Comparing Amtrak B/R fare to First Class Air Fare

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Sauve850

OBS Chief
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Jan 9, 2014
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593
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West Palm Beach, Florida
I was planning to add the Empire Builder to my completed routes list but the fares are running between double and triple the pre-Anderson prices for objectively worse service and fewer amenities. Maybe there are some days with better rates but thanks to Amtrak's clumsy website and crackdown on third party tools there is no easy way to find out.
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I take a western train from LA, EMY or SEA to Chicago end of Aug or early Sept each year on way back to Florida. Have to fly somewhere instead so cannot make that train trip this year but I checked prices anyway in late February or March and found EB bedroom on a few dates in early September were just under $800 I believe. It was the western train to CHI with best price for a bedroom.

I am still taking the Cardinal CHI to DC in a roomette at ok price and then a Silver back to Florida in a bedroom at not such a great price second week of Sept. Silver prices are always high though, I have points and didn't want a roomette.
 

caravanman

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Mar 22, 2004
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4,126
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Nottingham, England.
1 left AT THIS PRICE. There could be 2 more available at a higher price.
When I did my own test bookings, I pretended that there were at first just 1, then, 2 and finally 3 adults travelling, and the result was the same. No extra rooms became available to accommodate the extra passengers., that was how I did my testing to show almost all sleeper rooms were booked on that particular train.

I always travelled in a roomette for my earlier travels on Amtrak, and many of the roomettes and bedrooms were not occupied at all even back then.

My gut feeling, backed by my limited research, is that most trains now are running with most sleepers occupied, even at the high fares. It makes sense, folk in these Covid times prefer to keep away from strangers.
 

JRR

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Jul 17, 2017
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When I did my own test bookings, I pretended that there were at first just 1, then, 2 and finally 3 adults travelling, and the result was the same. No extra rooms became available to accommodate the extra passengers., that was how I did my testing to show almost all sleeper rooms were booked on that particular train.

I always travelled in a roomette for my earlier travels on Amtrak, and many of the roomettes and bedrooms were not occupied at all even back then.

My gut feeling, backed by my limited research, is that most trains now are running with most sleepers occupied, even at the high fares. It makes sense, folk in these Covid times prefer to keep away from strangers.
I’m traveling from Greenville SC to Baltimore for my granddaughter’s graduation this month and intended to take the Crescent but here’s what I discovered.

Because the graduation is on a Monday, and the Crescent runs only3 days a week, it is impossible to do the trip without staying for at least week. Further, the r/t cost of a roomette was $957(that can change and probably at this point is unavailable) while r/t ticket on Southwest(I know this isn’t FC but the only way to go non stop from Greenville) is less than $390!

I was hoping to get back on the train but looks like that won’t happen. Just for fun I checked to see what the charge would be in points - one way to Baltimore was almost 20,000 points! Couldn’t find a return trip on the train in a Roomette for less than a week’s stay. Don’t think anyone wants me to stay with them that long!

Since I hate flying, I guess I’ll probably drive.
 

Anderson

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Nov 16, 2010
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9,638
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Virginia
Agreed.


"Affordable" for whom? How do you define that? Is that how all Amtrak fares should be structured - no regard to peak travel times, etc.? Back to a basic $X/mile and ignore demand or yield pricing?

Amtrak can allocate / ration its sleeping car space by price or time. "Time" meaning if a roomette is (say) only $5 over a coach far and a bedroom is $10 over, they will immediately sell out. So if I come along a month later and am willing to pay a $100 (or $20; or $1,000; or even $5) premium for a roomette, too bad for me; they have already all been sold out.

Which is the smarter business model?

How / why is the public interest better served by the "time" model?
Well, that is an excellent question for a public policy debate ;-)

I think there are ways to balance out some of these concerns. Amtrak's historical cap on fare variations (outside of Saver fares) is something that I appreciated, and I think Amtrak has perhaps become more obsessed with "defending the product" as of late (keeping sleeper fares high regardless of occupancy levels).

I'm going to throw a barb at Amtrak for not having a serious proposal to, for example, expand sleeper capacity on the Western trains rather than forcing fares into the stratosphere.

The other thing that Amtrak could conceivably do is allow for discounted sales to/from some smaller cities along the route. This could be done in conjunction with state/local grants, etc. (despite being on an LD train instead of a state-supported corridor), or as part of the package for federal support.

Do note that LD ridership had been in a bit of a slide in the years prior to the virus...the peak was, IIRC, in 2013 or so. And I do not think that the claim that Amtrak has been trying to "run off" some business by hiking fares while slashing amenities is without merit, either.
 

