First Timer Questions, Tips, Tricks, etc

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PerRock

Conductor
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Sep 16, 2006
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I've begun updating the r/Amtrak wiki on Reddit. So I am reaching out to you all for your Tips, Tricks & FAQs that first time riders could use. Credit is given for the entries, if you'd like your Reddit account linked, feel free to post the tips in my thread on Reddit.

I've also gathered a listing of links that are useful for people. If you see any I missed, let me know & I'll add them. I do plan on adding the route-specific Twitter accounts, but haven't gotten around to it. Send me those as well, as I might not know of all of them.

Thanks a bunch!

Peter
 
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cpotisch

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On trains that use both AM-Is and AM-IIs, always try for a seat in an AM-II. Windows are significantly bigger and seats are much more spacious. Seats and legroom are almost exactly the same as Business Class, but you don't have to pay extra. Trains that use both types of Amfleets include:

  • Palmetto
  • Maple Leaf
  • Adirondack
  • Empire Service
  • Pennsylvanian
 

cpotisch

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Always use Amsnag. Makes it incredibly easy to find the cheapest days and buckets, and was started by PaulM, another member here on AU!
 

cpotisch

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When booking more than one train, it's not uncommon that it will be cheaper to book it as a connecting ticket or multi-city, than as two separate reservations. Savings can be significant, so take the time to look.
 

cpotisch

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If you're booking a coach ticket on an LD train, use this trick to determine the lowest possible fare. Select a sleeper for that segment (for any day), and see what the listed base 'rail fare' is. Since sleepers are priced as the cost of the room plus the lowest bucket coach fare, that base rail fare will be the cheapest coach price possible. Then when you find a day with charging that much for a coach ticket, book, since you've gotten the best possible price!
 
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willem

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If you're booking a coach ticket on an LD train, use this trick to determine the lowest possible fare. Select a sleeper for that segment (for any day), and see what the listed base 'rail fare' is. Since sleepers are priced as the cost of the room plus the lowest bucket coach fare, that base rail fare will be the cheapest coach price possible. Then when you find a day with charging that much for a coach ticket, book, since you've gotten the best possible price!
I might have it wrong, but that's not my understanding. I thought the rail fare is based on the lowest bucket, while the Saver fare (which is not available for the rail fare portion of a sleeping car journey) is lower than the lowest bucket. If I'm correct, then the "cheapest coach price possible" is less than what your method would produce.

Where are you finding the "listed base 'rail fare'"? Again, I might have it wrong, but I don't believe the Amtrak web site will show that information, and if you expect a reader to check somewhere else, you should say so.
 

AmtrakBlue

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Where are you finding the "listed base 'rail fare'"? Again, I might have it wrong, but I don't believe the Amtrak web site will show that information, and if you expect a reader to check somewhere else, you should say so.
Once you make your selections and get to the "pay" screen, it shows the room(ette) cost and the rail fare cost, as I recall. But who wants to do that - and tie up rooms - just to find the lowest fare.
 

cpotisch

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I might have it wrong, but that's not my understanding. I thought the rail fare is based on the lowest bucket, while the Saver fare (which is not available for the rail fare portion of a sleeping car journey) is lower than the lowest bucket. If I'm correct, then the "cheapest coach price possible" is less than what your method would produce.
You are correct that the Saver fare is lower than the rail fare. The rail fare is always the lowest bucket Value fare. However, Saver fares are not available on some routes or dates, and carry some limitations (primarily regarding refund and change policy) that don't apply to the Value fare.

And as to why you anyone would want to know the lowest possible Value fare, if your dates are flexible or you're on a budget, it can be useful to know the best possible price, as you might want to wait to book or look for a different date, if a significantly lower fare is possible.
 

cpotisch

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Once you make your selections and get to the "pay" screen, it shows the room(ette) cost and the rail fare cost, as I recall.
  1. Select the itinerary, click 'add to cart'
  2. On the "Add a bike, pet or golf clubs" page, click the down arrow next to the price
  3. Click 'details'.
Then it shows the price of the room and rail fare. You don't have to go all the way to the 'pay' page.
 
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Joined
Aug 19, 2019
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3
If you're booking a coach ticket on an LD train, use this trick to determine the lowest possible fare. Select a sleeper for that segment (for any day), and see what the listed base 'rail fare' is. Since sleepers are priced as the cost of the room plus the lowest bucket coach fare, that base rail fare will be the cheapest coach price possible. Then when you find a day with charging that much for a coach ticket, book, since you've gotten the best possible price!
New rider - what is an LD train?
 
