Tuesday, January 26

Amtrak Guide: How to Buy an Amtrak Ticket Plus A Few Insider Tips

Amtrak California Zephyr on a curve on the Colorado River
I took this photo aboard the California Zephyr as we traveled alongside the Colorado River.

Whether you want to book a cross-country trip on Amtrak or simply ride the train from Orlando, Florida to Charleston, NC, the process to buy an Amtrak ticket is easy.  There are three different ways you can purchase your train ticket. 

Three Easy Ways to Buy an Amtrak Ticket 

There are really three ways to reserve and buy an Amtrak ticket.  It all depends on your comfort level and patience. 

Personally, I do a combination of the first two ways listed below.  After checking online, I’m fairly knowledgeable to know what to ask Amtrak’s reservation agent to do. 

1.  Buy Your Amtrak Ticket Online

This is probably the easiest and quickest way to buy your ticket.  

Go to Amtrak.com.  Then type in the two cities that you want to travel from and to, the date of travel and then press Find Trains.

What appears next is a list of several train itineraries (routes) to choose that will get you to your destination as quickly as possible. From here, you can then select the type of coach seat you’d like or choose a sleeping accommodation.

Before you click Find Trains, click on the arrow below Traveler – Adult. Here you’ll find several discounted fares offered: Senior, Passenger with Disability, Companion (to assist), Rail Passengers Association, Military (Active) and Military (Veteran). Be sure to get any discount to which you are entitled. 

There is also a space on the lower left corner of the booking box where you can enter a discount or promo code.

After you pay for your train trip online, you will receive an email with your e-ticket. This will have a bar code on it that the person at the train station will scan as well as the conductor when you are on board. You can either print the ticket or save it on your phone.  I prefer to save it on my phone and it’s scanned from there.

Amtrak Zephyr Observation Car
Amtrak California Zephyr, maybe the most scenic train ride in America, best appreciated in the Observation Car.

2.  Purchase Your Ticket by Phone with Amtrak

This is my preferred way to buy my Amtrak tickets. Why? Because I usually have a couple of questions to ask the agent, plus I want to choose my sleeping compartment.  You can only do this by directly speaking with a reservation agent.  

To book your train over the phone, call 1+800-USA-RAIL or 1-800-872-7245. Here’s where it gets fun..at least for me.

How to Bypass the Phone Menu and Go Directly to an Agent

When the automated voice of “Julie” answers, reply, “Agent.” That’s it.  Say nothing else.  The voice will ask two more questions. Just reply, “Agent” to each question. Nothing more.

There’s rarely any hold-time, so within a few seconds or maybe a minute, you’ll have a real, live person to help you plan your trip. And if you happen to get what I like to call an “old timer” (that’s what long-time reservation agents call themselves, too) he or she will know all the ins and outs of booking an Amtrak trip.

Phone lines are open 24/7 and holidays, too.

3.  Buy an Amtrak Ticket with Amtrak Guest Reward Points

You have to join Amtrak Guest Rewards points program.  You can “earn” points from booked Amtrak trips, through Amtrak’s Guest Rewards shopping links or buy points.  Insider Tip:  Monitor Guest Rewards for a good bonus points reward program.  

Look at the screenshot above of the online reservation form.  At the bottom of the online form is the option to book with points.  It’s located next to “Find Trains.”  Enter all the usual travel parameters.  Instead of clicking on the button for Dollars, click the Points button.  The next screen will tell you how many points you need for that route.  You can add sleeping accommodations, too.  

Then you can compare and decide which to use; points or dollars.  It’s also possible to purchase additional points online and then apply them to your new reservation.  Call the Amtrak Guest Rewards desk (or ask to be transferred if you call general reservations) and someone there can walk you through your purchase and new train reservation.

Amtrak Empire Builder Glacier Park Montana
Amtrak’s Empire Builder arrives at Glacier Park, Montana.

What you can’t do is buy an Amtrak ticket online using points if it is for more than one route.  For example, Orlando to Washington to Chicago is two routes.  To use Amtrak Guest Reward Points, you’d have to buy each segment separately.  

If this is too daunting, call Amtrak Guest Rewards at 1-800-307-5000 and speak with a real person who can then combine two routes to buy with  points.  

READ NEXT:

BONUS! Tips and Tricks to Book an Amtrak Ticket

I’ve been riding Amtrak since before it was Amtrak (1971).  Along the way, I’ve gotten a little smarter and hope these train booking tips are helpful.

  • Let’s say you decide to phone Amtrak to make your reservation.  If for some reason you don’t feel confident in the person who answers, you can either: ask for a supervisor or politely hang up and call back.  It’s worth it.  This only happens when a new person is not properly trained for reservations.
  • If you’re taking the train on particularly scenic routes and you have a sleeping compartment, ask the train reservation person to tell you your accommodation location.  For example, on the California Zephyr going west from Chicago, you want your sleeping compartment on the side of the Colorado River, so be on the left side going westbound.  
  • If you are in coach and for example traveling north or south on the Coast Starlight or Amtrak Cascades from Seattle, WA to Portland, OR, ask the station agent to reserve your seat on the water side.  
  • On the Superliner (double-decker) train, Deluxe Bedroom E is smaller than the others and getting into the bathroom is a little tricky.  See the diagram below.  Bedroom E is the one at the end of the car.  Also, you can sometimes hear the door to the next car open and close.Amtrak Superliner Sleeping Car Diagram
  • You may not want roomette 1 or 2 on the upstair on a Superliner.  Those two rooms, though convenient to the coffee maker station and stairs, are right next to or across from the upstairs bathroom.  It might be possible to hear people during the night using the facility. 

Need even more help? Book your train with Amtrak Vacations

The fourth way, and one I haven’t tried but know the company, is Amtrak Vacations. This is an independent travel agency that has a contract with the government to sell Amtrak. Different from a “regular” travel agency, they only sell Amtrak and are truly experts in putting together package train deals.  If you have a complicated reservation with lots of stops along the way, it might help to contact them or at least to get their price.

If you have any questions, feel free to email us and we’ll get back to you asap.  Buying an Amtrak ticket doesn’t have to be complicated.  While there are several options to buy the ticket, it’s a short learning curve until you’re a pro.  Enjoy the journey!

I’m the editor and creator of CruiseMaven.com, and I travel the world without flying.  I hope to entertain, inform, advise and inspire you to experience the world at “see” level.  Be sure to enjoy a local meal and a glass of wine along the way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *