Amtrak is a massively convenient way to get around, especially in the Northeast Corridor where I currently live. Philadelphia provides an excellent place to launch Amtrak trips from. With travel times around 1.5 hours to NYC and about 2 hours to Washington DC on the Northeast Regional, Amtrak is a great way to travel. Much of the busiest travel in this area occurs from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC. This stretch of track also provides service with the Acela Express trains that stop at the major cities and travels at higher speeds with a better class of service.
Up until recently, the Amtrak loyalty program has been incredibly good for long distance travel in places outside of the Northeast Corridor. These trips could get really great perks for very few points. If you moved into the NE Corridor though, then the points redemptions were not that great anymore. Acela Express tickets were high, and points earning was the same across the board no matter how you travel.
When first traveling on Amtrak, I quickly learned that business class was the way to go. All of the NE Regional trains have a business class car, and it has bigger seats, and is far less crowded. The price of the ticket isn't usually more than $20 more for the bump in service class. Personally, I find that to be a great value for the saved hassle and a nicer ride. However, I still only get 2 points per dollar spent. This is all about to change.
First off let me describe the changes, then cover why for me, the changes are actually a good thing. Amtrak is moving to a revenue based redemption system. In other words, the price of the ticket on the train is what determines how many loyalty points the trip with cost for an award ticket. Along with this change comes a bit of a modification on the way points are earned as well. Coach ticket earning will be about the same as they have been in the past, 2 points earned for every dollar. Business class and first class will earn bonus points now for every dollar spent as well. While this isn't a huge deal, it is nice since my trips in business class will now earn me slightly more points than they did before. So for me this is a positive change.
Now many people are upset by the move to the revenue based redemption system for one fact, they can't get super cheap cross country trips anymore since those tend to be long and rather expensive. Personally I never took those, never saw much appeal to traveling across the country for multiple days. There are many people who like this idea, but it never appealed to me. So why am I not more upset by this change? Well it actually lowers the award ticket costs for trips in the NE Corridor. Previously it cost a lot of points for a first class ticket on Acela Express, and tickets are very expensive so I have never ridden in the top tier class on Amtrak. Now with the new system coming online soon, my current points actually cover a one way first class ticket, where I couldn't even get a business class trip with it before.
While I realize that the positive effect of these changes are limited to a select region, I would venture a guess that outside of the northeast and some of the west cost, there isn't much use of Amtrak, so the positive effects are seen more in the locations where Amtrak is actually used on a regular basis.
These changes are set to start at the beginning of the new year in 2016, and once in place I look forward to trying the first class product on Amtrak.