The lower fares are offered to passengers booking at least 14 days in advance and apply to Business Class tickets only. Limiting the discount, and making these tickets specifically non-upgradeable, feels like a misstep; Amtrak had a great opportunity here to introduce people to Acela First Class service (which is rather nice) and lure them as long-term customers.
But there is also another twist, and it is far more troubling: these discounted tickets are non-refundable.
For people used to flying, this might seem like 'no big deal.' Up until this point, though, Amtrak had two big advantages over its sky-based competitors:
- Amtrak fares included all taxes, so there were no surprises; and
- Amtrak fares were fully refundable and changeable.
Introducing non-refundable fares is a new twist for Amtrak, and frankly one that carries with it more downsides than it did for airlines.
Air travel is a big deal, involving a trip out to the airport; checking baggage; security screening; the flight itself; arrival procedures; baggage reclamation; and travel into to the city. Rail travel means showing up at the station, having a ticket, stepping on the train, and traveling.
In other words, you would rarely book a flight on a whim, because you can't cancel it if circumstances change. You can do that with rail, so it's easier to decide to travel. Nonrefundable fares get rid of that flexibility--and once that happens, how can I justify that it often costs just as much to take the Acela as to fly with a low-cost airline?