Amtrak Credit Card Review (UPDATED)

Amtrak has gone through a bit of a credit-card rewards slump this past year. First, Chase axed its Amtrak rewards card in 2015. Then, near the end of 2015, Chase announced that it would no longer allow Ultimate Rewards transfers to Amtrak’s Guest Rewards program.Amtrak rewards credit card

But Bank of America picked up the mantle in 2016 and launched its own co-branded Amtrak rewards cards – the Amtrak Guest Rewards World MasterCard ($79 annual fee) and the Amtrak Guest Rewards Platinum MasterCard (no annual fee). The card is an improvement over the previous product and rewards those who commute or travel frequently with Amtrak.

Earning rewards

Both cards are offering a sign-up bonus right now. For the Amtrak Guest Rewards World MasterCard ($79 annual fee), you can get 20,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on the card in the first 90 days. For the Platinum MasterCard version ($0 annual fee), you get 12,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.

Beyond that, you’ll earn rewards as follows:

 Amtrak Guest Rewards World MasterCard ($79 annual fee)Amtrak Guest Rewards Platinum MasterCard
Amtrak travel and onboard purchases3 points/$12 points/$1
Other travel purchases (airlines, car rental agencies, hotels, motels, inns, resorts, cruises, travel agencies)2 points/$1N/A
Other purchases1 point/$11 point/$1

Note that you will also be earning the regularly rewarded points that come from being a member of Amtrak Guest Rewards — 2 points per dollar spent on tickets (with bonuses for Business and First-Class travel).

Our analysis:

We like travel rewards cards that allow you to earn rewards in categories other than the co-branded partner – and the World MasterCard version allows you to do just that. However, if you’re playing the credit-card rewards game, you probably have another dedicated travel rewards card you’re using for travel purchases.

If that’s the case, the no-annual fee version of the card may be a better fit (especially if you’re not going to use any of the other World MasterCard benefits, which we’ll get to in a moment).
The Platinum version allows you to rack up points with Amtrak at a rate of just 1 fewer point per dollar than the World MasterCard. That means, with the no-annual-fee Platinum version, you don’t have to fret about recouping an annual fee and can just use your rewards whenever it’s convenient.

Redeeming rewards

Amtrak’s rewards program gives the following redemption options:

Amtrak travel: You can reliably get 2 cents per point with this option, but your value varies, depending on the fare.

For example, say you’re traveling from Chicago to New York. Here’s the cash cost of one route:

Amtrak reservation cash

And here’s the cost in rewards:

Amtrak reservation reward points

If you book the Saver rate (worth $85), you’re getting a value of 2.3 cents per point. If you book the room, your value goes up to 2.9 cents per point.

Gift certificates and points toward other travel: You can redeem for Hertz gift cards and cruise gift cards (for a value of nearly 1 cent per point to slightly more than 1 cent per point). You can also redeem for Starwood stays (starting at 10,000 points for one night at a Category 1 hotel).

Retailer, restaurant and movie theater gift cards: The redemption value varies but maxes out at 1 cent per point. For example, you can get a $100 Regal Entertainment Group gift card for 10,000 points (a 1-cent-per-point value) and a $50 Olive Garden gift card for 6,000 points (a 0.8-cents-per-point value) as of April 2016.

Our analysis: No surprise here — your best bet is to redeem for Amtrak travel, and a value of 2 cents per point is competitive among travel rewards cards. The other options fetch a smaller value. However, in other travel rewards programs, gift card redemption values =can be much lower (sometimes as low as half a cent per point). So, if you can’t redeem for Amtrak tickets, you at least have other options.

Other benefits

The following benefits might make the World MasterCard version worth the annual fee:

Amtrak Guest Rewards card benefits
Amtrak Guest Rewards World MasterCardAmtrak Guest Rewards Platinum MasterCard
Redemption bonus5 percent rebate when you redeem for Amtrak travel
Elite status benefits1,000 Tier Qualifying Points toward status each time you reach $5,000 in eligible spending in a calendar year (up to 4,000 TQPs per year)N/A
Companion ticketComplimentary companion coupon upon account opening and annually after you renew your card membership. Blackout dates apply.N/A
UpgradesA one-class upgrade upon account opening and annually after you renew your card membership. Not valid for sleeping card upgrades. Blackout dates apply.N/A
Lounge accessSingle-day ClubAcela pass, upon account opening. This gets you into lounges at stations that have them (including CubAcela, Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge or First Class lounges)N/A

Our analysis:
If you travel with Amtrak frequently, these perks could make the $79 annual fee worth it. In fact, the companion ticket alone could cancel out the annual fee, assuming the fare is more than $79.

