Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Rail Steals

Before booking a coach trip on Amtrak, be sure to check their "Weekly Specials" page. You access this page by first clicking on the mainpage's "Hot Deals" link. It's amazing how discounted certain fares are; for example, I priced a ticket from New Orleans to Chicago for next Monday (February 13th) using Amtrak's mainpage and turned up a fare of $100. But when I priced the same one-way fare using the "weekly specials" page, I generated a fare of $58.00, a $42.00 savings.

In other words, you have to pursue the fare special--Amtrak does not automatically give it to you when you book a ticket using the regular method. Also, weekly specials are not available over the phone. And finally, if you're booking a round trip, be aware that you'll have to book each leg separately. It's a bit of a hassle but certainly worth your time. Sometimes the rail sale seats sell out before Amtrak updates the site, so you may have to tinker with different dates to get the rock-bottom price. "Weekly specials" are great for people with flexible itineraries.

It's not clear, however, that these "rail steals" will be around for long. Experts point out that Amtrak deploys them only to inflate their ridership (to impress state and federal governments) and to fill seats on what would otherwise be empty trains--trains that, some argue, would be better off not operating at all. Although I've benefited from these cheap tickets, I must concur that their existence and surprisingly wide availability point to deep flaws in Amtrak's operations--and, inauspiciously, to a troubled future for the already beleaguered and besieged company.

N.B. While pricing these rail sale tickets this morning, I discovered that Amtrak's website is now available in Spanish.


Blogger Evan said...

Are you going to New Orleans and/or Chicago? Or were you just curious for the sake of providing an example for Amtrak's low fares?

3:37 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

just curious. i am, however, departing for california in the morning (cho to atl, then atl to sjc). I'll provide a full report tomorrow or Thursday.

btw, now is a great time to book a train trip to new orleans. the fares are rock-bottom, and sleepers are pretty cheap as well. as to what one might do in new orleans right now, i'm not certain.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

I figured you were just curious. As for me, a monthly rent that is roughly half my income and a 40+ hour commitment at work (very loosely calculated) keep me from traveling that much. I will make it back out to CA sometime in the next 6 months, though. We'll discuss this. Also, we'll discuss your and Patrick's next trip to Boston for a rail trip on The Downeaster and a small (and cheap) boat ride out in Bahston Haa-bah.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In other rail news, Seattle's Monorail announced that it would reopen this summer. The system has been shut down since its two cars crashed into each other late last year. Needless to say, this halt in operations created severe logistical problems for the half dozen people who ride the Monorail weekly. The Seattle rail runs for about a mile around prime Seattle attractions including the Space Needle. Cudos to the City of Seattle for getting the Monorail back on track. Next step: create a mass transit system that people will actually utilize.

10:34 AM  

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