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AARP promotes train travel

July 19, 2012

Written By Sean Jeans Gail

AARP had a nice feature last month on passenger rail titled "5 Tips for Saving on Train Travel."

Of course, if you want a reliable 10 percent discount, you can just join NARP—and support a robust national train network in the process. Still, intercity rail and rail transit are incredibly important in providing America's senior citizens with a high quality of life. Senior citizens account for 38 percent of long distance trains' adult passengers, and many aging Americans would lost access to friends, family, and important social services if Amtrak and rail transit were to disappear.

So it's significant that the leading voice for seniors in the U.S. is making passenger rail an important part of their transportation platform. As demonstrated by Transportation For America's study on the increasing transit needs of America's senior citizens, this problem isn't going to disappear.

Now, on to the article:

1. Look for Amtrak's Promotional Deals

Amtrak is the U.S. government-owned passenger rail service. It offers those age 62 or older a 15 percent discount on most train trips (on those operated by Amtrak/VIA Rail Canada, passengers 60 and over receive a 10 percent discount). Although you can't combine discounts and deals, you should still visit the "Deals" tab on the Amtrak website, says spokesperson Marc Magliari. "That should be the first stop for anyone trying to save money," he advises. Scan "Latest Promotions" for offers that knock off more than 15 percent. There are typically promotions available that reduce regular fares by as much as 20 to 30 percent when you purchase tickets by a certain date.

2. Shop for Last-Minute SmartFares

You'll also see a "SmartFares" link under the "Deals" tab on the Amtrak website. "These are short-term, last-minute kinds of deals," says Magliari. If you book your tickets from a week to three weeks in advance online between Tuesday and Friday, you can save 25 percent on select routes. There are some restrictions (for instance, you can't travel on a Friday or a Sunday), and SmartFares routes change each week, so you'll want to check for deals every Tuesday and have a flexible travel schedule. In Canada, check out VIA Rail Canada's limited-time Express Deals, topping out at 75 percent off regular fares.

3. Consider an Amtrak Vacations Package

Amtrak Vacations offers a variety of Rail Journey and Rail Getaway packages, which, unlike SmartFares, are available year-round and include more than just train fare. Plus, you can get early-booking discounts of up to $600 per person.

The 10-day West Coast Spectacular by Rail, starting at $1,859 per person, includes everything from dinner in Seattle's iconic Space Needle to a tour of California wine country to a guided glimpse at the stars on Hollywood Boulevard. It also includes eight nights in hotels, numerous meals and tickets to several attractions. Other Rail Journey itineraries take you from Washington, D.C., to St. Augustine, Fla., say, or through eastern Canada or the national parks of the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada.

Rail Getaways packages focus on one city. A four-day, three-night trip to New York starts at $859 per person and includes tickets to a Broadway show, three nights of accommodations, and other perks; a similar three-night, two-day visit to Denver starts at $285 per person.

4. Look Into Loyalty Programs and Multi-Ride Discounts

Magliari also recommends that regular riders join Amtrak's Guest Rewards Program. Upon registering, you immediately start earning points for money spent on Amtrak travel (two points per dollar, with a minimum of 100 points earned per trip) and with dozens of partners. You can subsequently redeem points for future travel (1,500 points and up), as well as hotels stays (5,000 points and up), rental cars (6,000 points and up) and gift certificates to numerous retailers and restaurants.

If you plan to travel the same Amtrak route numerous times, multi-ride discounts can exceed 25 percent. Chicago-to-Milwaukee fare runs $24, but 10 rides in 60 days is $173. Although monthly passes are geared primarily to commuters, they can save you even more.

5. Travel in the Slow Season

"Let's say you qualify for no discounts, and you are still trying to save a couple of bucks," says Magliari with the last of his money-saving train travel tips. "Your best way to save is to travel when most other people aren't." Besides the obvious (the dead of winter), early fall is another slow travel season, he adds, once school is back in session and the average summer vacation budget is depleted. "The weather is better," says Magliari. "September into early October is a lovely time to travel all over the country."