Michigan Mom

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Jan 28, 2012
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MI
Seems almost like Disney style pricing, expensive to the point where the goal isn't necessarily encouraging repeat ridership. Whether it's well off folks who willingly pay for the product, or not so well off folk who treat a LD trip as a once in a lifetime event, or at least a rare splurge, the underlying market concept is less about public transportation, more about how much they can get people to pay for that land cruise. If 2 rooms are available they'd rather sell one for $2000 than two for $1000. If this works for Amtrak the same way airline revenue management does for air carriers. those last few spaces close to departure time command a premium, and in effect subsidize the rest of the train/plane.
 

Anderson

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Seems almost like Disney style pricing, expensive to the point where the goal isn't necessarily encouraging repeat ridership. Whether it's well off folks who willingly pay for the product, or not so well off folk who treat a LD trip as a once in a lifetime event, or at least a rare splurge, the underlying market concept is less about public transportation, more about how much they can get people to pay for that land cruise. If 2 rooms are available they'd rather sell one for $2000 than two for $1000. If this works for Amtrak the same way airline revenue management does for air carriers. those last few spaces close to departure time command a premium, and in effect subsidize the rest of the train/plane.
I think the problem is that Amtrak does not have the resources or, I suspect, the desire to offer a "middle-market" offering for long-haul trips. There is definitely a market for the "bells and whistles" sort of offering out there, and it might even come to somewhere in the ballpark of (the equivalent of) 100-200k riders/year on the normal methodology (noting that some of these riders would presumably cover the equivalent of two trains on their trip...say, NYC-Chicago-Los Angeles). There is also a large addressable market with more frequencies at a "saner" price point for a lot of one-overnight legs (NYC-Chicago, NEC-Florida, etc.). Honestly, if Amtrak had the equipment on hand, with moderated pricing (i.e. NYC-Florida is $300-350 in a roomette at current service levels) they could probably have run an all-sleeper train on some routes. The rumblings are that while coach ridership took a hit, sleeper ridership held up quite well since as long as the prices weren't nuts, more folks were willing to upgrade.

But the point is that Amtrak needs to, well, ask for the equipment. Honestly, what Amtrak needs to do is present several "modular" packages in their annual appropriation requests (i.e. "This is an LD-oriented equipment order we would like funded").

My personal hope is that if a large slug of funding is presented, Amtrak is informed that they will be ordering new LD equipment (or that it will be "ordered for them") with extra capacity (and the potential to be expanded to third-party entrants if Amtrak is overly recalcitrant to add LD routes).
 

lordsigma

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One thing that will help here is that they have stated that they will eventually be rolling out the bid up service for sleeping car rooms. This will allow for some last minute upgrade sales of some of the premium accommodations to try to make some dough off the unsold rooms.
 

Michigan Mom

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The bid-upgrade option will be interesting to look forward to. And there's no reason not to offer it. Amtrak just has to be sure they have enough F/B on board to accommodate the upgrades.
 

Sidney

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Jul 12, 2020
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Finally,a logical move on sleepers. Revenue is revenue. Why not offer discounted prices once on board to fill unsold sleepers. Better than to leave them empty.

I would imagine there are many Coach travelers who would upgrade to a roomette if the prices would come down to earth. Worst offender..The Silvers. NY/Phl to Orl/Mia almost $500 for the cheapest roomette and trying to even find that price is rare..and on top of that you are stuck with flex dining.

However obviously people pay that price and more,so nothing will change.
 

dlagrua

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Hillsborough, NJ
Just checked the Bedroom fares again from PHL to FLG and they are still frozen at the high point with rooms still available. They are priced at near $6K R/T for two. Lets face it Amtrak is not the Orient Express! Our $1600 R/T first class airline fare did make more sense this year but I just wanted to check if we made the right decision. If Amtrak can sell out the LD sleepers at this level of pricing thn great for them but if not there may be a different plan in place.
 
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Amtrakfflyer

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I didn’t say it in a nice succinct manner yesterday. But I doubt very much bidding will ever happen for sleepers under the current regime. Nothing will come of it, when pressed they will say they’re working on it regarding making sure staffing or F/B is available for upgraded passengers or some BS. More than likely it will die in the wind. Like the convection oven upgrades, bedding/blankets, etc.

Honestly has ANYTHING at all positive management claimed was in the pipeline for long distance trains actually happened the past three years? Anything? Downgrade after downgrade but all the positives they hyped up as “coming soon” never seem to come to fruition. It’s time to call a spade a spade and stop giving the benefit of the doubt when we are continually lied to.

The other possibility I think could happen is management appears to make a “good will effort” and rolls the bidding out only to reject all bids under 90 percent of the going rate. That would be the Flynn/Gardner kinder gentler spin on the failed in your face policies of Anderson.


tQUOTE="Michigan Mom, post: 893097, member: 5950"]
The bid-upgrade option will be interesting to look forward to. And there's no reason not to offer it. Amtrak just has to be sure they have enough F/B on board to accommodate the upgrades.
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