Need Amtrak trip and route planning help. Who should I contact?

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My partner and I like train travel but have never been on Amtrak. We are thinking of going on a long trip this winter and would like to do it by train but have so far found the Amtrak website not particularly easy to use for planning the trip.
We want to go from St. Paul Mn. to Philadelphia, then to South Carolina, to Denver to Sacramento to Portland and back to St. Paul. At each city we will be stopping to see relatives for a few days so we can do laundry there. We have a month to do the trip and are not locked in to specific dates.
We would like a roomette so we don't have to be masked 24 hours. Masked when we are out in the general population of the train is ok.

We are on somewhat of a budget, not cheap but we will just drive and use hotels if the price is more than we care for.

What is the best way to find the fare and compare fares for different dates?
A travel agent? Which one?
Amtrak by telephone?

What else do we need to consider when planning this trip?

Thank you for any help you can offer.
 

Cal

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Honestly, I feel like you will get a good amount of help about schedules here, rather than calling Amtrak (which can be a tiring process).

Amtrak has no option to show fares over a range of days, unfortunately. They do their fares by buckets based on availability. I've attached an image of fare buckets below, I don't think it's the most recent one but it will give you an idea as to what the prices can be. Do note that these are for end-to-end for each route.

1631482901893.png
 

pennyk

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I recommend against using a travel agent.
When planning a multi-stop trip, I usually use an excel spreadsheet for different dates and determine the fares from the Amtrak website. It may be tedious, but I think it is more trustworthy than a travel agent. If the waits to speak to Amtrak phone agents were not so long, calling Amtrak may be a good option, but these days, the wait can be long.

If you are looking for suggestions for trains, this site is a good place to start.

Edit to add: roomettes seem to be more expensive than they have been due to more people traveling and wanting to travel in a room.
 
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pennyk

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Looks like you will travel from St. Paul to Chicago on the Empire Builder.
From Chicago to Philadelphia, you have 3 choices: Capitol Limited to DC (likely least expensive), Lakeshore Limited to NYC; Cardinal to Philly (likely most expensive and only runs 3x a week).
Depending on where in South Carolina, you likely will want to take the Silver Star or Silver Meteor from PHL.
To get to Denver, you will likely go back through Chicago from either DC (Cardinal or Capitol Limited) or NYC (Lakeshore Limited). Because of lack of connections from Silver Star, you would likely take the Silver Meteor to DC or NYC (unless you spent the night in either city after taking the Silver Star).

From Chicago, you would take the California Zephyr to Denver then the California Zephyr to Sacramento.
The Coast Starlight will take you from Sacramento to Portland and the Empire Builder will take you back to St. Paul.

Sounds like a great trip. I suspect it will be expensive.
 
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Honestly, I feel like you will get a good amount of help about schedules here, rather than calling Amtrak (which can be a tiring process).

Amtrak has no option to show fares over a range of days, unfortunately. They do their fares by buckets based on availability. I've attached an image of fare buckets below, I don't think it's the most recent one but it will give you an idea as to what the prices can be. Do note that these are for end-to-end for each route.

View attachment 24348
Huh? Is Amtrak still in the 19th century or what? A confusing hand written chart to show fares? We want to take the train but if the reservation system is any indication of Amtrak's competency we will drive. This is rediculus.
 

niemi24s

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Welcome to the Forum!

Of course a good travel agent can do the planning for you, but all you need to DIY is available here.
• The Amtrak home page can lead you to two maps showing where the trains go if you click on destinations
The next page has two options: Trip Planning Map; See All Routes which has a banner for Amtrak National Route Map (PDF, 3MB)
• Timetables (schedules) for each train are available here: Amtrak Routes & Stations These timetables, however, may be out of date.
• Roomette fare data for the entire route of each train as well as some partial routes are available here: Long Distance Train Coach & Sleeper Fares (Buckets) However it simply lists all the possible fares - not which fare is offered on a particular date.
• To see which fare is offered for a particular date and train your only recourse is to do a dummy booking on the Amtrak home page.
 

denmarks

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I would use a travel agent for something that complicated. They are free and get a percentage from Amtrak. Note that just because a travel agent has Amtrak in their name does not mean they are run by Amtrak. They just pay a license fee to Amtrak. Amtrak does not have its own travel agency. You can try using the Amtrak multi-city menu. It is under "other" on the destinations page.
 
