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

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It would be difficult to drive my car from St. Paul to Philadelphia, then take the train to SC, then take my car that is in Philadelphia, from SC to Denver.. etc...
 

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It would be difficult to drive my car from St. Paul to Philadelphia, then take the train to SC, then take my car that is in Philadelphia, from SC to Denver.. etc...
I belive they meant car rentals but even that has become a lot more tedious and frustrating in the last few years.
 

zephyr17

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I belive they meant car rentals but even that has become a lot more tedious and frustrating in the last few years.
And more difficult to get, the car rental companies having sold off large parts of their fleets early during COVID to raise cash to survive the downturn. Now they don't have enough cars and are finding it difficult to get new ones because the car manufacturers have slowed production because they can't get chips.
 

Nick Farr

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If we're playing Amtrak Fare Golf: $4,827

I'm actually a bit surprised I could do an around-the-country trip in sleepers for under $5k.

All prices quoted in Roomettes for two Passengers, assuming Rail Passenger Association discount. (Family membership is $80). Prices searched on 9/12/21

Departing February 8, 2022, returning to MSP February 22.

MSP to PHL: $801
PHL to CLB: $478
SPB to DEN: $1,246
DEN to SAC: $917
SAC to PDX: $380
PDX to MSP:$1,005

You can go ahead and search these codes to play around with dates on the Amtrak website. Each segment itself will make Amtrak responsible for missed connections if booked as a separate segment. The only snag here is getting a ride from Columbia, SC to Spartanburg, SC. (I didn't know exactly where in SC your relatives were).

Leaving February 8:

St Paul (MSP) to Philadelphia (PHL): $801

28 Empire Builder
Depart MSP 8:00 AM Feb 8
Arrive CHI (Chicago) 3:55 PM Feb 8

50 Cardinal
Depart CHI 5:45 PM Feb 8
Arrive PHL 8:26 PM Feb 9

Philadelphia (PHL) to Columbia, SC (CLB): $478

91 Silver Star
Depart PHL 12:35 PM Feb 10
Arrive CLB 1:30 AM Feb 11

[Here's the tricky part: Can you get from Columbia SC to Spartanburg SC?]

Spartanburg SC (SPB) to Denver (DEN): $1,246

20 Crescent
Depart SPB 3:04 AM Feb 12
Arrive WAS (Washington DC) 1:45 PM Feb 12

29 Capitol Limited
Depart WAS 4:05 PM Feb 12
Arrive CHI (Chicago) 8:45 AM Feb 13

5 California Zephyr
Depart CHI 2:00 PM Feb 13
Arrive DEN 7:15 AM Feb 14

Denver (DEN) to Sacramento (SAC): $917

5 California Zephyr
Depart DEN 8:05 AM Feb 16
Arrive SAC 2:13 PM Feb 17

Sacramento (SAC) to Portland (PDX): $380

14 Coast Starlight
Depart SAC 11:59 PM Feb 18
Arrive PDX 3:32 PM Feb 19

Portland (PDX) to St Paul (MSP): $1,005

28 Empire Builder
Depart PDX 4:45 PM Feb 20
Arrive MSP 7:43 AM Feb 22
 
Joined
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Messages
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If we're playing Amtrak Fare Golf: $4,827

I'm actually a bit surprised I could do an around-the-country trip in sleepers for under $5k.

All prices quoted in Roomettes for two Passengers, assuming Rail Passenger Association discount. (Family membership is $80). Prices searched on 9/12/21

Departing February 8, 2022, returning to MSP February 22.

MSP to PHL: $801
PHL to CLB: $478
SPB to DEN: $1,246
DEN to SAC: $917
SAC to PDX: $380
PDX to MSP:$1,005

You can go ahead and search these codes to play around with dates on the Amtrak website. Each segment itself will make Amtrak responsible for missed connections if booked as a separate segment. The only snag here is getting a ride from Columbia, SC to Spartanburg, SC. (I didn't know exactly where in SC your relatives were).

Leaving February 8:

St Paul (MSP) to Philadelphia (PHL): $801

28 Empire Builder
Depart MSP 8:00 AM Feb 8
Arrive CHI (Chicago) 3:55 PM Feb 8

50 Cardinal
Depart CHI 5:45 PM Feb 8
Arrive PHL 8:26 PM Feb 9

Philadelphia (PHL) to Columbia, SC (CLB): $478

91 Silver Star
Depart PHL 12:35 PM Feb 10
Arrive CLB 1:30 AM Feb 11

[Here's the tricky part: Can you get from Columbia SC to Spartanburg SC?]

