Recently, I took my children on a bucket-list train trip around the United States. A cross-country trip on the train has been on the “before the kids leave home” bucket list for years. Our oldest enlisted in the US Marines this past fall and is set to ship off to basic in September, so it was now or never.
The problem. Train travel is EXPENSIVE! Our tickets priced out around $5,000. That was just for 6 coach seats on the train. It didn’t take food or lodging or any other costs into consideration. That’s too much! But, it’s something I really wanted to do with the kids, so…where there’s a will, there’s a way, right?
This trip wasn’t something I put together over night. I put the finishing touches on it in a hurry once we’d picked out a date, but I started unofficially planning it about a year ago. That’s pretty much how any crazy adventure we’re planning goes. Lots of forethought. Then….bam! Everything happens pretty quickly once all of the stars have properly aligned.
To make this trip happen, we started with one of the Amtrak credit cards through Bank of America for both the husband and myself. But here’s the thing. You can’t just go playing the credit card game all willy nilly. There’s a knack to it. First and most importantly, and I can’t shout this loudly enough, DO NOT SPEND MONEY YOU CAN’T PAY OFF RIGHT AWAY! Now, read that again. It’s SUPER important! Also, don’t go spending money you weren’t going to spend just to hit the minimum spending requirement. It’s just not a good idea.
Speaking for the Amtrak card, specifically, it regularly offers a 20,000 point sign on bonus, but I’ve seen them offer double that plus enough of a cash bonus to cover the annual fee. So, keep an eye on it and wait for them to make a particularly juicy offer. Then, pounce on it.
With the Amtrak credit card you’ll also receive:
*2 FREE companion tickets
*1 FREE lounge pass (good for 2 adults and all people in your party who are under 21)
*A quick bit about the lounge pass: Not all stations have a lounge. A lot of them don’t, actually, but, we had a long layover in Chicago, twice. We also had an awful lot of luggage…a dozen or so different suitcases and backpacks and whatnots. We could have, with that layover, sat in the station and watched the time tick by. OR, we could have rolled all of the luggage through the streets of Chicago. OR we could have paid Amtrak to hang on to them for $10/bag (or $120 each for both of our layovers). OR we could utilize our lounge pass and check our bags in their storage room for free AND grab some snacks and beverages before and after checking out the Windy City. So, that’s what we did. Our lounge passes saved us an additional 240 valuable vacation dollars and allowed us to decompress with a couple snacks and drinks before taking on the goodness Chicago had to offer and while waiting for our train when we got back. It was a very juicy perk and we were ever so grateful to have had it available to us.
The husband and I both snagged a card when the bonus was double with a cash reward as well. So, we ended up with around 86,000 points to work with for our big, bucket-list trip. That was enough to cover 6 seats in coach all the way from the east coast to the west coast and back again. It wasn’t, however, enough to cover our seats on the coastal train (which, really, was the highlight of the trip, so we weren’t going to miss that!). For that, I used 2 companion passes and was able to grab all 6 seats for our ride up the coast for just $380. I could have whittled that down closer to $300 by using a third companion pass from the husbands account, but the lady on the phone kept laughing at me (something about needing a chiropractor when I got home from a trip like that and being CrAzY for taking ALL those kids). People…I’ll tell ya! So, she threw me off a bit and it cost me $80. I still think we made out pretty well.
6 coach tickets from Harpers Ferry, WV to Los Angeles, CA: 41,000 points
6 coach tickets from Seattle, WA to Harpers Ferry, WV: 41,000 points
6 coach tickets from Los Angeles, CA to Seattle, WA: $125 (adult ticket) x 4
$50 (child’s ticket) x 2
-$250 (companion coupon)
=$350 + $30 (points transfer fee)
That’s the quick tutorial on how to turn almost $5,000 worth of train tickets into a much more palatable $380 (or $300 if you’re on your game more than I was when I was speaking with Guest Rewards).
That’s really it. No secrets. No fun couponing tricks. It’s pretty simple, really. I did it, and you can too. And IF you do, let me know how you made out! I’d love to hear from you!
Choo! Choo! 🙂