Today, January 24th 2016, Amtrak’s new award program has gone into effect. You can read about the new program here: Amtrak Guest Rewards 2016 — Better than expected. My take and recommendations. For award travel, the new program has advantages and disadvantages over the previous program. One of the biggest advantages was supposed to be the elimination of blackout dates. The new program charges points at a fixed value compared to the ticket price so there was no longer any reason to limit award availability.
Unfortunately, it looks like there are limits on premium award seat availability. True, blackout dates have gone away, but not all seats available for purchase are available for awards.
Premium award seat limits
I took a look at a few routes during Memorial Day weekend. In the past, the Friday before Memorial Day and Memorial Day itself had been blacked out for award travel. Now, they’re available. Unfortunately, not all premium seats that are available for purchase are available for points. Let’s look at some examples:
Chicago to Utah
If you want to travel in a bedroom on the California Zephyr (as I wrote about here), Amtrak will charge you $1288, departing May 30th:
If you want to book that bedroom with points on that day, you’re out of luck. The website reports “No Price”:
DC to NYC
Want to travel in business or first class from Washington DC to NYC on May 30th? You can can choose from the Northeast Regional or the Acela Express (only two time options shown, but there are many others):
However, if you want to pay in points during those same times, you’ll have to go with the Northeast Regional:
Ann Arbor to Chicago
How about traveling Ann Arbor to Chicago on the Friday before Memorial Day? Business class seats are available for purchase at any time (only 2 times shown):
However, if you want to use points for business class, you’ll have to take the later train:
Disappointed with Amtrak
I don’t get it. If you’re going to fix point prices based on the price of a ticket, why limit which seats are available for awards? It doesn’t make any sense to me. I like that the new program offers a whopping 2.6 to 2.9 cents per point value, but I don’t see any reason to limit when and where those points can be used.
It’s possible that this is a temporary glitch in the system. Or, maybe Amtrak is willing to oversell seats when purchased with cash, but not with points? I don’t know. I do hope that they’ll change / fix this issue. We’ll see.
I’m trying to travel R/T from DC to NYC the long weekend of 2/12/16 and the vast majority of outbound trains on Friday, 2/12 are displaying “No Price” save for two Acela trains. It’s even worse on Monday, 2/15.
This stinks, and in years past I don’t believe Presidents’ Day weekend was subject to blackout on account of the fact that nationally it’s not a big holiday. Typically only government workers and bank employees get the Monday off, which makes it peak travel for Washington, DC and NYC.
I’m cancelling out of this program. It used to be generous and straightforward but now it’s being modeled on the stingy airline “rewards” programs. It figures that anything Bank of America gets involved in turns to consumer poison.
I stand corrected. The Friday and Monday of Presidents’ Day weekend were previously blacked out. But in effect, aren’t they still? It’s blackout by a different name.
[…] Amtrak 2016 limits premium award seats – Amtrak’s new program has restrictions on availability not previously announced. […]
Here is the full text from AGR Insider, on Flyertalk:
We are pleased to announce that the new Amtrak Guest Rewards program is now in effect. In addition to changes in the way members earn and redeem points for Amtrak travel, members will now find greatly enhanced features to book reward travel on Amtrak.com. The new program went live this morning; however, if you have attempted to reach the contact center, please accept our apologies as we are experiencing high call volume due to the blizzard impacting the Northeast. Please find some additional information below in response to some recent posts on the program.
1) Existing Reward Travel Reservations: If you have an existing reward travel reservation that was booked prior to January 24, 2016 and you decide you need to modify or cancel it, please be advised that the trip will now be subject to the new modification and cancellation policy found in the 2016 redemption guidelines. Additionally, our systems will now calculate the present value of the trip based on the new program rules and the price of the itinerary at the time you booked it. It is possible that this new value may be more or less than the number of points you used to book it originally. If you need to modify or cancel such a trip, we recommend you contact the Amtrak Guest Rewards Service Center for assistance. The agent will return your points based on the amount you used to make the redemption less the appropriate refund fee or penalty. If the new point cost is higher than the amount you used to book it, any points returned will be capped at the amount you originally spent less the appropriate refund fee/penalty. If you cancel the trip on Amtrak.com, the system will not return any difference in point cost to you between the original amount redeemed and the current point price for that trip. Any new reward travel reservations booked on or after January 24, 2016 may be canceled on Amtrak.com and the system will appropriately return your points and calculate the refund fee.
2) Reward Travel Availability during peak dates/times: While we have removed blackout date restrictions on reward travel, you may find limited availability on peak travel dates or times and it is possible that not every seat will be available for redemption. When redeeming points for trips during peak travel dates and times, some itineraries may be available only to our Select Plus and Select Executive members. For best results, we recommend that members log in to their Amtrak Guest Rewards account before searching for available itineraries. Depending on availability during peak travel times, you may find premium pricing on some departures. The peak departure may be available at a higher point cost or not available for redemption unless the member has Select Plus or Select Executive status. Members with Select Plus or Select Executive status, if not logged in, may see availability at a higher price or no availability, but if they log in they may find they are able to book the itinerary at regular point cost or at a premium.