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"These timetables, however, may be out of date. "
"However it simply lists all the possible fares - not which fare is offered on a particular date. "
" To see which fare is offered for a particular date and train your only recourse is to do a dummy booking on the Amtrak home page. "

How does this railroad stay in business?
If an airline made it this hard to find fares for dates and classes of service they would be laughed at and go broke.

I thank you all for your help, I realize you don't make the rules for Amtrak.
 

Nick Farr

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Huh? Is Amtrak still in the 19th century or what?
In many ways, yes.

We want to take the train but if the reservation system is any indication of Amtrak's competency we will drive.
You can take the train, but you'll probably have to book each section separately. Amtrak doesn't show fares across a range of dates on it's website as we've been lamenting as of late.

Also, driving will probably be cheaper depending on how fuel efficient your vehicle is.

That being said, the train is quite an experience. The ride after Denver is some of the most scenic stretch of the country you can see only by rail (or whitewater rafting).

Amtrak will be way more epic than a road trip. Epic doesn't come cheap or convenient.
 
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AmtrakBlue

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Huh? Is Amtrak still in the 19th century or what? A confusing hand written chart to show fares? We want to take the train but if the reservation system is any indication of Amtrak's competency we will drive. This is rediculus.
That chart is not Amtrak's. It was created by one of our members.
 

niemi24s

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Huh? Is Amtrak still in the 19th century or what? A confusing hand written chart to show fares? We want to take the train but if the reservation system is any indication of Amtrak's competency we will drive. This is rediculus.
That chart you found in Post #5 is not from Amtrak. It's from yours truly and it's one of many posted in the thread linked in Post #6.

All of the Roomette fares shown on it are current with the exception of the Auto Train. All Coach fares are current as far as I know.
 

Cal

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Huh? Is Amtrak still in the 19th century or what? A confusing hand written chart to show fares? We want to take the train but if the reservation system is any indication of Amtrak's competency we will drive. This is rediculus.
Yes, Amtrak's system has never had a major upgrade, it's extremely outdated and known for it's many errors here. The chart was made by @niemi24s, Amtrak doesn't publish the buckets themselves. The reservation system is a pretty good indication of Amtrak's competency.
 
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Thank you for the chart but the abbreviations mean nothing to someone who is not familiar with Amtrak and since we don't know what dates the fares are for in the future how do use this info to plan a trip?
 

Cal

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Thank you for the chart but the abbreviations mean nothing to someone who is not familiar with Amtrak and since we don't know what dates the fares are for in the future how do use this info to plan a trip?
C = Coach
R = Roomette (Smallest type of sleeper accommodation, good for one, tight for two)
FB = Family Bedroom (Largest type of sleeper accommodations made for families, not available on all trains as shown in the chart)
B = Bedroom (Twice the size of roomette with private restroom and shower includes)

It will just give you a rough idea of what prices can be, as I saw you were curious about the cost.
 

Cal

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Thanks, what are the other abbreviations on the chart?
The other abbreviations are the abbreviations for the route names. I'll list the ones that will apply to you

CARD = Cardinal
LSL = Lake Shore Limited (the one that applies to you is the one with NYP under it)
CRES = Crescent
SILV STAR & MET = Silver Star/Silver Meteor
CZ = California Zephyr
EB = Empire Builder (the one that applies to you is the one with PDX under it)
CL = Capitol Limited
 

zephyr17

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Amtrak IT is legendarily backwards, and, no, they do not provide multiple day fare options. Niemi24s puts in a lot of work to research and check those handwritten charts and many of use find them an invaluable resource and appreciate his effort very much.

Most travel agents, except a very few rail specialist agencies, are almost wholly ignorant of Amtrak. They add no value whatsoever, have no access to cheaper fares, or special knowledge of how fares fluctuate. You would paying fees for nothing, or worse, bad information ("My travel agent told me I'd have a shower in my roomette!").