Joined
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Another newcomer question - am taking the Crescent from Atlanta to DC and still considering options. Do the reserved coach seats on this train have curtains? I like how they describe your train may have...but don't actually say what your train has. Thanks.
 

AmtrakBlue

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Another newcomer question - am taking the Crescent from Atlanta to DC and still considering options. Do the reserved coach seats on this train have curtains? I like how they describe your train may have...but don't actually say what your train has. Thanks.
Yes, the Crescent has curtains.
 

velotrain

Service Attendant
Joined
Jul 29, 2019
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Eloise - I'm also relatively new, but the term "reserved seat" simply means that you're guaranteed a seat - somewhere - on the train. Unlike VIA, Amtrak coach seats aren't reserved. The best seats are in the middle of the car as there is much less jostling from the trucks mounted underneath the ends of the car - making those the worst seats.

If you like looking out the window, try to be ready to move as soon as the train is "called" - i.e. loading begins, or you may find yourself sitting next to the aisle and the curtain will be out of your control.

They use the term "may" so they have the freedom to move equipment around without committing to what any train will actually have on a given day.

Another note - Amtrak likes to really refrigerate their cars, so wear long sleeves/pants and have additional layers available. I only wear shorts between Memorial Day and Labor Day, so just brought shorts and short-sleeve shirts on my recent trip, and regretted it. I noticed younger folks dressed similarly didn't seem to mind, so perhaps I've become old enough where cold bothers me, although I've always preferred cold to hot, never felt the least desire to move to Florida, and thought anything over 70 degrees was excessive - although, will sometimes tolerate 80.

Lastly, I've found that some coach seats have long since lost their supportive qualities, so you might want some sort of cushion. I've just ordered an extremely lightweight, folding, "self-inflating" type for my next trip.
 
Joined
Aug 19, 2019
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Is there any way to plan for lower fares. With airlines Wednesdays are usually lower, any tips for trains. I am going overnight and have seen roomettes for $425 and $225 for the same train. Unfortunately I can't recreate that price and the not user friendly web site does not help. Thanks for the tips
 

PerRock

Conductor
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Sep 16, 2006
Messages
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AmSnag (link in one of the posts above... or google it) is probably your best bet. It will search & return prices for a range of dates.

That being said, generally speaking mid-week is going to be cheaper than weekends, and the earlier you can book the cheaper it'll be; very rarely does the price drop last min.
 
Joined
Jan 17, 2020
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Always use Amsnag. Makes it incredibly easy to find the cheapest days and buckets, and was started by PaulM, another member here on AU!
yes, I happened upon it as I was just poking around online, and he saved me 50% on th EB with bedroom! Thanks Paul!
 

pennyk

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For those that want to know which trains are single level vs. bi-level (as of January 2020):

Most eastern trains are single level: Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Crescent, Cardinal, Palmetto, Carolinian, Adirondack, Vermonter, NEC, Acela, Maple Leaf, Empire Service, Downeaster, Keystone.

Western bi-level LD trains: Southwest Chief, California Zephyr, Texas Eagle, Sunset Limited, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder
City of New Orleans also bi-level.
Heartland Fyler uses Superliners also (bi-level) (per Bob Dylan).

Hiawatha - single level
I believe Cascades are usually single level, but often have a Superliner coach (per Bob Dylan).

I am not sure about California trains.

This is not a complete list. If anyone has additions, please post (and I can edit to include). If I got something wrong, I am sure someone will let me know. Thanks.
 
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PerRock

Conductor
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Sep 16, 2006
Messages
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I believe Cascades are usually single level, but often have a Superliner coach (per Bob Dylan).
Cascades are the Talgo trains & are single level, fixed consists. You may occasionally find a Superliner whole train running in the service as a backup when a Talgo set is out of commission.

Surfliners are bi-level using their California Cars.
Most of the other "Amtrak California" trains are bi-level using California Cars, there is one or two single-level sets running on one of the routes.

Midwest Corridor trains are single-level. Michigan (not sure about others) will sometimes get Superliners during the winter (although they've not done that in a while) The Pere Marquette seems to be somewhat inconsistent with it's equipment and can be found with both single level Horizons or Superliners.

peter
 
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