Amtrak more expensive than flying?

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by EB, Jul 7, 2013.

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  1. Jul 8, 2013 #26

    gmushial

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    Btwn the main hubs: absolutely true - hard for Amtrak to compete... but once one gets away from them, it's either a break even, or Amtrak wins.
     
  2. Jul 8, 2013 #27

    gmushial

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    But maybe price isn't the point of competition?? Since the downturn we've curtailed the number of face-time trips, and have turned a lot to GoToMeeting, vid conferencing and just Skype. But what we've found is that using the flying cattle cars is stressful and not nearly as cost effective as we once thought - basically rush to the airport to be there n hours early, rush to a gate, fly stressed, rush to a hotel, rush to a meeting etc... where flying Amtrak, there is an enforced downtime of n hours before arriving, and arriving a lot more ready to present, listen or convince. So, although Amtrak might appear to be in competition with the flying cattle cars, maybe it is in a niche of its own. Just one that until now has been underappreciated?
     
  3. Jul 8, 2013 #28

    Ispolkom

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    The person who approves your travel expenses must be into some sort of New Age stuff. If price wasn't the point of competition, you'd still get a meal in domestic coach. Maybe there are some employers who care about the things you describe, but I haven't seen them recently..

    Thirty years ago, when I was but a callow youth from the plains of Dakota, I first went to New York City. In Union Square there were dozens of 3 card monte players. It seemed odd to me that the police didn't break up illegal activity like that (I was young and callow). Anyway, one of the operators tried to get me to bet in the usual way, by doing some obvious passes. I wasted his time by pointing out the right card when I was supposed to, but not being willing to bet. Finally, he explained things to me in a way that still resonates: "Boy, money talks, and bulI**** walks." Words to live by, I say.
     
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  4. Jul 8, 2013 #29

    gmushial

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    More just a case of questioning why we did what we did for years: saved lots of money not using cattle cars needlessly, and for those trips which were necessary, made them as productive as possible... a win win.
     
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  5. Jul 8, 2013 #30

    TVRM610

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    The OP didn't say "more first class" he said "More sleeper cabins." That's not necessarily the same thing. I think he was arguing for more sleeper space, regardless of amenities. Indeed I agree... Amtrak needs to get out of the mindset that a LD train has to have a full service dining car. Some trains should have them.. others should not.

    It's also perfectly logical for Amtrak to charge for checked baggage. I'm not fighting for it.. but it would be a good business move. Checked baggage has got to be losing Amtrak quite a bit of money when you factor in maintenance for the car and all of the employees that handle baggage at each station that offers it.
     
  6. Jul 8, 2013 #31

    SarahZ

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    I would be quite happy if the sleeper prices went down, but at the same time, I don't agree that it's necessarily more expensive than flying. When my boyfriend and I were visiting each other, Chicago to Albuquerque, we always used Amtrak (coach) because it was half the price of a plane ticket.

    If we're comparing sleepers, then I'd compare that to first class on an airline (free meals, lay-flat seats in some cabins), and it still comes out cheaper on the routes I frequent.

    Where the airlines tend to beat out Amtrak is time. We flew to SF on our last trip because we didn't want to use an extra 4-5 days of vacation just for traveling. So even though flying is sometimes more expensive, it's worth it to us in the time we save. But, if we're comparing dollars to donuts, Amtrak almost always beats out the airlines on the routes we frequent.

    Once we move to the Bay area, I'm sure we'll take advantage of some of those super-discounted $50 flights to LA and Vegas on Virgin, but again, I'm using our current situation for comparison.
     
  7. Jul 8, 2013 #32

    gmushial

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    What's the expression: it's not the destination, it's the journey ?? Yes, by flying Amtrak, one does eat up 4-5 days... but if the goal is to have time together, and having a sleeper... maybe it's just me, but I'd be happy spending the time with a lady friend that way. Not that I wouldn't enjoy the company at the destination likewise.

    I guess what I'm not hearing in this discussion is: flying cattlecars are all about getting from a to b, and surviving the process. Flying Amtrak is as much about getting a to b, as it is the process/journey... that's where I see Amtrak winning hands down. [and this is all about the LD routes, not the NEC]

    And as said well above: if one is going SFO -> NYC or LAX -> CHI or one of the major cattle car routes, then sure, there are more choices of times and Amtrak can't come near in terms of price... but once one gets away from those major trunk routes, and again, presuming one can enjoy the journey and it isn't about a to b, then Amtrak starts to equal the cattlecar prices, and as one gets further away from the major routes, significantly betters them.
     
  8. Jul 8, 2013 #33

    SarahZ

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    I agree that it's about the journey and 4-5 extra days isn't bad when traveling by train, but it boils down to an issue of allotted vacation time at work.

    When I only got two weeks per year (like a lot of people), using all ten days for a trip was out of the question. Now I get 15 days instead of 10, but we still couldn't take the CZ to SF, as much as I really really really wanted to, because using that extra time would have meant missing our Christmas trip to visit family in ABQ.
     