As always, thanks for your feedback and for traveling with us.
I left the worst of my opinions on the matter for AGR’s representative on FT, but I think it’s fair to say that this has been a materially misleading bait-and-switch. The sleaze factor here comes from the fact that this policy wasn’t disclosed until AFTER the program “turned over” (the odds of it being a spur-of-the-moment decision that weekend seem vanishingly small). If anything, both the AGR 2.0 website (via a point calclator) and AGR’s rep on FT misrepresented the redemption policy as being tied directly to the ticket price (e.g. 34.5 points/dollar for non-Acela tickets and roughly 39-40 points per dollar, IIRC, for Acela tickets). Whether this was because the decision to do this was made later on and AGR never bothered to tell anyone, because of some decision at 60 Mass to mislead customers, or something else (maybe Delta snuck in and kidnapped the head of AGR and replaced him with an impostor?)…well, that’s an exercise for the reader.
[…] By FrequentMiler […]
The AGR rep on FlyerTalk confirmed this is by design:
“While we have removed blackout date restrictions on reward travel, you may find limited availability on peak travel dates or times and it is possible that not every seat will be available for redemption. When redeeming points for trips during peak travel dates and times, some itineraries may be available only to our Select Plus and Select Executive members. For best results, we recommend that members log in to their Amtrak Guest Rewards account before searching for available itineraries. Depending on availability during peak travel times, you may find premium pricing on some departures. The peak departure may be available at a higher point cost or not available for redemption unless the member has Select Plus or Select Executive status. Members with Select Plus or Select Executive status, if not logged in, may see availability at a higher price or no availability, but if they log in they may find they are able to book the itinerary at regular point cost or at a premium. “
hmmmm….. sounds like a bit of classic wall street double-speak…. No, there are no black out dates, but as Greg has detected, in practice, there likely are “limits” — which amounts to the same. (I get the concept of if the ticket price goes up, then the # of corresponding miles will go up….. but that’s not the concern here)
Since they bring up status as a previously unwritten condition for having access to certain fares, anybody have any insight or clarification on what “special promotions” means…. as in the vague reference in t&c’s to other ways to earn TQP’s for status…. (in addition to rail travel)
It also shows up as a higher multiple for former blackout dates. For example, although the cash cost is the same for a trip between Glacier Park and Seattle on July 3 and July 4, the number of points for a roomette is double the amount. This, oddly, is not the case for the equivalent seats.
Looks like they are limiting awards for normal members (from the website):
“No Price” is displayed for Redemption Booking
When redeeming Amtrak Guest Rewards points during peak travel periods, some itineraries may be available only to our Select Plus and Select Executive members. For best results, please ensure that you are logged in to your Amtrak Guest Rewards account before searching.
8:00am – 10:48am
2 hr, 48 min
2104 Acela Express
No Checked Baggage
1 Business Class Seat
1 First Class Seat
8:00pm – 10:50pm
2 hr, 50 min
2128 Acela Express
No Checked Baggage
1 Business Class Seat
1 First Class Seat
I tried your examples for Wolverine on 5/27 and NER on 5/30. I see Business or First redemptions for every single train.
And for Acela First.
Interesting. How many points for the Acela 8am WAS to NYP on 5/30 business class?
Do you have Amtrak elite status or the Amtrak credit card? I’m wondering if either of those things cause more space to open up.
Try it when logged in – I am not seeing any restrictions on premium redemptions, even around holidays.
I’ve tried both logged in and not logged in. To be clear: there are many times on 5/30 where the premium award seats are available, but there are a few times where paid seats are available but award seats are not. Can you see availability for the exact same day and time that I show in the post?
This is horrible. I travel almost weekly between NYC and BOS on Acela. I diligently earned and then preemptively converted over 200k in Chase points to Amtrak prior to Chase/Amtrak relationship discontinuing. But I cannot redeem for Acela now? Absurd. This is not what Amtrak told us.
I pray this is a computer mistake.
No, I think I was unclear. It is only on certain dates when they limit availability of premium seats for awards. I think it may be tied to how full the train is.
Glad it’s only certain dates.
[…] The Frequent Miler blog describes his experiences this morning whereby business seats and sleepers are not always available for points redemptions even when the same are available for cash purchase, particularly around a holiday. Can AGR Insider explain if this is a system glitch or an intentional feature of the new program? http://frequentmiler.boardingarea.co…m-award-seats/ […]
[…] Is Amtrak’s new revenue-based program imposing capacity controls on awards? That wasn’t part of the deal they sold us. […]