Deutsche Bahn has joined the Star Alliance. Should Amtrak follow?

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plane2train

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It was recently reported that Deutsche Bahn, stemming from its partnership with Lufthansa, will be joining the Star "Multi-Modal" Alliance (same alliance as UA/LH/TK/SG and others). If Amtrak were to join, I think many air travelers would be incentivized to take the train and that an alliance would strengthen the AGR program, as it would eventually be able to offer points-earning opportunities to its ridership when they travel on other alliance members. Air carriers would be able to book their passengers on the Acela and other trains using codeshare agreements instead of flying them to certain places. However, Amtrak's agreement with UA (both codeshare and reciprocal frequent flyer agreement) went away a number of years ago. Does anyone know what factors figured into the decision to end it? I see nothing but positives for Deutsche Bahn and its ridership in joining Star and don't see any issues in Amtrak doing the same, save for a few upgrades to its technology that it might have to implement to service connecting airline passengers.

 
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This is nothing new. DB used to be aligned with OneWorld and an AA/BA codeshare partner. They've simply switched alliances after being dormant for a few years. It makes sense they'd go where Lufthansa operates. This may be the precursor to some reduction in short-haul flights in favor of rail routes as already happened in France.
 
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This is nothing new. DB used to be aligned with OneWorld and an AA/BA codeshare partner. They've simply switched alliances after being dormant for a few years. It makes sense they'd go where Lufthansa operates. This may be the precursor to some reduction in short-haul flights in favor of rail routes as already happened in France.
Given that the ICE goes through Franfurt Airport, it definitely makes sense to partner with them!
 

jis

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I'd expect outfits like OBB and SBB to be the next in line to joint the Star Allaince.

What would be really intriguing and neat is if Indian Railways manages to do so, but the necessary IT alignment will take a bit of doing. I would not expect it to be something that happens soon.

There is a higher speed Metro line geared towards supporting airline passengers connecting Indira Gandhi International Airport Terminal 3 to New Delhi Railway Station, and IGI is served by United, Lufthansa and a few other Star Alliance Airlines in addition to being the primary hub of Air India which is a Star Alliance member.
 

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If Amtrak were to join, I think many air travelers would be incentivized to take the train and that an alliance would strengthen the AGR program, as it would eventually be able to offer points-earning opportunities to its ridership when they travel on other alliance members.
This might have been more relevant in the early days of travel alliances but today the majority of MacGuffin points are earned through stationary events like signup bonuses, manufactured spending, and endless churning. An artificial economy based on hyperinflation and usury dodging. The number of points earned from excursion travel is tiny compared to the cost of booking with points and many of the benefits of a global alliance are limited to irregular operations and edge case situations. It seems unlikely that many new customers would choose Amtrak simply because they joined an alliance but I have no problem with Amtrak joining one and it might even push them to update their back office for a change.
 
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jis

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Code shares are quite independant of alliances. Having a bunch of code shares does not require one to be part of any alliance, and interestingly, being in the same alliance does not mean that there will be code shares between all flights flown by the two alliance members either.

The classic case of this that I know of is United and Air India in India. Both are * members, but United does not have code share with most AI flights in India, and indeed preferentially they code share with Vistara, which is not a member of any alliance! Even more oddly, now Vistara and Air India are both owned by the Tata Group.

But, as I said before, it would be really interesting if Indian Railways joined * in India.
 

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One thing that comes to mind: DB has a lot more frequent, reliable connection options at Star Alliance-heavy airports throughout its home country than Amtrak does.
Remember there was a time that Lufthansa operated its own trains. Well, trains branded and painted in Lufthansa livery and with Lufthansa cabin staff providing on board service, but of course the mechanical and technical aspects were handled by DB. I think this stopped (from memory) some time in the 1990s when the original generation of trains became life expired and Lufthansa judged it would be more rational to just codeshare their passengers onto regular trains, which of course also permitted them to offer more choice in terms of destinations and frequencies.
 