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  9. Jul 8, 2013 #34

    benjibear

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    For business people, Amtrak is not good for time. Do you really want an employee sitting on a train for an extra day? I was just in Chicago for three days on business (Monday 8 to Wed Noon). The boss would have preferred I flew. I took the train and had to use my own time for the extra. I was OK with that because I wanted to take the train and I wanted extra time in Chicago. If I didn't want to use my own time (an extra couple days), I would have had to fly.
     
  10. Jul 9, 2013 #35

    gmushial

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    Here since all employees are shareholders, everyone has a vested interest in using their time productively. And generally people are more productive on a train than on a plane. And since there is a work here, work at home policy... working on the train is no different from working at home. And with cellphones today, it's hard to be out of contact for very long, independent where one is. Since I own the company and tend to do the heavy pitches, I would rather relax on a train and run through my spiel while watching the landscape pass by at human speeds; work through the potential/possible/likely question and answers etc. I find the unpluggedness make it easier for me to do such (vs spend a couple extra days on the homefront doing the same (which is never the same given the interruptions) and then rush, even 1st class to the venue of presentation).
     
  11. Jul 9, 2013 #36

    Ispolkom

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    Ah, the light dawns. I'm sure it's much easier to pitch not flying to your bosses than it is for me to do the same. I'm not saying that you don't make good points, ones I'd be happy to make, if I thought they might work. As it is, though, on the thankfully rare occasions I travel for work, I'll be flying on a ticket that I can't even earn miles on, per company policy.
     
  12. Jul 9, 2013 #37

    NW cannonball

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    To get back to the main point -- it all depends on where you are going from-to. Is it vacation travel or work-paid.

    For work-paid - the NEC might well work (huh) from the employer point of view - the train may be somewhat slower but the internet is mostly available - unlike on the drive to the airport or waiting in line at security - so you can be working most of the trip. Possibly this economic justification works in SoCal on some trains also, or on parts of the Cascades or even the Illinois - Missouri runs -- ??

    Long-distance two-day western trains where internet is spotty -- NO way for employer to pay.

    But also consider -- I just checked airfares on Orbitz from MSP to Williston -- round trips for +- 3 days next week starting Weds are $786-1107. Why wouldn't your employer expect you to board coach at MSP at 22:40 the night before, sleep on the train, and arrive better rested a bit later than the morning flight -- for about 20% of the cost?

    For leisure travel -- everybody has different price and time constraints. It all depends.

    As for air vs rail (in the USA) -- like for any transport where the capital cost is huge and the margins are low -- either the transport is subsidized by taxes or (like airlines, and railroads in their decline from the overbuilt years) subsidized by decades of proceedings in bankruptcy court where the promises made in the flush of good times are abrogated (think Milwaukee Road or many others -- or many recent airlines) -- or both up-front subsidies and after-the-loss subsidies as airlines and railroads renege on their promises.
     
  13. Jul 9, 2013 #38

    chakk

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    I assume that on LD trains, it costs Amtrak just as much money to haul a Superliner sleeper as it does to haul a Superliner coach. So, if a coach has twice the passenger capacity of a sleeper, then sleeper fares should be AT LEAST twice as much as coach fares, and probably a bit more, so long as sleeping car passengers are provided free meals.

    In other words, I think fare should be structured so that coach passengers do not subsidize sleeping car passengers, and sleeping car passengers do not subsidize coach passengers.
     
  14. Jul 9, 2013 #39

    Ispolkom

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    I thought that that is the case now, if anything, sleeper passengers have a lower per person subsidy than coach passengers. I could easily be mistaken, though.

    Sure, it's true that towns on the Hi Line are especially expensive to get to, but wouldn't your employer also expect you to get to your Williston appointment on time? That's hardly a given with the Empire Builders recent OTP. In any case, I'd expect that a more representative city pair would be Houston-Williston (or Minot, more likely, with more flights and only 100 miles east), and amtrak.com's suggested itinerary for that route (HOS-LAX-PDX-Williston) is not exactly time-saving.

    Not that I didn't enjoy taking it last January, especially as a one-zone award.
     
  15. Jul 9, 2013 #40

    camachinist

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    Using the example of an upcoming trip, if booking today for the same arrival day by air and rail:

    Rail:

    FNO-WAS-RGH - 377 (FNO-WAS) + 89 (WAS-RGH) = 466

    Elapsed time = ~72 hours

    Air:

    FAT-DFW-RDU - 322

    Elapsed time = ~7 hours

    Comparing First Class to a Roomette, I can purchase a First Class ticket (airline) for an additional 249 versus a roomette for an additional 830 (on the Texas Eagle, as the rooms on the SC are sold out), so 415 if one presumes double occupancy in the roomette. A bedroom is 1136, so 568.

    Travel dates are ~ one month out.

    Airline is cheaper and far more expedient.
     
  16. Jul 9, 2013 #41

    Ryan

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    For that single city pair on that single day, yes. There are plenty of cases where the train comes out on top, it all depends.

    Edit: added quote for context
     
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  17. Jul 9, 2013 #42

    AlanB

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    You thought correctly! :) Sleeping car passengers actually help reduce the subsidies needed for coach passengers' railfares.
     
