Empire Builder Bedrooms "sold out"

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by chrsjrcj, Jun 18, 2019.

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  1. Jun 18, 2019 #1

    chrsjrcj

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    chrsjrcj

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    Last week I tried to book a bedroom on train #7 to Seattle (leaving Chicago 08/07) and despite 1 bedroom being shown as available on the Amtrak website, I receive an error on the payment screen saying the accommodation is sold out. I phoned Amtrak and the agent told me the bedrooms are showing unavailable. Okay, less than two months out and this is peak Summer season, so I book a bedroom on train #27 instead.

    Not wanting to lose practically a whole day in Seattle (and I'll be riding train #28 on the return), I've been pretty persistent in checking availability on #7. It still shows 1 bedroom being available, but still won't let me book a bedroom and an agent on the phone told me that bedrooms are unavailable. Any ideas why the website might be showing this?
     
  2. Jun 19, 2019 #2

    F900ElCapitan

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    They probably have a couple of rooms that would be available individually, but in order to book it you would have to change rooms. The sad thing is in order to book them, they’ll most likely make you pay for each segment individually, which of course will raise the price.

    Just a thought, if you really want to ride out of Seattle, you could find what’s available to Spokane, or somewhere further up the line, book whats available to that point, and then grab the bedroom on 28 for the remainder of the trip.
     
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  3. Jun 19, 2019 #3

    bratkinson

    bratkinson

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    I'm not surprised that there aren't any 'through' bedrooms CHI-SEA in August at this late date. If you're not averse to changing rooms enroute, you may want to check for CHI-MSP and MSP-SEA for example, changing rooms (maybe cars!) at Minneapolis. Check Fargo, Minot, and Havre as well for vacancies. There's usually a turnover of roomettes and bedrooms, even family bedrooms at various cities along the way. Regardless of destination PDX or SEA, you'll be paying top dollar as they're quite scarce.

    As for the website anomaly, I encountered a similar problem several years ago when trying to book a roomette on the Cardinal with points. The computer showed one available, but when I got to the final click, it came back as 'unavailable' or some screwy message like that. I figured that Amtrak has a 'feature' that will not allow the LAST of any accommodation type to be sold for AGR points when they can get maximum dollars for it. Welcome to maximizing revenue algorithms.

    Alternatively, the Amtrak site is screwed up. Currently, I can't log on to AGR and view my points, coupons, etc. And when I go to the Amtrak web site, it reports I have 54,290 AGR points, while the Amtrak app on my cell phone reports 48,492 points. They ARE that screwed up!
     
  4. Jun 19, 2019 #4

    chrsjrcj

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    chrsjrcj

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    I may just bite the bullet and do a Havre Shuffle. Booking a multi-city ticket, the price is the same (minus the Cascades ticket). My only concern is that if there is a service disruption, Amtrak will drop me off in Havre and not Seattle!
     
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  5. Jun 20, 2019 #5

    JP1822

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    East Glacier - in summer - is a big turnover point too, just saying. I'd book it if options are limited.

    I've had to change at least three times when trying to book the CA Zephyr from Chicago to Emeryville - even two to three months out for a trip.

    Typically it would be a roomette from Chicago to Denver, bedroom from Denver to Salt Lake City, and then a switch again either at Salt Lake or Reno to a different roomette or bedroom. Switching bedrooms works, can be a PIA, but often I'll even try to get the rooms in the same car. Even if you switch from a roomette to another roomette enroute, Amtrak does re-price as a separate segment. That wasn't always the case.

    I'd see if you can figure out with the online system for the Empire Builder where you'd have to switch bedrooms. How far will it allow to book a bedroom with one segment, then book for the other. Never thought about the service disruption, but thankfully, never had to deal with it in all the times I've had to do bookings like this.

    I used to wait till the inventory was added for the third sleeper on the CA Zephyr, but this year it didn't show up till after Memorial Day and I needed travel in May. And I was booking in March. Finally gave up on the Zephyr and booked the Southwest Chief instead - with connection to Coast Starlight. Got me to where I needed to go in same amount of time.
     
  6. Jun 20, 2019 #6

    JP1822

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    They just added an extra Portland sleeper to the Empire Builder too - glad that the inventory is selling in the sleepers. How the diner is handling all this - I'd be curious. My trip in April/May on LD trains was the first time I encountered the diner being limited to sleeping car passengers first, and then "if available," coach passengers were allowed to book reservations in the diner (this was done for lunch and dinner). Found this to be true on the Southwest Chief and Coast Starlight. There were coach passengers who were denied reservations, and once the last seating was filled in the dinner - at 8:30 pm or so - that was it! First time I EVER ran into this. Not sure if any of this changed for the summer, but the lead dining car steward definitely seemed to have the right language down for making this all happen in a polite way. Empire Builder's diner was more accommodating to all passenger types for coach and sleeper car passengers. The steward there had NO clue this was being done on other trains when I told him of what I encountered previously on other LD trains.
     