Spartanburg SC (SPB) to Denver (DEN): $1,246

20 Crescent
Depart SPB 3:04 AM Feb 12
Arrive WAS (Washington DC) 1:45 PM Feb 12

29 Capitol Limited
Depart WAS 4:05 PM Feb 12
Arrive CHI (Chicago) 8:45 AM Feb 13

5 California Zephyr
Depart CHI 2:00 PM Feb 13
Arrive DEN 7:15 AM Feb 14

Denver (DEN) to Sacramento (SAC): $917

5 California Zephyr
Depart DEN 8:05 AM Feb 16
Arrive SAC 2:13 PM Feb 17

Sacramento (SAC) to Portland (PDX): $380

14 Coast Starlight
Depart SAC 11:59 PM Feb 18
Arrive PDX 3:32 PM Feb 19

Portland (PDX) to St Paul (MSP): $1,005

28 Empire Builder
Depart PDX 4:45 PM Feb 20
Arrive MSP 7:43 AM Feb 22
Great information, thanks!
 

Nick Farr

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But that DEN to SAC fare seems quite high..
It is. $656 and $799 are the lower buckets I found in February. You might be able to find a slightly lower fare for the whole trip starting in late January.

Shall we play Fare Golf?
 
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Devil's Advocate

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The entire travel industry is challenged these days, not just Amtrak. Witness countless airline flights cancelled this summer.
I had some annoying delays and cancellations on Delta and American this summer but nothing came close to what we're seeing with Amtrak's service disruptions. When you only have one train per day you have to be skilled and efficient to make up the difference. Unfortunately Amtrak has the worst recovery process of any carrier I've used.

And more difficult to get, the car rental companies having sold off large parts of their fleets early during COVID to raise cash to survive the downturn. Now they don't have enough cars and are finding it difficult to get new ones because the car manufacturers have slowed production because they can't get chips.
My rental a couple weeks ago was ready in about ten minutes and the staff offered some premium SUV's while I waited. They claimed that all reservations were being honored (but no walk-ups) and on arriving back at the airport there was a glut of recent returns so maybe things are finally getting better with the domestic rental market.🤞
 
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Milwaukee
No argument that the Amtrak site leaves much to be desired, however this is a six-segment trip with flexible dates. You'd likely need to do a significant amount of investigation to build the optimal trip no matter what mode(s) you choose. And optimization in this case doesn't just mean absolute lowest fare, but other factors like how many days at each destination (not too few days, not too many), possible concern about connecting times, willingness to ride coach, etc. also come into play. It would be an easier task if Amtrak gave a fare calendar so you could see which specific days were cheaper, but that would just make the process a notch or two less cumbersome. Your best bet is to think of this as six individual trips and stack one on top of the next.

Others have already contributed some thoughts but here are mine. Note that I mostly checked between mid January and mid February, so fares may vary of course.

Minneapolis-Philadelphia
This is around $850 for a roomette and roughly 30 hours with two connections, one in Chicago and the other most likely in Pittsburgh or Washington.
Leg 1 Minneapolis-Chicago is about 8 hours and daytime. If you want to save money you could do this leg in coach and save roughly $250 or so.
Leg 2 is from Chicago, most likely the Capitol Limited. It's a 2:45 connection but it's pretty reliable -- 93% of the time successful in the past 3 months.
You can take the Capitol Ltd either to Pittsburgh or to Washington where you can connect to a Philly train.
Leg 3, no matter if you connect via PIT or via WAS, this third leg of the trip is on a train without any sleepers, so you'll be in coach. It's a daytime segment.
--connecting via PIT, this third leg is 7.5 hours in coach and you arrive about 3pm
--connecting via WAS, this third leg is about 2 hours in coach and you arrive about 5-6pm
Note that going via PIT looks to often be nominally less expensive (well under $100) but via WAS has more time in your roomette including meals.

Philadelphia-South Carolina
Apologies if I missed your specific SC destinations, but its roughly $500 and 11-12 hours in a roomette for most destinations. If you're going to Charleston or elsewhere on the Palmetto and want to save money that offers a daytime trip for about $200 in coach. The trains with sleepers are all overnight and depending on where you're going you'll arrive in SC in the very early morning.

South Carolina to Denver
Fly. You can typically get a four-hour nonstop flight from Charleston to Denver for under $150 per person on Southwest with enough advance purchase. The rail trip is around 55-60 hours and a roomette can easily be $1300-$1400. I'm certain many on this board would love a trip such as this, even when it's sandwiched into such an long venture like this one. But even if you fly this segment you'll still have dozens and dozens of hours onboard Amtrak during your odyssey. And if you're new to Amtrak you may not want to risk growing sick of train travel so early in the trip.

