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Love Amtrak Redemptions? Why This No Annual Fee Card’s The Keeper

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Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercard

Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercard

Shawn enjoys (derogatorily) calling me a foamer.  Indeed, I like trains, and my credit card history confirms it.  I’ve been a loyal Amtrak cardholder from the Chase days, on to Bank of America, and now with FNBO.  I don’t ride Amtrak as often as I used to but love it even more when I do.  Regardless, I’ll take all the Amtrak Guest Rewards points I can in the meantime.  Despite infrequent, mostly-mild devaluations over the years, It’s still one of the more valuable reward currencies out there.  Right now, I earn all of these points on the no annual fee Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercard from FNBO.  (Sadly, Amtrak’s shopping portal recently died.)  Individuals also have the option of the $99 annual fee AGR Preferred Mastercard, but the no fee version’s the long-term way to go for many.  Today, I’m describing why.

Two Different Cards, Same Point Rebate

Perhaps my favorite perk of holding an AGR Mastercard is the 5% point rebate on Amtrak award redemptions.  The rebate essentially makes Amtrak points worth more compared to cash rates.  When making an Amtrak redemption, cardholders receive 5% of the award price back in their point balance.  It would make sense for the Preferred card to have a higher rebate, but that’s not the case.  Both the no fee and Preferred Amtrak cardholders receive the same 5% point rebate.

Missing That Upgrade?  Not Really.

Preferred cardholders receive a one-class upgrade coupon upon approval and each account anniversary.  Unfortunately, that sounds much better than what it actually is.  No fee Amtrak cardholders aren’t missing out on much, if anything, depending on their situation.

One-class upgrade coupons are only eligible to move from coach to business class, or business to first class on Acela.  Using them for sleeper accomodations isn’t an option.  Also, the coupon is only valid on a single travel segment or leg.  Those looking to entirely upgrade a multi-segment or round trip will need to hold the respective number of upgrade coupons.  Plus, upgrades are only confirmed starting 12 hours before departure.  And plenty of routes don’t participate.

Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercard
Amtrak sleeper accomodations include meals.

An Inconsequential Food and Beverage Rebate

The Preferred card offers a 20% discount on F&B purchases onboard, while the no fee card offers 10%.  Since I prefer booking award rates into either Acela First or long-haul sleeper accommodations, my meals are covered, anyway.  Plus, I minimally supplement with snacks between meals on the train, often with what I bring on myself.  While I’ve bought refreshments onboard before, it’s been minimal, and I can’t recall doing so in years.  I bet I’m not alone.

An Unnecessary Station Lounge Pass

For similar reasons, I have no need for the station lounge pass the Preferred provides at approval and card anniversary.  Booking Acela First and sleeper accomodations means I have lounge access, anyway.  Plus, while certain Amtrak lounge options shine, they don’t exactly have a wide lounge network.  The Amtrak site lists a whopping seven lounges.  That’s great if you depart or connect through those locations, not so much otherwise.

A Few Other Possibly Useless Benefits for Maximizers

The Preferred also provides a round-trip companion coupon at account approval and anniversary.  Unfortunately, the coupon can’t be combined with any other discount, coupon, or Amtrak Guest Rewards redemption.  I’m not paying cash money just to use a companion coupon – I’ll use points, instead.

Preferred cardmembers can earn 1k tier qualifying points for every $5k in purchases.  But according to Amtrak’s program terms, cardmembers can only earn up to 4k TQP’s by non-travel means per year.  That’s not even enough to hit Select status at 5k TQP’s, the first step above the basic membership level.  Even there, the benefits are negligible for individuals like this writer, who (again) primarily rides on awards booked in Acela first class and sleeper accomodations.

Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercard

Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercard – Conclusion

So, where does that leave us?  Most everyone will want to opt for the larger signup bonus, which is always on the Preferred, currently at 20k points.  (If you can wait, I recommend patience for an elevated offer.)  After one year, downgrade the Preferred to the no-fee Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercard.  This should be possible with FNBO, but I haven’t done it myself.  A reliable Plan B is to subsequently apply for the no-fee card and continue holding it long-term.

Indefinitely holding the $99 annual fee Preferred card can make sense for some, though.  The Preferred earns better in specific categories, including Amtrak (of course) at 3x versus 2x, and 2x in travel, transit, and rideshare.  (Each card earns 2x on dining.)  Those who significantly spend on Amtrak, including business travelers, will probably do better with the Preferred.  Individuals who maximize the round-trip companion coupon each year could rationalize holding onto the Preferred long-term, as well.  Plus, I imagine there’s a relatively small group of Amtrak travelers who truly maximize each of the Preferred’s annual perks, coupons, and passes.

Do you hold either or both of the Amtrak cards?  If so, why?

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Benjy Harmon
Benjy Harmon
Benjy focuses on the intersection of points, travel, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently roams throughout the USA close to expense-free. Benjy enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

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  1. Yes, called to downgrade in May – was told it was not allowed (FNBO cannot change the terms of an open account was the reason given).

  2. If you’re a frequent flyer, get the Amtrak card when the 40k sign up bonus comes back. After all these years, I had the opportunity to ride in a Roomette between Denver and California- all meals included. It was a bucket list item that I’ve done twice! The California Zephyr goes through the Rockies with staggering beautiful views.

  3. NYC Lounge is worth the pass… and Acela First is “cheapest” with coupons…def some math should be done here!


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