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  7. Jun 20, 2019 #7

    caravanman

    caravanman

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    I believe it has always been the policy to give dining slots options to sleeper passengers first, then any left can be taken by coach passengers. I have never used the diner as a coach passenger, so I don't know if coach folk were often turned away from getting a meal, I seem to think they took a note of passengers names and called them up via the p.a. in turn when all tables were taken? I guess some crews are more accommodating than others, who simple want to get finished asap?
    Given the high price of train food, I always bring food on board with me when in coach.

    Ed.
     
  8. Jun 20, 2019 #8

    juanee

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    Has an additional sleeper been added to the Seattle section as well? What does the consist look like now leaving Chicago?
     
  9. Jun 20, 2019 #9

    Siegmund

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    The Seattle section has roomettes to sell in the Transdorm, too, which the Portland section doesn't. It typically runs with one sleeper + transdorm in winter, two sleepers in summer. I've never seen a 3rd Seattle sleeper -- not saying it's never happened, but it would surprise me. (If your ticket says car 0732 in summer, expect to be in the transdorm.)

    Usual consist is
    Baggage
    Transdorm
    Seattle sleeper
    (2nd seattle sleeper in peak season)
    Diner
    Seattle coach
    (2nd seattle coach in peak season)
    Portland lounge
    Portland coach-baggage
    Portland coach
    Portland sleeper
    (2nd Portland sleeper)

    I've never seen a 3rd coach or 3rd sleeper, in either section, but if it were added, it'd be added in the obvious place.
     
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  10. Jun 20, 2019 #10

    mycalpal

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    mycalpal

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    When I took the Empire Builder from Sea to Chi I had booked my roomette months ahead of time and it actually cost me less than the roomette on the Lake Shore Limited from Chi to Alb. We had the diner from Seattle and they did announce that they would take diner reservations from the Sleeping car passengers first and then coach passengers. I have been on the California Zephyr many times and heard this. On several trips, especially on a very packed train following a disruption of several days caused by midwest flooding in 2011, the diner crew annoucing again and again that they had to accomodate sleeping car passengers first as the meals are included in their tickets. Some things have been inconsistent about reservations for the diner. I was traveling from Sf to Chi on the CZ on one trip and was told that I had to take a 5 or 8:30 time for dinner as the 7pm seating was reserved for the sleeping car passengers boarding in Denver. My sleeping car attendant agreed after my being on the train for two days, it didn't make sense that people just boarding would get preference. Fortunately there was a supervisor on board that my SCA spoke with and it was taken care of quick. Sometimes it is ok to speak up, politely, especially if you travel on Amtrak often!
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2019
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  11. Jun 21, 2019 #11

    JP1822

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    I should qualify, or clarify.....

    Sleeping car passengers always got preference in reservations and meals in the diner. That's something I think most passengers understand and I've always heard in announcements. Reservations will be made from the sleepers first, then coaches, then Sightseer Lounge, etc.

    But in my April/May trip - first time I have EVER heard the dining crew announce that 1) if you don't get a reservation you may not get a meal in the diner and 2) coach passengers could be shut out of the diner if there was not enough "space" in the diner. I was in sleeper so I was fine.

    Coach passengers were told to get their meals from the Cafe if there were no dining car reservations left for them to take..... That's fine if the diner was truly running at FULL capacity at every meal, but only HALF the diner was being used, and that was largely a function of the labor that Amtrak was allocating to the train. Compared to a few years ago, I saw less onboard staff in the diner for the Southwest Chief AND the Coast Starlight on this trip. However, the Empire Builder didn't seem to be as restrictive - they were operating on both sides like normal operation, served till basically everyone was fed whether sleeper or coach. They also had an extra waiter/waitress assigned. The way the announcements were made on the Southwest Chief and Coast Starlight - it was definitely out of a new play book.

    From an operations and accounting perspective, I can possibly see where this was coming from. Someone had figured out or came to an understanding on how many reservations and times a table could turnover given "x" amount of staff in the diner. Another way to likely control spoilage with the food and minimize losses. Not saying I agree with this whole theory and that this is a way to minimize food losses, just saying that the "program script" for the diner seems to have shifted.
     
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  12. Jun 22, 2019 #12

    Willbridge

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    As a coach passenger before Amtrak on the Northern lines and the UP, I was lured to the cafe car where good food was offered. Sometimes I ate in the diner, where service was fancier. Amtrak seems to have lurched onto the opposite track, offering junk food in the cafe and keeping us out of the diner. I agree that it cuts food waste, and it follows the business rule that something that can be measured will take priority over other factors. But -- I have to consider that on a long drive or on Greyhound or on Flix there is a big variety of junk food and even some real food at meal stops.