Denver-Sacramento
31 hours, one train, scenic, easy, and I found some days under $700

Sacramento-Portland
15.5 hours, one train overnight, easy, $400-ish

Portland-Minneapolis
37 hours, one train, two nights. This is the one I saw the most variation in fares -- some days I found an $836 fare but some other days were several hundred higher. Because this could easily be your most expensive segment and seems to be the one with most fare variation, my suggestion would be to start with a cheap day for Portland-Minneapolis, what will be your final, homebound segment. Then use that date and work the rest of your itinerary backwards. For example February 12 has an $836 fare, so then work your way backwards and look for a cheap fare Sacramento-Portland in the range of February 7-10th, etc. Depending on how much "play" there is in the number of days in each city you can hopefully get good fares for every leg.
 
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Willbridge

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Another alternative to consider is mixing modes. I've used air on one segment and bus or rail on the return. Use whatever works best.
 

Dustyroad

Service Attendant
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Jul 2, 2020
Messages
164
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.
I know it can be very confusing. If you call Amtrak and talk to an agent to book your trip, make sure you tell them if you are a senior, military, or have worked for the rail road. That will give you a discount. My friend and I always call Amtrak to book our trips. It is just easier. They send us an email with the trip details/confirmation reservation #. Have a great trip no matter which way you go-rail or drive.
 

amtrakp42

Train Attendant
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Mar 2, 2014
Messages
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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.
It is much faster to use the app than than website. You can go back and change dates much easier and faster.
 

caravanman

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Nottingham, England.
It is a shame that a member of the public would like to go on a fairly adventurous train trip, but can't find the way to do that easily on the Amtrak website!
Members trying to offer advice may consider that folk can have zero knowledge about anything train related, and may need baby steps at first...
If I were doing this trip...
1) find out on amtrak.com which trains run between the start and first city visited.
2) continue on to find trains from second to third, and again etc to final destination.
3) check dates for prices each day. A long winded process, but the only option I know.
4) See if it all can tie up for possible dates and fares available.
5) Get the car out... ;)
 

SouthwestDude

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I have to weigh in. Yes, it's a long wait to speak to an Amtrak rep but it is worth it. A few months back I planned a cross country trip for my 65th birthday next year but had no idea what the fares might add up to and was worried I might not be able to afford it. I am taking the Pacific Surfliner, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Lake Shore Limited, Empire Service, Crescent, City of New Orleans and Southwest Chief. I am staying in roomettes - solo - total cost?

$2800 which, to me, seems like a VERY reasonable price.

It did require some advance planning but the Amtrak rep helped me through each step. I was on the phone with her for 90 minutes.
 

Keith1951

Train Attendant
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Jun 29, 2021
Messages
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Location
Ohio
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.
All these different answers may be quite confusing to you since you are new to this. Everyone, including my self, is telling you something different. I would suggest you just play with the online reservation system and figure it out on your own. It will be confusing at first but you will begin to understand it. I went thru the same problem myself on my first booking. But it will become clear. Just play with it and when a problem occurs, stop, and start over and try again, it costs nothing. You will figure it out.
 

cirdan

Engineer
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I think a good point to start is to look at the Amtrak map to get an approximate view of where you can go in the first place and which connections make sense and which just involve stupidly long detours that you could do more efficiently in a different way.

Then you can look up the schedules of those trains using the Amtrak website or asking about them here. This forum is simply full of experts who have travelled on every route thinkable and can answer all sorts of questions, including the pros and cons of different types of room etc.

The Amtrak website will offer complicated journeys involving multiple changes but I would first look these up as individual segments if you are unsure about them.
 

Trogdor

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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
If I may offer a suggestion, posting this chart for an Amtrak newbie is more trouble than helpful. It’s more like “expert mode” for someone who really cares about arcane details rather than the simple mode of just looking up the fare for the trip they want to take. Especially since fares can change at any time, bucket availability is fluid, and the chart has a lot of code that makes sense to the person that created it but is otherwise meaningless for a person coming in “off the street” so to speak.
 

Nick Farr

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If I may offer a suggestion, posting this chart for an Amtrak newbie is more trouble than helpful.
Agreed. The other non-obvious thing is that the bucket chart refers to pricing across the entire route.

What would be most helpful is actually giving routing and costs, perhaps competing to see who can craft the cheapest journey across that route.
 
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