The value of the upgrade and lounge perks are harder to quantify. The lounge pass is a one-time thing (you don’t get it every year), but it could make a long transfer more comfortable (assuming the station has a lounge).

As for the annual upgrade perk, not all trains have business or first class. But, if you frequently use a route that offers the possibility of upgrades, it can help justify the annual fee. For example, upgrading from coach to business when traveling from Washington, D.C. to New York is worth $45 on a regional train. And upgrading from business to first on an Acela Express train is worth $123:

amtrak upgrade costs

The bottom line

It’s a shame that Amtrak is no longer an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. If you don’t use Amtrak for regular daily and business commutes (or don’t live in an area well served by Amtrak), train travel probably isn’t something you do that often. Having Amtrak in the Ultimate Rewards transfer family allowed you to transfer in UR points when you needed to – and use them for a variety of other travel programs in the meantime.

Now that UR transfers are no longer possible, the co-branded Amtrak card is a compelling option. However, getting any co-branded card requires committing to the associated program. Assuming Amtrak travel is in your future, which version of the card to get depends on your level of commitment:

  • If you plan to take Amtrak for the occasional vacation or commute (as a back-up to flying), the no-annual-fee card is likely your best bet. You’d be hard pressed to use the benefits that justify the annual fee (especially considering Amtrak’s blackout dates). Plus, if you put your travel spending on another travel card, the only other “advantage” of the World MasterCard is the 1 extra point you get per dollar on Amtrak purchases.
  • If you are a hard-core Amtrak business commuter or spend your vacations traversing the country by rail, the annual-fee card may be worth it, especially if you don’t travel alone; just one use of the companion pass can knock out the annual fee.

    If you’re looking for a more generalized, flexible rewards card that allows you to earn and redeem rewards on Amtrak (albeit at a lesser per-point value) and other travel purchases, consider one of the following travel rewards cards:

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I’m trying to decide whether I should get the card. It says you get a free ticket if you purchase $500 in 3 months… That’s easy. Do you really get a free ticket? And can it be used this year on the Auto train from DC to Orlando? Do they have blackout dates?

Am I to understand that I didn’t qualify for this cared

It’s also possible to get extra point for shopping. I just bought a computer from Tiger Direct and got 2,000 extra points. That’s almost half of a one way trip with just one purchase. Since I’ve gotten the card I’ve taken at least one free trip a year.

Have a friend that took the 4 of them to Orlando on the autotrain for free.

For train aficionados, the Chase card is the best around. Each point is worth about 4.5 cents if you book an Amtrak bedroom cross country, say Seattle to Boston ($2710/60000)

The author is mistaken, you do earn extra points on Amtrak purchases when using this card.
Also, I just bought a $101 train ticket with 4000 points (Unfortunately, the redemption cost for ne corridor tickets increased) making each point worth 2.5 cents. Significantly higher than any other rewards card I’m aware of.

Those are the points you earn thru the Guest Rewards program (which is seperate from the credit card). The credit card itself unfortunately doesn’t earn you any additional points. I know it’s confusing.

No, I have the card and I’ve been a Guest Rewards member for some time. The card itself does earn you extra points on Amtrak purchases. Buy a train ticket for $101. You earn 202 points from Amtrak Guest Rewards, immediately. You then also earn 202 points from the World Card posted at end of statement.
I am looking at my Chase/Guest Rewards statements as I type this.

A funny little perk: The card gives you double points on cafe car purchases. Amtrak Guest Rewards doesn’t give you any points for cafe car purchases.

Anyway, if you actually ride Amtrak, there is /no/ better credit card.