  18. Jul 9, 2013 #43

    RobertB

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    Living in Dallas - a major hub city for multiple airlines - I haven't seen anything on Amtrak that takes me out of state at a noticably cheaper rate than Southwest Airlines, except of course for the Heartland Flyer to OKC. Especially if there's more than one leg.

    We took the train to Detroit for our honeymoon - not because it was cheaper, but because the travel was part of the vacation. Right now, for a flight in two weeks, it's $202 (coach) for a connection that takes almost 30 hours and drops me off in downtown Detroit in the middle of the night - not really the best time to wander around the Motor City. Add $100 for an overnight stay in Chicago (which is what we did).

    Southwest can get me from Dallas to Detroit in less than four hours - for $177.

    Now, it's a whole other story for our trip next week in California. We're taking the train and thruway bus all over the state, and it's going to be much cheaper than flying (not to mention that you can't fly Southwest into Yosemite). We're using the California Rail Pass, even though Amtrak does its best to hide the pass' existence. (They should shout about it every chance they get - who goes to California so they can experience its legendary freeways?)

    But getting there, we're again taking Southwest. I'd love to take the Eagle to LA, but with a couple months advance purchase, Southwest was cheaper than driving + hotels, and much cheaper than Amtrak.
     
  19. Jul 10, 2013 #44

    camachinist

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    I've been looking all over out of my local, since I travel a fair amount, both long distance, meaning transcon, and short distance, meaning west coast. The only time rail is cheaper, so far, is comparing to puddle-jumper flights, like FNO-SFO/ FNO-LAX, etc, and those are the routes where I've historically taken the train/bus. When amsnag brings me good news, I'll surely report it. As everyone lives in/travels to different locales at different times, everyone will report different results, from which more general results can be extracted. It would be interesting to compare historical train fares versus same period airline fares back before airfares were deregulated, as it appears Amtrak fares are regulated.
     
  20. Jul 10, 2013 #45

    Phil S

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    Even for business travel. Amtrak can beat airlines - for both cost and time. It all depends on the route. I travel frequently from Corvallis OR to the Bay Area (CA). I drive to Albany and park the car 30 ft from where I board the sleeper. I get to UC Davis, or UC Berkeley early morning and have the whole day free to meet with people, go out to dinner with them, then catch the N bound train late evening. Cost is maybe $400, $500 max. To fly I need to take a cab to the Hilton Hotel ($25), shuttle to PDX ($44), then Bart from SFO to Berkeley ($10?). But I can't get there before early afternoon. And it's just not practical to get back home that same day. Better is to take the shuttle up the night before but then I have a hotel room ($120) plus dinner and breakfast. Total airfare expenses are at least $500 each way by air, and far less convenient.

    Make sure you include all your costs and lost time as you figure this. Results vary but I'll bet there are lots of routes where train/sleeper is cheaper than air travel.
     
  21. Jul 21, 2013 #46
    Depending on the time of year, for me at least, the quickest and least expensive way to Detroit from Williston ND, is to hop in the car and drive. I live in Eastern Montana 35 miles SW of Williston, and when all the numbers are factored in, much quicker and cheaper to drive back to Detroit Michigan area. Air travel the last 5 times I have done that, was averaging 30 hours (Delta), we know the train is 24+ hours and I can drive it in roughly 20 hours. I am taking the Empire to MSP tonight to pick up a new Volkswagen TDI... 800 miles to a tank of diesel... Figure I can round trip it home from Montana for around $180.00.
     
  22. Jul 21, 2013 #47

    Bus Nut

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    Does your drive time include sleeping?
     
  23. Jul 21, 2013 #48

    boxcarsyix

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    I'm taking the CZ MRV to Gbb in May. (only reason for GBB is that I am going to transfer to the SWC to LAX). Cost with a roomette $551. I just looked at American Airlines into Sacramento to Chicago (no May but mid September) $548 for a refundable coach seat. But I would qualify for a premium drink (WOW!) Flights leave early in the morning or arrive after dinner. Air would save 1-1/2 days, but the second day would be a waste for me.
     
  24. Jul 22, 2013 #49

    Ispolkom

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    Boy, how can you spend 30 hours on Delta in the US? Delta flies multiple flight from Williston or Minot to Minneapolis, from which there are frequent flights to Detroit, It's a matter of 4-6 hours, depending on connections. In 30 hours you could be in Moscow (Russia, not Idaho).

    Sure, it could take longer with bad weather, but I seem to remember from that bad weather often hinders automobile traffic on the Hi Line, not just airplanes.

    I won't argue that given an enjoyment of long-distance driving, Detroit-Williston might not be a fun ride (if and only if you go through the Upper Peninsula and avoid Chicagoland), but that's very much a matter of personal taste.
     
  25. Jul 22, 2013 #50

    Swadian Hardcore

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    Is that May 2014? You do really book early. The airfares often start high and drop later, like Amtrak now. Why are you booking a refundable Coach seat? I think AA is a bad option anyway because they have no hubs along the line.

    I can find Economy Class airfare SAC-ORD round-trip for only $420. I still don't see how an Amtrak Sleeper could be cheaper than flying.

    Edit: And, um, why did you check railfare for May and then airfare for September?
     
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