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I think historically, digging even further into the past, you may find that for several European countries the original flag carrier airlines started as a special division or subsidiary of the respective national railways and were marketed either as high-end premium services to augment the national and international rail systems for business travellers paying premium fares, or to serve destinations not on the rail map such as islands. As operations grew these companies were gradually spun off into separate companies.

For example in the UK the Great Western Railway operated an air service carrying both mail and passengers. I think but I'm not sure that initially they used seaplanes and thus no airport was required, rail connections being provided at the ports served. Later, post-nationalisation this part of the business was split off, first as an independent entity and later attached to the national airline.

Airlines now wanting to be involved with trains is thus an interesting reversal of fortunes.
 

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Airlines now wanting to be involved with trains is thus an interesting reversal of fortunes.
The alliance wants to be involved but the airlines mainly want easy onward booking for connections if France and other countries keep pushing for fewer flights and more train travel. Hard to imagine anything like that happening under a system like ours. The very idea that the environment should be meaningfully protected or that pollution can even be regulated seems to be at risk now. Which implies Amtrak may have a harder time attracting similar agreements.
 

cirdan

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The alliance wants to be involved but the airlines mainly want easy onward booking for connections if France and other countries keep pushing for fewer flights and more train travel. Hard to imagine anything like that happening under a system like ours. The very idea that the environment should be meaningfully protected or that pollution can even be regulated seems to be at risk now. Which implies Amtrak may have a harder time attracting similar agreements.
I believe that when Lufthansa first commenced its rail operations, that environmental concerns were not part of the equation. Rather there was concern that regional flights were eating landing slots that could be better used for more profitable long-haul flights, especially as expansion of capacity at airports was often unpopular and sometimes met fierce local opposition. For example there was a plan to extend Frankfurt, I think in the 1980s or thereabouts that would have involved acquiring a lot of land, including wel-loved parks and recreational areas and this led to massive opposition and even street riots. I can't remember how it ended but I think the expansion plans were either stopped completely or scaled down significantly.

So maybe the best way to push airlines into looking into rail alliances is to put a moratorium on airport expansion and development.
 

cirdan

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Also, its not as simple as saying there is a DB - Lufthansa partnership. Well, there is of course. But DB also offers deals for airport trips that AFAIK can be used in combination with the flight of any commercial airline and can be booked through the airline travel agent (that is, if you are booking in Germany. I do not know if foreign booking agents are also attached to the system, or if they are, whether they are doing enough to promote the system)
 

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Remember there was a time that Lufthansa operated its own trains. Well, trains branded and painted in Lufthansa livery and with Lufthansa cabin staff providing on board service, but of course the mechanical and technical aspects were handled by DB. I think this stopped (from memory) some time in the 1990s when the original generation of trains became life expired and Lufthansa judged it would be more rational to just codeshare their passengers onto regular trains, which of course also permitted them to offer more choice in terms of destinations and frequencies.
Indeed, the Lufthansa Airport Express operated between Düsseldorf, Cologne, Bonn and Frankfurt Airport from 1982 to 1993:
 

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Europe is moving to drastically shift national flights and shorter routes to rail for environmental reasons. Having state owned railroads allows them to be instruments for social progress. Membership in alliances makes sense. The problem for Amtrak would be choosing the best one. It would require some study because US airlines are largely regional monopolies and hub cities are important. Probably either American or United would be best. Delta’s hubs are in less rail served cities.
 
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Update: According to posts on FlyerTalk, the DB codeshares have started showing up in airline searches through partner airlines. The example given was YYZ-FRA-ZMU when searching YYZ-MUC. (The latter codes represent Munich HBF and Munich airport respectively.) One poster commented that the integration appears to have been seamless.

Maybe it's because I'm a schedule geek that the value to Amtrak in a similar association seems clear. Someone could probably come up with a good example using an easy connection point such as Newark, where the first or last leg of a Star Alliance flight could be completed on Amtrak. Heck, even VIA should look into it for Dorval, where most corridor trains stop at the airport. Both these airports have strong international routes in addition to domestic.
 
