Tagged: Amtrak

New Amtrak Baggage Cars to Hold Bicycles

Amtrak will be getting new baggage cars on their long-distance trains. Those trains include the Lake Shore Limited, a twenty-hour train between New York and Chicago, and the Cardinal, another train that travels between Chicago and New York but takes twenty-six hours. The most exciting part of the baggage cars is that they will enable passengers to bring their bicycles on the train without boxing up the bikes.

The new baggage cars will be used on all 15 long-distance routes, which means the benefits of improved reliability and an enhanced climate-control environment for baggage will be available to our long distance customers by the end of 2014 . Also, the new cars will be equipped with built-in luggage racks that will be able to secure unboxed bicycles…

Yes, it’s exciting to see one nineteenth-century form of transportation (the train) supplement another nineteenth-century form of transportation (the safety bicycle). It also makes taking a train a viable and affordable option for traveling to distant bicycle events, such as October’s Hilly Hundred in Indiana. Last year, I had to box up my bike, take it to Newark, and then ship it to and from Indianapolis.


As great a step forward this is, it’s still not the same as allowing bicyclists to walk their bikes onto the train, as is the case on certain trains in California and the Midwest. It’s also nice to have that option aboard our the Metro North and Long Island Railroad commuter lines.


Allowing bicycles onto Amtrak trains that run north of New York City would immediately open up new destinations in upstate New York, such as Rhinebeck and Hudson, and parts of Vermont for some great foliage rides.

And if you want to read about today’s passenger rail travel in the United States, Kevin Baker takes a long-distance trip on the “Twenty-First Century Limited” in this month’s Harper’s.

Amtrak Allows Open-Jaws on Free Companion Certificates

Recently, Sarah received a free companion certificate on Amtrak, The certificate is good for either a one-way or a roundtrip journey, in coach, on just about everywhere Amtrak goes in the United States. There are some blackout dates, however, usually around the major holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

Amtrak Approves

We wanted to use the certificate on an upcoming trip. We would travel from New York to Chicago and then return from Washington, DC to New York, with a bunch of other travel in between. One could travel this way by buying two separate one-way tickets. But since we had the certificate, it would make sense to try to redeem it as an open-jaw.

Open jaws are one-way trips combined on a single ticket with a common point of travel. We have taken advantage of the open-jaw rule as recently as last Christmas. I had a free roundtrip ticket on United or Continental Airlines for two passengers within the contiguous forty-eight states. Our holiday plans were to leave New York for Paducah, Kentucky and then onto Los Angeles before returning to New York. The rules for the certificate did not allow for stopovers but did allow for an open-jaw. The open-jaw allowed us to travel from A-B and then C-A, specifically New York (A) to Paducah (B), and Los Angeles (C) to New York (A). We just needed to find our own way from Kentucky to Los Angeles.

For the upcoming Amtrak trip, we were only going to use the companion certificate for the longest and most expensive segment of our travel: Chicago to New York. Then I remembered that for most airlines an open-jaw often counts as a roundtrip. Would Amtrak’s rules allow it? After making a reservation over the phone, we were able to book the open-jaw as a roundtrip from New York (A) to Chicago (B) and then from Washington (C) to New York (A).

The usual conditions apply with this certificate, including needing to visit an Amtrak ticket office to pay for the tickets and redeem the certificate. However, if you’re planning on taking a somewhat complex journey and have one of these certificates, don’t settle for a one-way trip and see if an open jaw can benefit you.

Do You Know the Way to Morro Bay?

As part of our Christmas–New Year’s vacation, Sarah and I spent about a week traveling to a few spots in California. One of our stops was in Baywood Park, which is technically in Los Osos and adjacent to the Morro Bay. We stayed at the Back Bay Inn, on a friend’s recommendation, and found a comfortable inn, and our room had a great view of the bay.

View from the Back Bay Inn window

One of the novel things about this trip was that we took the train instead of driving. We surprised everyone when we told people we met at the inn that we got there by just taking two buses. You can do it, too.

We took the 7:45 AM Pacific Surfliner from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo. The train arrived just before 1:00 PM. We walked to the transit center, which is about five blocks away. If you take Santa Rosa Road, you can see a Frank Lloyd Wright house along the way. We had about an hour layover between our arrival in San Luis Obispo and ate lunch at Luna Red in town.

Kundert Medical Clinic, Frank Lloyd Wright

At the Transit Center, you can take the 12 bus to Morro Bay’s transit center, which takes about 20 minutes. From there, connect to the 13 bus that goes to Los Osos. The stop on Santa Maria Ave and 2nd St stops about two blocks from the inn.

The Way to Morro Bay

Getting back is just as easy. You have to catch the 11 bus from Los Osos, which becomes the 12 bus and continues to San Luis Obispo. From there, we caught the northbound Coast Starlight. We had about an hour layover and ate lunch in town. Also, if your train is late, you can go to Meze, a wine and cheese shop, that is about a five-minute walk if you follow the rail tracks in the southbound direction.

This was my first time taking this trip with the train, and you can count me as a convert. Yes, the schedules are limited and it takes a lot more time to ride than it does to drive, but I’m on vacation. I’m not in a hurry.

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.

My Bag Got Handled!

Thanks Amtrak

This happened in late last year, during the Christmas–New Year’s break.

Right after Christmas, Sarah and I took a two-day trip to San Diego. We elected to take the train from Los Angeles to San Diego, figuring that it would be a little cheaper and a lot more pleasant than driving. And, certainly, it was a great way to get down to San Diego. The views from the train are pretty great, at least during the day. There’s free beverages, WiFi and power ports, if you upgrade to business class. That gave me the opportunity to go through and publish the nearly 1,000 photos I took. And it only takes about two and a half hours, which isn’t bad considering the distance.

On the return trip, we checked our bags, and sure enough, there was almost no problem. It wasn’t delayed. It didn’t take a detour to Albuquerque. But it didn’t come back in the same condition. As you can see in the picture, the handle was torn. Not completely torn, however. It was hanging on by a thread, and it didn’t take much to rip it off completely.

In our haste to catch the connecting light rail train to Little Tokyo, we didn’t notice the damage until we arrived at the hotel. Since we left the station’s premises and didn’t raise a stink, we couldn’t make a claim against Amtrak for the damage. Oh well. That’s yet another travel lesson learned.

Update: It turns out that this particular Samsonite bag has a very stiff handle, making it prone to tearing with not much stress. A similar bags met the same fate by my pulling and twisting the handle.