This morning I was booking a train from NYC (Penn Station) to PHL (Philadelphia 30th Street Station). This is a trip I’ve taken maybe five times since moving to New York, and a trip ill continue to take year over year. The primary reason for the trip is always the same, to visit family in the area. Specifically, ill be attending the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Minnesota Vikings football game on Sunday October 7th. In years past I’ve flown to Philly, and while I obviously love flying, I think I like trains even more! This trip is even more exciting, because of what I earned with the Amtrak credit card in the process.
The train ride from New York to Philly starts from 34th Street Penn Station. We make stops at Newark & Trenton before ultimately arriving in Philly. The trip spans 90 minutes and while space is generally available for less than $50 each way, I prefer to sit in business class for an extra $30 or so. I enjoy taking the train 1. Because getting to the train station is much easier / faster than trying to get to JFK or LGA (more on that in a separate post); and 2. No security / waiting in lines. I show up at the train station, and get on the train, no muss no fuss.
Having taken this trip a handful of times, I’ve acquired just over 1,500 Amtrak Guest Rewards points. While this is a good start, its not enough for any redemption I’ve ever seen, the cheapest of which seem to be around ~2,000 points. The train I was planning on taking this time around was $69 each way, in business. The same trip using points would’ve cost just over 2,300 points.
I added the $69 fare to my cart for both the outbound and inbound portions of my trip, and proceeded to checkout. When I arrived at checkout I was surprised to see a 30,000 point sign up bonus offer for the Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard. I was surprised because this credit card usually (and still at the time of this writing) offers a sign-up bonus of 20,000 points. While 20k is good, 30k is better 🤓.
Amtrak points are actually pretty valuable. In the example above the 2,381 points I would need to redeem for the $69 fare are worth approximately 2.9 cents a piece. While it may not be fair to assume you’ll always get that kind of value, I’m happy assigning a value of 2.5 cents per point. That makes the publicly available sign-up bonus of 20k worth approximately $500. The 30k bonus then is worth approximately $750, irrespective of other benefits. I knew this was an offer I had to take advantage of.
Top 7 Amtrak Credit Card Benefits
At an estimated value of $750, the bonus for this credit card is incredible. Whats more, on non Acela trains you may be able to stretch the value of this bonus to $900 or more. While the annual fee is not waived for the first year, im happy to trade $79 and a hard inquiry on my credit report for ~$750 in value.
5% Points Rebate
As a cardholder, you’ll actually be refunded 5% of all points redemptions. Meaning that in the example above, I would’ve spent 2,381 points, but would’ve gotten back 119 points. There is no limit to the number of points you can be refunded through this program. This alone adds nearly ~$40 to the value of the sign-up bonus.
Amtrak MasterCard cardholders earn 3 points per $1 spent on Amtrak purchases, 2 points on qualifying travel purchases, and 1 point for every other purchase. Travel purchases include; airlines, car rental agencies, hotels, motels, inns, and resorts, steamship/cruise lines, commuter rail, passenger rail, and travel agencies. The bonus categories offer approximately 7.5% / 5% rate of return, respectively. While I won’t use it in place of my Chase Sapphire Reserve for travel purchases, more frequent Amtrak travelers may find some value in doing so.
No Foreign Transaction Fees
This is more of a checkbox than a feature, and its expected on any card which charges an annual fee.
Complimentary Companion Coupon
This is basically a buy one get one free coupon, and you’re given one every year that you keep your account open. The coupon is valid for both one way and round trip tickets, though there are some blackout dates you’ll have to book around. This alone can be enough to meet or exceed the $79 you’ll spend on the annual fee.
Complimentary Lounge Pass
Valid for single entry at any ClubAcela®, Amtrak Metropolitan LoungeSM or Amtrak First Class Lounge and is valid for bearer and one guest, or bearer’s spouse/domestic partner and children under the age of 21. These lounges tend to pale in comparison to airline lounges, and are harder to find, but can be a nice visit if need be.
Complimentary One Class Upgrade
One-Class Upgrade Coupon valid for 1 space-available, one-way, one-class upgrade. Valid only from Coach to Business class, or from Acela Business class to Acela First class, on a single travel segment or leg. Not valid for upgrade to sleeping car accommodations. I value this at $30, but it may be more depending on your use case.
Signing up for the Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard
Given the benefits and the value of the sign-up bonus, I made the decision to sign-up for the Amtrak credit card right away. While I typically only sign up for cards live on the podcast, this was an offer that I did not want to pass up on. It also serves to demonstrate some strategies that I think are valuable for all points pursuers.
I’ve been aware of the Amtrak credit card for a long time, and have booked ~$1,000 in fares without it. I chose not to sign up for the card because of its run of the mill sign-up bonus. When I choose to sign-up for a credit card I want for the sign-up bonus to be exceptional. Case in point is my recent acquisition of the Wells Fargo Propel credit card. While I would’ve earned 3,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points if I’d had the card, I was able to earn 10,000 just for waiting. Patience is important to the credit card game, and I recommend sitting on the sidelines until good offers become available.
When I saw the 30k offer I immediately clicked on “Apply Now”, I knew this was the time to strike. After having sat on the sidelines for months, I wasn’t about to pass on the best offer I’d ever seen for the card. If you’re patient, you’ll avoid that feeling of remorse that comes with signing up for something on Monday, and the bonus increasing on Tuesday. Moreover, you’ll avoid unnecessary hard inquires, and save them for the cards and bonuses which are of tremendous value. When I see an offer that I like i’m never afraid to pull the trigger, I encourage folks to try the same.
Pulling the Trigger
The Amtrak credit card is a Bank of America product, which is a company I’ve got a long history with. They’ve been my primary checking provider for a number of years. I also signed up for the Bank of America Premium Rewards card not too long ago. I was fairly confident going into the application, and that confidence was rewarded with a swift approval. Granted, I did have to do some identity verification but the source of that is something ill wait to talk about for another post.
I now need to spend $4,000 in the next 3 months in order to fully unlock the benefits of both this card and the Propel Amex that I recently signed up for. My hope is that ill be able to do that with relative ease, but we’ll see.
I now have 2 new cards in the rotation, and that has me needing to take stock of the rest of my wallet. I’ve got a number of other cards which don’t really provide me with much value, and ill need to call about retention offers for those cards. Stay tuned to both this blog and the podcast as I make those decisions.
Do you have the Amtrak credit card? Do you find it valuable? Id love to hear from you in the comments below.