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cirdan

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Someone could probably come up with a good example using an easy connection point such as Newark, where the first or last leg of a Star Alliance flight could be completed on Amtrak.
There is nothing to stop people doing that already. All that an alliance changes is that it makes the booking easier. It's not even clear whether it would be any cheaper that way. For example in Germany and other European countries there are lots of saver and super saver offers for the trains that may not be automatically extended to passengers booking via an airline booking system. So the selling point is in the ease of booking rather than the price point.

So basically maybe Amtrak doesn't need to pick an airline to ally with but just needs to work on people knowing that the train is an attractive mode of onward travel and make it super-easy for people to book themselves. This can start with having a clear presence on the ground in the connecting airport through advertising and signs that people can't miss, so that even if people already have other arrangements they may remember for next time. Also advertise in in-flight magazines and offer discount coupons and such to encourage people to try.
 
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railbuck

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There is nothing to stop people doing that already. All that an alliance changes is that it makes the booking easier. It's not even clear whether it would be any cheaper that way. For example in Germany and other European countries there are lots of saver and super saver offers for the trains that may not be automatically extended to passengers booking via an airline booking system. So the selling point is in the ease of booking rather than the price point.

By booking as a connection on a single ticket, though, there's protection against flight delays. If the incoming flight is late, just get on the next train instead of throwing away the SuperSparpreis ticket and paying a full fare.
 

cirdan

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By booking as a connection on a single ticket, though, there's protection against flight delays. If the incoming flight is late, just get on the next train instead of throwing away the SuperSparpreis ticket and paying a full fare.
True

But on the other hand if you have a regular flexible train ticket you might also be able to get on an earlier train if you clear immigration and baggage pickup faster than anticipated.
 

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There are plenty of advantages to having train tickets sold through a common booking platform with an airline.

True, a passenger can book both tickets independently, but you’re adding a step which a lot of people aren’t going to necessarily want to do. For those who will, you are relying on them keeping track of scheduled arrival/departure times to make sure they book the right connection, rather than having it already built in for them. Making people go to two different booking platforms to book a trip is going to reduce the likelihood that they are going to bother with such.

This likelihood is also heavily impacted by whether they are even aware of the train option. Yes, in theory you could heavily advertise the connection in the in-flight magazine. However, most people don’t read the in-flight magazine.

You could heavily advertise in the connecting airport, but at that point you’ve already missed out on getting them for that trip (and you have to hope they think about it for the next trip, again putting the onus on them to book through two different platforms).

The other, bigger issue, IMO, is that you are also going to miss a ton of potential passengers who could use the service as a connection but never use the connecting airport where the train connection exists.

Take a hypothetical route for which someone is traveling to Philadelphia, and suppose there is a nonstop to EWR from their origin, but no nonstop to PHL. They go to the airline website and search XXX-PHL, see no nonstops, but see the best connection as being through ORD. They will never see all of the Amtrak ads at EWR because they never set foot in EWR, and would have never thought to book to EWR and then check Amtrak to PHL. Instead, they’re connecting through ORD. And, practically, there is no reason for Amtrak to plaster ORD with ads about NEC connections via EWR, because from ORD you can fly nonstop to each of the relevant cities anyway.

The problem with Amtrak’s EWR service is that it’s an “if you know, you know” proposition. Granted, lots of people ride the NEC and, thus, would know. But lots of folks from elsewhere don’t know the first thing about Amtrak and would never for a moment think of booking their east coast trip to EWR if they’re not traveling to New Jersey or NYC.

If they want to travel to New Haven and see that their best option, according to the airline, is to connect in Chicago and wind up in Hartford, they will never even realize that they have a nonstop flight plus train option.

Even international travelers who are used to taking trains around their own countries won’t know that EWR (or, I suppose, BWI) are air-rail connecting points for travel up and down the NEC. So they might book a connecting flight rather than a nonstop to the train connection.

I think the biggest limitation in this is probably booking systems integration and/or working out the financial aspect of revenue sharing for these tickets and cost sharing for reservation system maintenance. Otherwise, there’s no really good reason not to join up.

And if *Gold gets me into the Metropolitan Lounge, I suppose that’s fine with me, too.
 
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