This past weekend, I traveled to Charlotte for the #MileMadness DO. Tahsir was presenting and I just stood in the background and interjected tidbits of information into his presentation. I didn’t participate in the March contest, mostly because I flew out of the country on Day #1.
Because there was no cheap fare or mileage availability out of Los Angeles, I booked my ticket out of San Diego. The main question was how would I get to San Diego for my flight? I couldn’t drive my own car since I was returning to LAX, and my first thought was to book an American Airlines flight for 4,500 Avios. It’s a great value if you need a quick flight, but then you have to deal with the Remote Terminal for regional jets at LAX and a CRJ-200 on most flights.
I figured I’d take Amtrak, since the Pacific Surfliner runs frequently from Union Station, and since I usually take public transportation through Union Station to get to LAX, it’d be easy for me to catch the train. Plus I had the time to take a 3-hour train ride and figured I’d enjoy the scenery.
Fares were $42 one-way for coach or $57 one-way for business class on the day I wanted to travel. With a few days advance purchase, you can get 10% off with various discount codes, such as AAA.
However, I noticed that Amtrak charges only 1,500 points for this special route in coach and only 2,000 points in business class. I’m an Amtrak noob who has accumulated only a few points here and there on east coast routes, so this seemed like a surprisingly good value. Best yet, you can transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Amtrak Guest Rewards at a 1000:1000 ratio.
I decided to splurge for business class, a whole 500 point up-charge! Since you can only transfer points in 1000-point increments, it made sense to just book business class so that I wouldn’t have orphan Amtrak points. Still, 1500 points to save ~$38 is about 2.5 cents value!
Amtrak Special Routes
You can redeem 1,500 points for coach or 2,000 points for business class on the following 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)
After taking the Pacific Surfliner (photos below), I think my next “to-do” train on this list is the Cascades up to Vancouver – the views of Puget Sound must be great!
Sale on Amtrak Points
If you don’t have Ultimate Rewards points, Amtrak currently has a sale on Amtrak points – you can get as much as a 50% bonus on points purchased. Deals We Like delves into the sale as well as other values on Amtrak’s chart. You can get 15,000 points for $275, which comes out to about 1.8 cents per point. You basically get 10 coach one-ways on special routes, each for $27.50. I’d rather spend on credit cards to get Ultimate Rewards points, but if that’s not an option, buying points can be a good option.
Pacific Surfliner from Los Angeles to San Diego
Union Station is one of my favorite places in Los Angeles.
One of the perks of traveling in Business Class on the Pacific Surfliner is access to the Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge in Los Angeles. It’s not going to be on par with any airline lounges, but they had a couple of sugary snacks as well as a coffee machine and free soda/water/juice.
Business class on the Pacific Surfliner isn’t much – the bottom level has a 1-2 arrangement but there were only a few rows and all seats were taken. The upper level as a 2-2 arrangement, but I was at least able to snag a window seat on the coast side. I also got a small snack pack not worth much as well as a free drink (I chose a small bottle of wine).
I probably wouldn’t pay the ~$15 upcharge if I was paying with cash, but 500 extra points seemed worth it. The views were worth every point. I’ve usually eschewed long-distance train travel in the U.S. because I just love planes and getting places quickly, but a short 3-hour journey like this was highly enjoyable.