The Wolverine – A 5.7 Cent Per Point Ultimate Rewards Redemption
This past weekend I was in Ann Arbor for a fantastic meetup of miles & points fanatics. It was a great weekend, but I ultimately decided to head to Chicago from Ann Arbor at the last minute to hang out and pick up a few more Hyatt stay credits out by the airport.
Amtrak runs one of their “special routes” from Michigan to Chicago called the Wolverine. Since I was going at the end of the Ann Arbor Art Fair, the train was packed. In fact, the 12:17pm train that I wanted to travel on was sold out, so I gave up on the idea of heading to Chicago. Then I decided to check one last time on Sunday morning and found that a single coach reserved seat had been released for $86!
Of course I didn’t end up paying $86 for my ticket. Remember how I said the Wolverine is a special route?Well Amtrak only charges 1,500 points each way in Coach or 2,000 each way in Business Class on their special routes no matter the price of the ticket. (For long haul redemptions, see my post about our trip from California to Chicago.)
As I covered in depth last year in my Guide to Amtrak Guest Rewards, Chase is a transfer partner of Amtrak Guest Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. To book the ticket, I simply transferred over 2,000 Ultimate Rewards points (they only transfer in 1,000 point increments) to my Amtrak account. Since the points post instantly, the entire process of transferring and booking took less than 5 minutes and it was all done online.
Amtrak has a number of special routes that are available for the same cost. In a write up about his trip from Los Angeles to San Diego, Amol at Travel Codex listed these as the available special routes:
- Blue Water® (Chicago – Kalamazoo – Battle Creek – East Lansing – Flint – Port Huron)
- Wolverine® (Chicago – Kalamazoo – Battle Creek – Ann Arbor – Dearborn – Detroit – Pontiac)
- Cascades® (Eugene – Portland – Tacoma – Seattle – Bellinham – Vancouver BC)
- Pacific Surfliner® (San Luis Obispo – Santa Barbara – Los Angeles – San Diego)
- Capitol Corridor® (Sacramento – Oakland – San Jose)
- San Joaquin® (Bakersfield – Fresno – Modesto – Sacramento – Oakland)
- Hiawatha® (Milwaukee – MKE Airport – Chicago)
- Downeaster® (Boston – Exeter NH – Portland ME)
- The Lincoln Service® (Chicago – St Louis)
- Illini Service® (Chicago – Champaign/Urbana – Carbondale)
- The Carl Sandburg® (Chicago – Quincy, IL)
- Missouri River Runner (Kansas City – Jefferson City – St Louis)
- The Illinois Zephyr® (Chicago – Quincy, IL)
- The Saluki® (Chicago – Champaign/Urbana – Carbondale)
- The Hoosier State® (Chicago – Indianapolis)
- The Pere Marquette® (Chicago – Grand Rapids)
- The Piedmont® (Charlotte – Greensboro – Durham – Raleigh)
- The Heartland Flyer® (Oklahoma City – Norman – Fort Worth)
Coach vs. Business
While I wasn’t able to travel in business due to a lack of availability, I would do so if given the chance. In some stations business class passengers have lounge access and are able to board first. (Which makes a difference in Chicago.) The business class cars are also arranged in a 1-2 configuration instead of a 2-2 configuration in coach. For 500 points, I don’t see why you wouldn’t do it, but that is just me.
Every time I told a local in Ann Arbor about my Amtrak plan, they all laughed and told me to prepare for delays. I was prepared, but I checked the website before leaving for the station and it said the train was on time. After standing on the station platform for awhile, an announcement came over the speaker that the train was delayed 15 minutes due to a “bad switch” Joy!
Eventually the train arrived and for the next 3 hours everything went as planned. The scenery outside was beautiful and the Wifi was not great, but tolerable. I was able to get a lot of work done and I was looking forward to arriving in Chicago. Then just as we crossed the border into Indiana, the train screeched to a hault.
We were stuck behind freight traffic and had to wait for them to clear the tracks. An hour later the train began moving again. We must have made up some time, because we did arrive in Chicago’s Union Station only 50 minutes late! The delay had me thinking back to what my Lyft driver said on the way to the station in Ann Arbor. He told me that the best part of Amtrak is the bar. Given the length of the delay, I could see his point, but thankfully I was occupied with writing and other tasks and managed to stay sober!
The cheapest price for a coach ticket on this route is $36 one-way. A lot of days the tickets cost $62 and when you are booking the last ticket on the train like me, then the cost is $86. It really doesn’t matter though, because Ultimate Rewards are there to save the day. At a redemption value of 2.4 cents per point on the low-end and 5.7 cents on the high-end, this is a great deal every day of the year if you don’t mind a delay or two.