Comparing Amtrak B/R fare to First Class Air Fare

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Sauve850

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Nick Farr

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Last we head the sleepers were not filling up. Can you provide evidence that they are?
So unlike a cruise ship, the trains are constantly taking on and dropping off passengers.

This is a unique revenue management problem.

The sleepers could be empty throughout the trip. If a couple books a roomette from Denver to Glenwood Springs for the day, that roomette is not available for people traveling the length of the trip. This means the loss of that additional revenue, unhappy potential customers, etc. It does mean less work for the SCA...

This on top of the fact that the sleepers are possibly the oldest sleeping accommodations you can book.
 

Brian Battuello

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Good point about partial route bookings. Back in the pre-bucket days, I recall (perhaps incorrectly) that sleepers had a certain rough minimum price, roughly $200 or so, just to discourage short bookings. I'm not sure how the bucket system handles it. Maybe I'll go price some short hops just for fun and see what comes up.
 

flitcraft

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We just traveled EB end to end from Seattle and CL end to end from Chicago. In our car, the sleepers seemed completely full on the EB, and full for the most part on the CL--some vacating a ways before WAS.
 

Cal

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We just traveled EB end to end from Seattle and CL end to end from Chicago. In our car, the sleepers seemed completely full on the EB, and full for the most part on the CL--some vacating a ways before WAS.
Did you get flex dining for the EB?
 

OBS

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Once upon a time, the Cardinal headed westbound would get cheaper past a particular place in West Virginia (WSS, perhaps?) presumably for that reason.
Correct. We always had sleeper passengers traveling to the Greenbriar Resort.
 

neroden

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So unlike a cruise ship, the trains are constantly taking on and dropping off passengers.

This is a unique revenue management problem.
It's not quite unique. Check out the cruises offered by Cunard; you will spot that some of them are "supersets" of others as the ship stops at multiple locations in sequence. (Specifically, take a look at the round-the-world cruise and the subsets thereof.) I am sure the revenue management is just as much of a headache.

The sleepers could be empty throughout the trip. If a couple books a roomette from Denver to Glenwood Springs for the day, that roomette is not available for people traveling the length of the trip. This means the loss of that additional revenue, unhappy potential customers, etc. It does mean less work for the SCA...

This on top of the fact that the sleepers are possibly the oldest sleeping accommodations you can book.
 

flitcraft

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We just traveled EB end to end from Seattle and CL end to end from Chicago. In our car, the sleepers seemed completely full on the EB, and full for the most part on the CL--some vacating a ways before WAS.
Did you get flex dining for the EB?
Sadly, yes. Just missed the new transition to full-fledged dining. Interestingly, our dining staff made note of the upcoming change repeatedly in their announcements. Also, both dining car attendants were very recent recalls from furlough--in either their first or second runs post-recall. And, on the plus side, we were told that it was fine to bring our own wine to the dining car--since all they had was Barefoot Wine to offer. Win for us for certain!
 
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Good point about partial route bookings. Back in the pre-bucket days, I recall (perhaps incorrectly) that sleepers had a certain rough minimum price, roughly $200 or so, just to discourage short bookings. I'm not sure how the bucket system handles it. Maybe I'll go price some short hops just for fun and see what comes up.
You are probably correct. In addition, Arrow was programmed to block some "short segments" in sleepers, (and coach also), until released by Space and Equipment Control when a predetermined historical sales figure was attained. For example, when a train first went into inventory, they might allow only one room to be sold from Denver to Glenwood Springs, and once it was sold, they would only sell other rooms over longer distances, until a certain date. An Amtrak sales agent could call the Desk and request the sale of another, and it was the Controller's decision to open it, earlier. It was an early form of Yield Management. I am not sure of how it works currently....

Back then, there was a "work-around", for a savvy traveler or agent to defeat that...;)
At least until they got wise, and removed that ability.
 

crescent-zephyr

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It's not quite unique. Check out the cruises offered by Cunard; you will spot that some of them are "supersets" of others as the ship stops at multiple locations in sequence. (Specifically, take a look at the round-the-world cruise and the subsets thereof.) I am sure the revenue management is just as much of a headache.
Correct. Many cruises offer the opportunity to join or leave enroute as well. They don’t necessarily advertise it because they don’t want to confuse people but you can book them in various ways.
 

Brian Battuello

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True enough for long distance cruises. But watch out for short hops. For years, cruise companies with foreign flagged vessels (i.e. all of them except for a NCL Hawaii vessel and some riverboats) were not allowed to go from one US port to another without stopping at another country first. They finally got permission to make multiple US stops (i.e. NYC-Boston) if they swore on a stack of paperwork that no passengers would leave permanently in Boston. Try taking a NCL cruise from NYC to Halifax and not returning to the ship in Boston, you'll end up paying NCL's fine for intra-US transportation.
 

EchoSierra

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Airlines have the same restriction. In the airline industry, that's called cabotage.
 
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True enough for long distance cruises. But watch out for short hops. For years, cruise companies with foreign flagged vessels (i.e. all of them except for a NCL Hawaii vessel and some riverboats) were not allowed to go from one US port to another without stopping at another country first. They finally got permission to make multiple US stops (i.e. NYC-Boston) if they swore on a stack of paperwork that no passengers would leave permanently in Boston. Try taking a NCL cruise from NYC to Halifax and not returning to the ship in Boston, you'll end up paying NCL's fine for intra-US transportation.
Here's the full regulations on US marine 'cabotage' ... https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2019-Sep/PVSA-ICP.pdf
 

Nick Farr

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It's not quite unique. Check out the cruises offered by Cunard; you will spot that some of them are "supersets" of others as the ship stops at multiple locations in sequence.
But even those cruises have a core voyage, or a set of core voyages with known interest between city pairs.

In no case do they stop in as many locations as any of the LD trains.

People also plan for cruises much further in advance than they do for train travel.

The nature of train revenue management itself is enough of an issue...
 
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