fare. I think they do that if the group is over 15 people, but I could be getting my wires crossed. I'm not sure how much you'll save, but it's always good to ask. :) Plus, like the others said, they can ensure you're grouped together on the conductor's manifest. That way, the car attendant/conductor can block a section for you, or at least divvy you up into 2-3 groups if there's no way to keep you all together.

The others covered the food options really well. I usually compare it to "stadium prices". You're going to pay about $6 for a beer and $7 for a personal pizza. Most coach passengers I know, including me, bring their own food on board. I recommend a soft-sided cooler that you can pack away in your luggage once you've consumed everything.

While you cannot bring your own alcohol on board (in coach), you can purchase beer, wine, and spirits in the cafe car.

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5 minutes ago, SarahZ said:

I would definitely follow this advice. I believe they may even offer you a group fare. I think they do that if the group is over 15 people, but I could be getting my wires crossed.

Unfortunately, that's for groups of 20 or more.

https://www.amtrak.com/group-travel-discount

 

 

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11 minutes ago, SarahZ said:

You're going to pay about $6 for a beer

Prices have gone up at bit.  You will pay more if you want something other than a Bud.  I have paid up to $8.50 for a craft beer, which is less than what I have paid in Grand Central Terminal and at Disney Springs.

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13 minutes ago, cpotisch said:

Unfortunately, that's for groups of 20 or more.

https://www.amtrak.com/group-travel-discount

 

 

That's what I found. I talked to two booking agents and asked if it were possible to be identified as a group and have people in the group reference something (a name or group number) that would tie us together as each booked their own travel but I got the impression they didn't understand what I was asking.

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9 hours ago, mbraun said:

That's what I found. I talked to two booking agents and asked if it were possible to be identified as a group and have people in the group reference something (a name or group number) that would tie us together as each booked their own travel but I got the impression they didn't understand what I was asking.

Just a heads up, if you don’t like the answer you got about linking the reservation, either call back or ask for a supervisor. There are ways to link reservations so the conductor will know you’re together. Otherwise, you could get the up front payment from your travel cohorts then buy the tickets under one reservation number. 

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8 minutes ago, F900ElCapitan said:

Just a heads up, if you don’t like the answer you got about linking the reservation, either call back or ask for a supervisor. There are ways to link reservations so the conductor will know you’re together. Otherwise, you could get the up front payment from your travel cohorts then buy the tickets under one reservation number. 

Thanks. That is pretty much what I asked the young lady I talked to and her response was that I could put a hold on the group and pay for it all within a few days. I think we'll have everybody set up their own travel and then when the dust settles, I'll get their reservation numbers and contact Amtrak to link them, as you suggest. Thanks again.

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Any thoughts or opinions on travel insurance? Amtraks or a third party? Also looking to see if one of our credit cards provides insurance. Thanks.

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6 minutes ago, mbraun said:

Any thoughts or opinions on travel insurance? Amtraks or a third party? Also looking to see if one of our credit cards provides insurance. Thanks.

The travel insurance you can buy through Amtrak extremely limited so I really wouldn't recommend it. But I think I'd need to know a bit more about your trip overall before speaking to whether or not you should get insurance of any kind.

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2 minutes ago, cpotisch said:

The travel insurance you can buy through Amtrak extremely limited so I really wouldn't recommend it. But I think I'd need to know a bit more about your trip overall before speaking to whether or not you should get insurance of any kind.

A family trip for folks 80th birthday. We're catching the train in Milwaukee, WI and taking it to Whitefish, MT. Staying there about a week. Then taking the train back to Milwaukee. No connecting flights to meet or any concern like that. Thanks.

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1 minute ago, mbraun said:

A family trip for folks 80th birthday. We're catching the train in Milwaukee, WI and taking it to Whitefish, MT. Staying there about a week. Then taking the train back to Milwaukee. No connecting flights to meet or any concern like that. Thanks.

Then I don't see any reason why you'd need travel insurance.

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Any thoughts or opinions on travel insurance? Amtraks or a third party? Also looking to see if one of our credit cards provides insurance. Thanks.


We had an excellent service from Transamerican in connection with a Rail/cruise trip which was interrupted by a train cancellation.

They immediately confirmed coverage, put us in contact with their travel people who took care of all the details necessary. They even got us an early church in at the hotel in Los Angeles but also called us at the hotel after our arrival to make sure that all went well. Amazing service.

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On 1/20/2019 at 12:38 PM, mbraun said:

Any thoughts or opinions on travel insurance? Amtraks or a third party? Also looking to see if one of our credit cards provides insurance. Thanks.

I never used to book travel insurance, but with two parents who have significant health issues, I've started to.  

I use a comparison website to get a good deal.  https://www.squaremouth.com/travel-insurance-quotes

It's really quite cheap, and well worth the piece of mind.

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On 1/20/2019 at 11:38 AM, mbraun said:

Any thoughts or opinions on travel insurance? Amtraks or a third party? Also looking to see if one of our credit cards provides insurance. Thanks.

What are you looking to have covered with travel insurance? If you buy the "Saver" fare type, those tickets would get a 75% Amtrak voucher, good for one year from cancellation, as long as the trip is cancelled before departure. You can also change what day you're riding at no charge. If you buy the "Value" fare type, a full refund can be issued if the cancellation is 8 days or more before departure. Closer in, the refund would drop to 75% as long as it's cancelled before departure. It's also worth checking what the cancellation policy is for the lodging you're staying at; many hotels have the option of a semi-flexible or a flexible rate that may be cheaper than paying for travel insurance. That also would allow you to cancel for any reason as long as it's before the cancellation deadline instead of only getting a refund for a covered event.

I'm generally of the mindset that travel insurance isn't really worth it unless it's covering something that you can't easily afford to pay for should that event happen. For me, that's typically only for medical care if I'm somewhere my health insurance doesn't cover, medevac coverage, or possibly a last-minute airline ticket if I miss a connection or need to get home right away. That equation is different for everyone, though, and so it's best to look and see what you're trying to get covered, and whether the cost of the insurance is worth the coverage you're getting from it.

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3 hours ago, jebr said:

I'm generally of the mindset that travel insurance isn't really worth it unless it's covering something that you can't easily afford to pay for should that event happen. For me, that's typically only for medical care if I'm somewhere my health insurance doesn't cover, medevac coverage, or possibly a last-minute airline ticket if I miss a connection or need to get home right away. 

That's a good point.  I only get travel insurance when I travel internationally, and it's primarily for the medical and med-evac coverage.  I have seen some absolute horror stories on how expensive an evacuation can be.

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