    In the past two years as a coach passenger I've experienced "Sorry, First Class Only" on Train 6 departing Denver and a couple of occasions where we in Lower Level were bypassed for dinner reservations. Now I alert the Coach Attendant that I'm interested in booking a dinner reservation and that has been okay.
     
  13. Jun 22, 2019 #13

    Willbridge

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    Regarding space on the Empire Builder, on-line reservations often provide an alternative of transferring From 7 to 27 or vice versa in Spokane. Ditto at San Antonio for that type of transfer. Both make sense as an option in coach, but negate the value of sleeping cars. The real mystery -- for an El Paso - NYP booking on line I've been offered a transfer of coach seats in Utica! What is going on in Utica? And if Amtrak's reservation system can offer a transfer in Utica, why not automatically offer an alternative transfer at East Glacier or Fort Worth at hours that would appeal to sleeping car passengers?
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2019
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  14. Jun 24, 2019 #14

    Siegmund

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    Re the consist question: happened to see 7 coming in to Whitefish last evening. Can confirm it is running at full peak size, with 2 sleepers and 2 coaches in both sections.

    Noted with interest that the transdorm door was opened at the Whitefish station stop, too. All the times I've ridden the Builder, only the sleeping car door was opened, and people riding in the transdorm were told to go up the stairs in the sleeper and cross into the next car.

    Re "why not offer a transfer at East Glacier" - the short answer is that you need a stop that both has significant numbers of sleeper passengers detraining, and gives the attendant time to remake the rooms. Havre and Whitefish have 20-minute stops, and even at Whitefish, if you're boarding into a room that was just vacated, you are often temporarily 'parked' somewhere else for a few minutes until the attendant has your room ready for you. You might be 'homeless' for quite a long time if you were changing rooms at a very quick stop like East Glacier.

    For ticketing purposes, that wouldn't matter - and if you were already on board, and happy to sit in the lounge for half an hour before occupying your new room, that wouldn't matter - but if they offer the ticket for sale they have to be prepared for it to be bought by someone boarding at that stop and expecting a seat immediately. Doesn't surprise me that Spokane, the longest stop, is the one where they would routinely offer seat changes.
     
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  15. Jun 24, 2019 #15

    Willbridge

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    Good points. But these are even better reasons why it's a mystery that they offer a journey broken at Utica.
     
  16. Jun 24, 2019 #16

    WindyCityTexan

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    I had exactly the same issue last week. It showed a Roomette on 27 through to PDX, but I was never able to book it, online or via phone. I ended up postponing the trip.
     
  17. Jun 25, 2019 #17

    juanee

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    So... are the two sleeper during the high season of the Portland section
    Sleeper 2730/2830
    Sleeper (Seasonal) 2731/2831 ?

    A few years ago (in August) I departed / returned through Portland, Oregon in sleeper both directions, but there was only one sleeping car.
     
  18. Jun 25, 2019 #18

    Siegmund

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    Yes. (In many past years, even in summer there is only one Portland sleeper.)

    The Seattle sleepers are 0730 (sleeper) and 0731 (transdorm) in low season, 0730 0731 (sleepers) and 0732 (transdorm) in high season. If you are assigned to 0731 and know nothing else about what was available it may be hard to know if two sleepers are running or not. But on the Portland section 2731 has to be the 2nd sleeper.
     
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  19. Jun 26, 2019 #19

    juanee

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    Seems Amtrak would need 6 additional Superliner Sleepers to provide the seasonal 2731/2831 service . (I believe 6 complete train sets are required for the Empire Builder).
     
  20. Jun 27, 2019 #20

    zephyr17

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    5 train sets these days. They've been back to same day turns at Seattle and Portland and not holding sets overnight to protect against late trains for awhile now. They did that in the worst days of timekeeping issues due to oil train related congestion, but that's been over for a few years.
     
  21. Jun 27, 2019 #21

    JP1822

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    I don’t think that the Coast Starlight got a fourth sleeper this year for the summer. So the second Portland sleeper (first time a second Portland Superliner Sleeper that I ever noted on a regular basis has been operated!!!) may be a result of what would be four sleepers allocated to the Coast Starlight, plus a spare that Amtrak pulled together, moved to the Empire Builder. I would think they could get better revenue from a second Portland sleeper these days than a fourth Coast Starlight sleeper.
     
  22. Jun 28, 2019 #22

    juanee

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    So, with one less train set required for the Empire builder and perhaps the 4th Sleeper for the Coast Starlight not running, there would be enough equipment for the additional Sleeper for 2731/2831 daily service . I was wondering how Amtrak was doing it since there is always concern about equipment shortages.
     

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