The Simple Reason Amtrak Guest Rewards 2.0 is a Good Transfer Partner, But Poor Travel Rewards Progam

Amtrak launches their new revenue-based loyalty program January 24. I breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t nearly as bad as expected. But make no mistake that it is bad for the people it’s actually meant to reward.

Much of the analysis on other sites has focused on the strong points value, so folks accumulating points by methods other than actual train travel do fine (if not quite as well as the peak end as before).

But I’m at least as interested in how the program performs as a mechanism of rewarding customers for train travel. And there it doesn’t fare well at all.

  • Amtrak points will be worth 2.5 – 2.9 cents apiece. That’s a strong value per point, even as they’ve taken away the possibility to do better than that. You’ll never see 4 or 8 cent redemptions with Amtrak again.

  • Reading between the lines we may well see changes to Chase transfers to Amtrak, but keep Starwood transfers to Amtrak.

  • Amtrak is a reasonable transfer partner, the points transferred in can be worth almost 3 cents.

  • But Amtrak’s program is especially unrewarding to… travelers on Amtrak. Amtrak’s bread and butter, where they actually have customers and where arguably they actually make money, is the Northeast corridor and their workhorse trains are the Acela Express. It’s these customers, who spend the most and contribute the most to Amtrak’s bottom-line, who will suffer the most in redemption when redeeming for the same product they pay cash for. It’s absurd that a revenue-based program has a lower point value for Acela trains.

  • They’re also especially un-generous on the accrual side. A base member earns 2 points per dollar spent. So they see a 5 – 5.8% rebate.

Compare that to the revenue-based airline programs. United and Delta offer base members 5 points per dollar. (And Amtrak’s most profitable service is also one where they face real competition from airlines.)

Revenue-based airline programs are rewarding customers with 2.5 times the points as Amtrak is giving to rail customers. Amtrak’s redemption value may be on average a bit higher, but it doesn’t come close to making up for the earn deficit. (And airlines – even revenue-based ones – still offer the possibility of redeeming for outsize value.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. AGR Insider clarified on FT that redemptions cannot be made on the (lowest) fare bucket. Which really sucks.

  2. When you refer to “the people it’s actually meant to reward” I presume you mean the folks who ride the rails.

    Is it possible that the Amtrak Guest Rewards unit chez Amtrak see the people they mean to reward as the people who get the credit card and use the shopping portal?

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