The question for me still is “Who is paying these fares?”
Older, knowledgeable, regular train riders are horrified and won’t do it.
I don’t think gen z or even millennials have that kind of money—and if they do, they’ll spend it on other things.
Rich businesspeople will fly.
People willing to pay a lot for a luxury train trip will take the Canadian.
So who on earth is actually paying exorbitant prices for the bedrooms and even some roomettes on Amtrak?
Well, I don't think we know, but one thing for sure is there does not need to be very many of them.
I think it may be older, infrequent casual train riders and newbies, both sets being unaware of the yield management system and so don't realize that fares fluctuate. Based on some posts on FB I've seen, I know some think buying early gets the best prices, so they think the high bucket fares they see 10/11 months out are the best they can get.
The infrequent riders may be aware of the wildly varying OBS quality but want to take a ride and resign themselves to it. They may be willing to pay for it since they don't do it very often.
The newbies (and by this I mean new to rail travel, not young), get sucked in by the pretty pictures and seductive marketing copy. They think they are paying luxury prices for a luxury product, not the often worn, beaten up and late-running reality with mediocre and occasionally surly staff. Many, quite justifiably, become "never agains".
There a lot more people who vaguely like trains and think a train ride might be fun than there are dedicated and knowledgeable Amtrak riders. Remember, we here are a self selected group that is generally far more aware of Amtrak's practices than the average Amtrak rider. I have a very good friend who is a hard-core railfan but only a very occasional Amtrak rider. He and his wife have ridden overnight trains a few times and like them, and are aware of the service vagaries. They want to do a transcontinental Amtrak trip sometime in the indefinite future, but probably in the next 2-3 years. He knows I make long Amtrak trips with some regularity and knows I know how to "game" the system about as well as it can be. He's already said he wants my help when their plans start to solidify. But if I wasn't around, knowing him I would say there is about a 50/50 chance that he'd bite the bullet even on a high bucket fare because they want to do the trip and it would be a one time thing. They are far from rich, btw.
Coming back to my initial point, it really does not require very many people accepting high bucket to keep the prices high. There doesn't have to be a large demographic. This year, assuming the second Builder sleeper actually materializes, for the months of June, July and August, there will be a total
of 920 Bedrooms available between Chicago and Seattle. Last year, with just one sleeper, there were just 460 for the same 3 months, pretty much the entire summer.
That is not a lot. Out of potential tens or even hundreds of thousands of potential summer travelers between Seattle and Chicago, a few hundred deciding, what the heck, let's take the train anyway, does not seem outlandish.