Friday, May 23, 2008

Amtrak Guest Rewards: It's better now.

America's perpetually neglected national rail carrier has seen hard times. Recently, though, things have been on the upswing for Amtrak.

Despite opposition from the Bush administration, the National Passenger Rail Corporation--which is jointly owned by the remaining rail carriers from pre-1970 and the U.S. government, though the government holds all of the voting stock--has undertaken a big campaign to improve both its services and its image. The first National Train Day, held on May 10, 2008 to commemorate the first transcontinental railroad a century earlier, is one example of Amtrak's improved publicity.

2008 has also seen enhancements to Amtrak's Guest Rewards frequent travel program. Rail passengers will appreciate the new Web site, which is much better organized and easier to navigate than the previous style. For those who travel by train, there are particularly attractive benefits available to top-tier Select Plus members, including:
  • Open access to the ClubAcela and Metropolitan Lounge facilities operated by Amtrak at train stations around the country, a benefit that cannot be bought by separate membership and is typically restricted to First Class ticket holders;

  • Open access to Continental Airlines' Presidents Clubs around the world, a $300+ value whether one might otherwise purchase a membership outright or pay the annual fee of an American Express Platinum card; and

  • A 50% point bonus on Amtrak travel, which is much more useful now that Amtrak has online point redemption for reward tickets.
So what does it take to get Select Plus status? In one calendar year, you'll have to rack up 10,000 rail points--which, like airline elite miles, are earned only for actual travel and not as bonuses. Since passengers earn 2 points for every dollar spent, that means $5000 in simple rail travel costs (special earning rates for Acela travel make it doable for closer to $2500).

The good news: even if you fall short of the mark, you'll only need half as many rail points to get Select status. That doesn't get you club access, but it does earn you a 25% point bonus and free upgrades in the Hilton, Hertz, and Budget loyalty programs as well as some other benefits.

One thing that we're still waiting on is online point redemption for upgrades. But since so many Amtrak upgrades are given on a space-available basis within one hour of departure, this one might be a while in coming. In the interim, as its high-flying competitors struggle with fuel costs, at least the continued improvement of Guest Rewards helps Amtrak hold ground.

No comments: