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Author Topic: Guest Rewards
Henry Kisor
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I'm thinking about dumping one of my airline credit cards and replacing it with an Amtrak Guest Rewards card.

How does the point redeeming work? How many points, for instance, would it take to get a roomette from Chicago to Emeryville on No. 5?

The airlines redeem points by flights (for any domestic destination from Chicago on United, for example, 25,000 points). Does Amtrak redeem by trips in a similar way?

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ehbowen
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quote:
Originally posted by Henry Kisor:
How does the point redeeming work? How many points, for instance, would it take to get a roomette from Chicago to Emeryville on No. 5?

The airlines redeem points by flights (for any domestic destination from Chicago on United, for example, 25,000 points). Does Amtrak redeem by trips in a similar way?

Two zone roomette from Chicago to Emeryville: 20,000 points, one way. Two passengers (published capacity of the room) may travel for the same point cost as one. A bedroom would be 30,000 points, again one way.

Redemption Chart

As far as point credit is concerned, you earn one point per dollar spent. Two points per dollar spent on Amtrak travel, even if you are buying the tickets for someone else.

I was leery of a credit card serviced by one of the major commercial banks (Chase), but after two years now I have had no reason to complain about their customer service or terms & conditions.

--------------------
--------Eric H. Bowen

Stop by my website: Streamliner Schedules - Historic timetables of the great trains of the past!

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zephyr
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As stated above, Chicago to Emeryville is two zones/20K points. And that's whether you go by the Zephyr or a more convoluted routing (say, Empire Builder/Coast Starlight). Spouse/guest are included.

A two zone bedroom will set you back 30,000 points.

It appears the Chase AGR promotion redepositing 5% of redeemed points is still on. So for those packin' the AGR Mastercard, your account will be charged 20K points for a two zone roomette, but 1,000 points (5%) will be redeposited into your account. You earn when you burn, so the trip only costs you 19K.

Despite some warts, I feel AGR is one of the best affinity programs around. And if you're not in the habit of carrying a monthly balance, the Chase AGR card is a great way to maximize your benefits.

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Henry Kisor
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Thank you. This sounds attractive to me. For years I've been flying American and United on their points cards, but now that flying ain't so fun no more (and hasn't been for decades) it seems that getting points for the way I really want to travel makes great good sense.
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TwinStarRocket
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I have been very happy with the Chase AGR card. There are enough promotions to keep the points coming. Currently I am getting triple points for restaurants, groceries, and gas totaling over $250 OCT-DEC. I especially like paying the dentist on AGR because it feels less painful when I think about the free train ride. Since I don't carry a monthly balance, I just use it for many things I would otherwise pay cash for.

Some day I would like to try Wolf Point, MT to El Paso as my one zone fare.

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smitty195
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There are tricks you can use to get an extra zone out of your trip (for example, using a two zone reward, but traveling through three zones and getting an extra night or two on the train). I forget the one routing that a friend told me about, but it was somewhere where you start at Point A and your destination is Point B, with Point B being the west coast, such as Emeryville on the Zephyr. From the Point A starting location, the only way they can route you is to send you east on an overnight train, then transfer to another overnight train to get you to Chicago, then on the Zephyr for 2 more nights to get to Emervyille. So you're only using AGR points for a 2 zone trip, but you're traveling through 3 zones and spending 4 nights on different trains.

When I have more time, I'll play around with the system to figure out what this routing was. But I'm pooped and going to bed....G'night....

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TwinStarRocket
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Maybe Milton-Bradley has a new opportunity here.
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notelvis
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RE: Smitty's post - Here is an example.

Atlanta borders both the central and eastern zones. A one way trip in roomette from Denver (or Chicago or Albuquerque) to Atlanta will charge the single zone redemption (15,000) even though you will have to travel into the eastern zone via Washington to do it.

Up to three nights onboard for 15,000 points....or 20,000 in bedroom.... equals BARGAIN!

Also, I have found that you receive double points on the Chase AGR card on dining car purchases when you are a coach passenger. The points add up quickly and I have been pleased with my Chase AGR Card.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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sojourner
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I think you actually get triple points for an Amtrak trips--you are awarded double points on the Chase card when you pay for the trip and are then awarded travel points for the trip when you actually make it. (But if you buy it for someone else, you don't get the latter.) If you are Amtrak Select you get an additional bonus of travel points when you travel too.
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Henry Kisor
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This morning I ordered the Chase card.

Now: Would it be possible to get from Chicago to Seattle by way of Los Angeles or Emeryville and still use only two zones in sleepers? Or would I have to accept a direct Chicago-Seattle routing?

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zephyr
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Yes, though you may have to do the Zephyr/Starlight transfer at SAC rather than EMY.

Amtrak.com offers 3 routings CHI-SEA. The Builder(the logical route), and two railfan lolligagging routings (Zephyr/SAC Starlight SEA, and Chief/LAX Starlight SEA). Since all three itineraries do not require a layover, they should qualify for a two zone trip.

That being said, sometimes the AGR agent will offer only the shortest route. My experience has been suggesting an alternative routing that is offered on the Amtrak website is eventually accepted (though maybe after some quality hold time while they check with their supervisor).

Last month I cashed in for a three zone bedroom. I was readily offered several alternatives for getting cross country. Sweet. I, of course, selected the itinerary with the Builder segment because of my well-known fondness of Zip Code 5.

AGR agents are now Amtrak (until last month they were private contractors). Time will tell what effect, if any, that will have on the program.

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Henry Kisor
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Aha! he said, rubbing his hands gleefully.

Does the Amtrak web site allow points booking and redemption, or does that have to be done over the phone or in person?

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zephyr
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Travel that includes sleeping accomodations cannot be done online. I've always called AGR to redeem points for travel. Tickets are either mailed to you, or you can pick them up at a ticket counter or Quik-Trak kiosk.

I'm not sure if you can redeem tickets in person at a station. I suspect you can't at this time, but that may change with AGR going in-house.

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notelvis
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Last time I used AGR points for a SAC-DEN bedroom in May, I booked via telephone with the old outside contractor.

I asked for the ticket to be mailed as I would have a tight connection to catch my train. Rather than mail the ticket to me as they had done in the past, they instead gave me a confirmation number over the telephone AND also emailed a confirmation with barcode to me.

(THIS WAS A FIRST)

I printed the email and a few weeks later while in Charlotte for a basketball game, I stopped by the Amtrak station and obtained my ticket from the Quiktrak machine using the barcode.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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RR4me
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Seems the question starting this thread is finished, but I have to chime in with my excellent experience with the AGR card. Their interst rate is nothing special (bad or good), but as Zephyr pointed out, if you don't carry a balance, no matter. We built a home in 2006-07, and as we purchased almost all the fixtures, trim wood, doors, appliances etc. with the card, paying off the balance each month with our home-builder fund, I amassed well over 150,000 points. Alas, my last trip to KC from LA, brought me finally back to earth, and I have to slowly build points again with "normal" purcahses. But it was great fun while it lasted, and I am keeping the card.
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palmland
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If there is a CPA amongst us (GBN??) it would be interesting to know what the cost for an LD trip is for AGR vs an airline frequent flyer program. It seems to me that it is far easier to get free Amtrak trips than airlines.

But, the biggest plus for me is that it is certainly easier to travel when you want to than on an airline program. It appears to me that there are no restrictions (other maybe than some holidays) on using AGR points. If space is available, you can get it if you have enough points- unlike on the airlines. I tried once to use airline miles for a trip and was told no seats where available for as far their registration system could book.

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sojourner
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In my experience, you can pick up the tickets at the station now. And it's advisable you do that, rather than have them mailed. Once you have the actual tickets, changing them is(or at least has been in the past) more problematic. If the tickets are not yet picked up, you can phone to change travel times etc. and make those changes pretty readily, as long as the new slots you want are not full.
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Henry Kisor
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About how long does it take before one's purchases appear on one's Guest Rewards statement?

Too bad the points can only be redeemed one-way, unlike those on the airlines, which allow round-trip redemption. On the other hand, I've got plenty of unused airline miles for returns. But that means I would have to (argh) fly. Can't have everything, I guess.

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sbalax
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I, for one, wish that airlines would offer one-way reward seats. That would make it easier to get back up to a rail trip. Or a cruise! (Welcome home, Vicki and Art!) As far as I know only American and Southwest do that currently. Perhaps Virgin America does, too? Smitty?

I have had very good luck using AGR points for travel. Easy to book and easy to pick up. If the seat/accommodation is available, they will book it. Very few blackout dates or "capacity control" that you will run into on the airlines.

Frank in overcast and soon to be wet SBA

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sojourner
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Henry, if by purchases you mean that Points for Shopping, it takes a very long time in my experience--and often gets screwed up and requires phone calls to AGR, sending proof of purchase, etc etc.

If by purchases you just mean cashing in of AGR points for a trip, that appears immediately on your account, in my experience.

If by purchases you mean something else, such as a hotel stay or car rental for which you are awarded special AGR points because of another special deal offered, that depends on the company involved. I have had very good luck getting my special AGR points for a stay at any of the Hilton family of hotels.

I don't understand the problem you mention re booking a round trip; you can just book two one- way trips instead. Is there something I'm missing there?

I esp like that I can book one way because, as you may have noticed, I often make several stopovers--which can really jack up the points if you try using AGR for all the legs. So I make all my stopovers either outbound or inbound, not both, pay for the trip in that direction, and go coach for some legs. Then for the big long trip in the other direction, I use AGR points.

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reich
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Frontier Airlines offers one way reward seats. I couldn't get 2 seats roundtrip in October with out a 5 hour layover in Denver, so I settled for a one way return non-stop. The fare going was a low bucket, and sure beat changing planes somewhere.
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Henry Kisor
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The Guest Rewards points are beginning to pile up on my spanking new (as of Dec. 1) Amtrak credit card. I notice that on the redemption site, a "BOOK" box appears when one has enough points to choose the prize. Question: Is it safer to book online or by phone?

Also: One can book a roomette across three zones. Would that enable me to get a full round trip from Chicago to Los Angeles and back? Or Chicago-L.A.-Seattle-Chicago?

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notelvis
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Depending on how you ticket the trip, you would have to cash in points at least twice for either a 'round-trip' or a circle trip CHI-LAX-SEA-CHI.

To do the circle, you could use 20,000 points to go Chicago to, say, San Luis Obispo via LAX and then another 20,000 to come home via Portland...

Maybe.

It's been my experience that what they will book as a single trip is pretty much whatever routing the computer will offer up....

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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sojourner
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I think you can go Chicago to LA to Seattle for 20,000 points, since it's in the computer (and then another 20,000 points SEattle back to Chicago), but I'm not sure if AGR computers are the same as the regular Amtrak one. However, on the outbound trip, you would have to go straight onto the next Coast Starlight after you get to LA on the Chief; if you wanted to stay over in LA, then you'd have to cash in 20,000 for Chicago to LA and 15,000 for LA to Seattle.

I have never booked AGR online; that's a relatively new feature. The web site is also newly designed; I didn't realize it had a BOOK box! I will have to check it out some time.

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Henry Kisor
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Hmm, just dreaming --

Could one go CHI-LAX-SEA-Wolf Point, MT on 20,000 points, then Wolf Point-CHI on 15,000 points? A look at the Amtrak zone map suggests so, but in real life?

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Judy McFarland
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I think it has to be a routing that comes up in the reservations computer. If you ask for CHI-WolfPoint, you will probably only be offered the westbound Empire Builder from Chicago. You can do some amazing trips, but obvious backtracking won't work. I was able to book MKE-CHi-LAX on the Texas Eagle/Sunset Route for the same points as on the Southwest Chief, even though the trip involved an extra night on the train.
You cannot (I believe) book CHI-EMY-LAX as 1 trip because there is no direct connection without a layover in EMY or SAC. Be careful if you decide to try to work a connection from the NB Coast Starlight to EB Empire Builder. If the train is running late, you risk a delightful bustitution from Klamath Falls to Pasco, completely missing the Columbia River Gorge.
I'm sitting on 80,000 points, trying to decide on a trip for next September

--------------------
My new "default" station (EKH) has no baggage service or QuikTrak machine, but the parking is free! And the NY Central RR Museum is just across the tracks (but not open at Amtrak train times. . ..)

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Henry Kisor
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Thank you, Judy. I figured that gaming the system would be difficult. Best to be straightforward.

I presume that one can use Guest Rewards on, say, December 26 to book a trip that starts December 27, so long as sleeper space is available. One need not book many weeks in advance, correct?

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sojourner
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Henry, I don't think you can go on Dec 26; it's a blackout date. Amtrak Guest Rewards does not have nearly as many of these as airlines do, but the Christmas/New Year's holiday period is one of them. (It's a bad time to travel anyway, unless you have to.)

These are the blackout dates for now through the end of 2011: December 17-23, 26-30, 2010, and January 2-3, 2011 [most of Christmas/New Year travel period]; February 18 & 21, 2011 [part of President's Birthday holiday]; April 22, 24, and April 25, 2011 [Easter]; May 27, 2011 [Memorial holiday]; July 1, 2, 2011 [of July 4th holiday]; September 2, 5, 2011 [Labor Day]; October 7, 2011 [of Columbus holiday weekend]; November 22, 23, 26-28, 2011 [Thanksgiving]; December 21-24, 26-30, 2011, and January 2, 2012 [Christmas/New Year again]. There are also restrictions against using points on Acela service on weekdays boarding before 9AM or from 2-6PM, and you cannot use AGR points for commuter passes.

Judy, I just noticed that you cannot even make the Portland connection to the eastbound Empire Builder at certain times of year--the Coast Starlite seems to be running on a later schedule Jan-Mar and gets in too late to make the connection. But in April, May, etc., you can make it (assuming trains are not too late). I made it last June--just. Westbound is easier.

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