Your best bet is to use the Amtrak.com website and us here to plan your overall route, then start checking Amtrak.com to check fares on possible travel dates. Fares can vary from one day to the next, sometimes dramatically. Be as flexible as possible on travel dates, the best approach is to set a window of a month or longer, then going into the detail. Fare also can fluctuate for a given day over both up and down, as the Amtrak yield management team communes with the spirit world and consults goat entrails.

To start, you are not going to be able to do a circle trip from St. Paul that involves Phildelphia, South Carolina, Denver, Sacramento and Portland. To do that you are going to do an eastern leg going down to Chicago, then on to Philadelphia and South Carolina. Then backtrack to Chicago and a western leg from Chicago to Denver, Sacramento, up to Portland, then back to St. Paul from Portland.

If you were willing to skip Denver you could go from South Carolina to New Orleans, from New Orleans to LA, from LA to Sacramento, then to Portland and finally St. Paul, thereby making a circle.

Bear in mind sleepers are not cheap even at the best fares, being a couple times more expensive and on top of the base rail fare even at low bucket and several times that at higher buckets. Low buckets are increasingly hard to come by, that being the subject of a lot of recent conversation on this board. Just taking a look at that handwritten chart for the Capitol Limited ("CL"), the California Zephyr ("CZ"), the Coast Starlight ("CS") and the Empire Builder ("EB") will give you an idea what the fares are. You will only be going in a Sleeper as far as Pittsburgh on the Capitol, you would probably be coach from Pittsburgh to Philly, and probably coach to South Carolina. Then Sleeper at least from Washington back to Chicago returning from South Carolina. You are doing most of the Zephyr route and most of the Builder, but only Sacramento to Portland on the LA-Seattle Starlight, about half.

Look at the chart, get a rough idea of the cost and see if it is feasible in sleepers at lower buckets.

Then check back here, we are usually willing to help, and a lot of us understand most aspects of Amtrak travel, including fare structure, quite well.
 
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Thank you for your help, now I only have to look up those train names and routes and schedules to plan my trip on what is supposed to be a national rail system.
I think we will drive or fly.
 
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Thank you very much, I truly appreciate all the help.
We would love to take the train but the logistics of planning the trip and then the uncertainty of being close to on time are just not worth it.
I wonder how many millions of others share my sentiment.
 
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Devil's Advocate

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Your concerns are understood and shared by many. The honest truth is that most of us probably ride passenger rail in spite of Amtrak rather than because of them and I agree that if Amtrak was an airline or bus company they would have gone bankrupt ages ago. I'm a member of a group that is trying to fix these and many other problems but it's slow going and just when it looks like real progress is being made something else gets worse and needs more attention.
 

John Bobinyec

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I would use a travel agent for something that complicated. They are free and get a percentage from Amtrak.
A long time ago, Amtrak paid commissions to travel agents, but several years ago they stopped doing that. Someone can double check me on that.
jb
 

zephyr17

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Just finding a fare for a future date is easy, just put in your origin, destination and supposed travel date for a given through segment, much like an airline site. You don't have to split it by individual train, most common same day connections are loaded into the system. You can put in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Philadelphia in, and it will come up with a choice of routes and costs. Here is a partial sample for next month, October 12th. The problem is it won't return fares for multiple days. Most airline sites will give you fares for week at one shot (travel date +/- 3 days).

BTW, that first option, which would be via the Cardinal, is a good deal, probably about as low as it goes for sleepers. I ran it for one, it isn't double for 2 as there is only one accommodation charge. 2 would be $100 to $200 more, only another rail fare.Screenshot_20210912-161349_Chrome.jpgScreenshot_20210912-161401_Chrome.jpg
 
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John Bobinyec

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Thank you very much, I truly appreciate all the help.
We would love to take the train but the logistics of planning the trip and then the uncertainty of being close to on time are just not worth it.
I wonder how many millions of others share my sentiment.
You still have the option of doing certain segments by car and others by train.
jb
 
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