Amtrak Transfers Ending & My Strategy & Plans for the Future
Last year my son and I had a great time on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight and Empire Builder trains. We have traveled on trains all over the world and have really fallen in love with that method of getting around. Add in a semi-comfortable bed and meals and Amtrak has been a phenomenal use of Ultimate Rewards points.
Unfortunately today is the last day to transfer Ultimate Rewards to Amtrak. For most, I suspect this transfer method is the primary way you get Amtrak points. For me it definitely is. That means that I must decide today how many points I should transfer over.
Here are the things worth considering when looking at how many points to transfer:
- How many will I need for upcoming trips?
- How many will I need for future transfers to other programs?
- How many will I want to leave in the account for future redemptions?
For Future Trips
We have a young baby who is quickly turning into a toddler and thus I don’t see us taking more than one Amtrak sleeper trip during the time that can be booked on the calendar. With that in mind I have looked for aspirational routes that make sense for us. Here is the plan I have come up with:
- California Zephyr from Denver to Sacramento. (~10 hour layover)
- Coast Starlight from Sacramento to Seattle.
While the long layover in Sacramento would stink for most people, my dad lives about an hour away and we could either get him to come down to visit or we could rent a car and drive up to visit him. I think this layover is fine since it gives us time off of the train, something I’ll sure we’ll need with the baby. I am also excited for the portion west of Denver. I have heard it is amazing.
The plan is to get both a bedroom and a roomette which will cost 40,000 points total since this is a 1 zone redemption. My wife and I can use the bedroom with the baby and my son can have his own roomette. While I think we can technically all book into the bedroom, we want to have some space, especially considering the baby will be in the 15-18 month range. The more space the better!
For Transfers to Other Programs
One other consideration is transfers to other programs. Amtrak points transfer to Choice Hotels at a 1 to 3 ratio. That is very very good. Unfortunately you either need to be an Amtrak elite or hold their credit card to transfer points and there are limits. For those reasons I’ll pass on this option, although it is a good deal. Frequent Miler has covered the details of this strategy before if you are interested.
For Future Redemptions
I live in a city without Amtrak. We can book a thruway bus to another city and catch the train from there, but it isn’t a commuter option for us. Still, I travel enough that having some Amtrak points handy might be a good idea. We also have a fairly healthy balance of Ultimate Rewards points, so parting with 10K-20K is doable. The question remains though how much.
Under the new program coming in January, Amtrak points will be worth about 2.5 cents each, so I will still get good value for the Ultimate Rewards transferred over. Points do expire after 36 months if you don’t have the credit card or a paid award ticket, but I don’t plan on transferring over so many. I’m honestly leaning towards 10,000 points (~$250), but am sort of torn as to whether I should do more.
While I am running out of time to decide how many points to speculatively transfer over, I have already sent 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points over to my Amtrak Rewards account to cover the cost of the Denver to Seattle trip. Have you transferred points to Amtrak? What trips are you planning to take? Are you torn too? Let me know in the comments!