You really aren’t going to fix your misinformation about the double points on Amtrak purchases? Are you a capital one shiv?

I got the card despite what I read here, and I can also confirm that the 2 points per Amtrak dollar earned on the credit card are in addition to the normal Amtrak Guest Rewards points. I spent $196 on Amtrak travel on my last statement, and earned 392 points. I traveled on one of the round-trips I purchased on that statement, and just received my 400 standard Guest Rewards points (100 each way, with a double-points promotion doubling that). So purchasing Amtrak travel with the card gets you at least 4 points (2 points for the card, 2 points for the AGR program, with a 100-point minimum on that end, and at the moment double-points through AGR). You should correct your article.

I may apply for the Sapphire card for its sign-up bonus and ability to transfer to lots of programs, but for now this no-fee card is just what I need.

If you like to take train trips and you use the Amtrak MasterCard for lots of purchases (groceries, gas, etc.), then the points really add up and it is a great value for train travel. For example, we just booked a 2 zone round trip for next summer, which used 60,000 points (but we got back 3,000 points). If we had paid for that trip, the cost would have been $3,500. So, in effect, each dollar spent on the Mastercard was worth over $0.06 in train travel.

Just wondering if this is worth it for me. I’m a college student and I travel nearly every weekend on amtrak to go home, and I plan on using the card strictly for train tickets. Also, My main goal is to recieve to 12,000 bonus points for signing up. Is this worth it?


Hi Erin, if you need a no annual fee card that you will use strictly for train tix and pay in full, then yes I would say it could be worth it. Just keep in mind the extra rewards you will be earning on Amtrak purchases won’t really be better than what other travel cards would give you on those purchases (because there are several which give 2x points on travel, inc. trains).

Yes, absolutely- I was surprised that this article didn’t mention that, for me the 12,000 mile opening bonus was about $300 worth of train tickets for free, and then you are earning points back every time you use them- I can’t even remember the last time I paid for a train ticket.

I just moved to upstate NY and will be using Amtrak frequently to get to NYC, so I applied and received this card… mainly for all the reasons @kev listed above.

I disagree with your oversimplified assessment. First of all (minor point, but worth considering for the sake of apples to apples) the rebate on your amtrak redemption points is actually worth 5.26%, not 5%. (You are getting $1 value for only $0.95, a 5.26% premium.)

Secondly, the redemptions are essentially giving you a northeast zone ticket for, after rebate, only 2,850 points (a $28.50 value), a one zone ticket for $52.25 equivalent points spend, and an Acela ticket for only $76 value. Market retail price of the tickets is routinely double that! So when you consider 1% back to be a “low rate at which you earn” compared to cash back cards, you are right only in simplified terms of number of points you received. However, all points are not created equal. The exchange rate between amtrak guest rewards points and ticket redemption is somewhat more favorable, very unlike a lot of restaurant gift certificate and airline mileage programs which may give you a 1:1 redemption, at best. While experts say the redemption value of a southwest rapid rewards mile is $0.0167, even that is a low when compared to the generous value of an amtrak point.

Thirdly, you can “double dip” Amtrak travel points routinely when buying on your rewards card you get the points for the trip and the 2 points per dollar, not to mention the frequent promo deals offered only for amtrak rewards cc members.

All these distinctions add up to a better card than you give credit for here, IMO.

I was thinking the same thing as I read the write-up. For someone who spends $100-200 per month on credit, no, the card doesn’t offer much. But if you pass most of your spending through a credit account — for instance, things like daycare and school payment plans as well as gasoline, groceries, and other “necessities” — you might find yourself earning 2000-3000 points per month just from the dollar-for-dollar spending.

That’s the same deal that you get with an airline credit card, but there are two big differences. One, airline cards all have annual fees; this card doesn’t. But far more significant is that while 3000 miles are of no value unto themselves for an airline program, 3000 AGR points is enough to buy a one-way coach fare in the Northeast. If all of your monthly spending flows through the Amtrak credit card, you could be earning six round-trip coach fares each year just for doing what you’re already doing.

For someone who travels by train, that’s nothing to shrug off.

As of a few months ago, you need 4,000 points for a one-way coach fare in the Northeast.