Airline Miles for Rail Points

Miniature Train Museum

Today, I transferred some of my United Mileage Plus airline miles to Amtrak Guest Rewards points, even if the two carriers are not partners. However, United’s merger mate, Continental, has been a partner with Amtrak for many years, and beginning this past spring, you can freely transfer miles between your United and Continental accounts.

I converted the air miles to rail points since I find that earning airline miles is far easier than earning train points. For example, almost everyone can earn 5,000 miles by, say, flying on a transcontinental flight between New York and California. Since my elite status with United gives me a 100% mileage bonus on flight, I only need to fly 2,500 miles or a one-way flight between New York and Los Angeles (2,475 miles) or San Francisco (2,585 miles). If you buy a one-way ticket for $175, that’s about 7¢ per mile, or 3.5¢ per mile for me since I have the 100% mileage bonus. (Don’t hate me.)

Comparatively, Amtrak offers a less generous earning rate. You earn points based on the amount of money you spend on travel, not on how far you travel. To earn 5,000 points on Amtrak, you have to spend $2,500, as they will give you two points for every dollar spent. However, Amtrak will also give you a minimum of 100 points for every trip you take. I have exploited this rule a few times in California because you get 100 points for every segment, and that includes short-haul trips on the Pacific Surfliner, which cost as little as $20. At that rate, you can earn 5,000 points in fifty one-way trips. And at $20 per trip, which is a minimum price, that would require at least $1000 to earn the same number of points as $375 on an airline. That’s why I decided to convert my “bling” from air to rail.

One large looming question remains. What do I get with 5,000 Amtrak points?

If you’re going to do the same thing, hurry. The partnership between Continental and Amtrak ends on December 31.

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