For years, Flyertalk hosted a "zombie" link to a 32,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards point signup bonus for their Chase co-branded credit card. That link no longer works, and the only publicly advertised offer is for 12,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points.
If, like me, you like using AGR points for long-haul sleeper accommodations, that offer wasn't worth a hard credit pull even though I find Amtrak Guest Rewards points extraordinarily valuable, typically redeeming them for 3-5 cents or more each.
Amtrak credit card comes with companion coupon
In the latest e-mail I received from Amtrak Guest Rewards, exhorting me to sign up for their co-branded credit card, I noticed a benefit that was new, or at least new to me:
"Apply today and, after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, earn 12,000 bonus points - enough for a free roundtrip, plus a free companion coupon." [emphasis mine]
So, what's a companion coupon? Digging into the terms and conditions, we find:
"Coupon valid for one (1) free companion fare when traveling with a paid regular (full) adult rail fare. Free companion and paying passenger must travel together at all times and have ticket issued at the same time. Valid for sale and travel completed within one year after qualifying for the companion coupon. Travel blackouts apply: [...] Valid for travel as one (1) one-way or one (1) round trip on one reservation per coupon. Both tickets for roundtrip must be reserved at the same time. Valid for travel on all Amtrak services except joint Amtrak/VIA Rail service and 7000-8999 Thruway series. Free Companion offer may be combined with corporate discounts, but not combined with any other discount, coupon or Amtrak Guest Rewards redemption travel. Offer valid for coach rail fare only (Business class or [sic] Acela); not valid for sleeper accommodations, Upgrades to Business class or First Class is available upon full payment of applicable accommodation charges"
There are four key takeaways here:
- The coupon is good on one-way or roundtrip reservations;
- The coupon is good for a companion paid fare — it can't be redeemed on an award reservation (unlike, for example, British Airways' companion ticket);
- The coupon can be redeemed on Acela in Business class, or on long-haul trains in coach, but not on sleeper accommodations or for Acela's First class.
- Acela Business class companion reservations can be upgraded with cash, but not Amtrak Guest Rewards points (a popular use of AGR points is to upgrade Acela Business class reservations).
How should you use an Amtrak companion coupon?
The most valuable use of this companion coupon won't be on long-haul trains, since those trains can be easily and cheaply booked using Amtrak Guest Rewards points transferred from Ultimate Rewards for sleeper accommodations, and those reservations include the maximum number of passengers the sleeper room is designed for (i.e., 2 adults and 2 children for a Family Bedroom reservation).
So let's look at the next-most-expensive Amtrak reservation type the companion coupon can be redeemed for: Acela Business class travel.
After a little light searching, the most expensive Acela roundtrip I found was $532, for a weekend in May, 2015:
On the cheaper side, here's a weekday roundtrip in April, 2015:
That establishes a nominal range of $412 to $532 for the companion coupon's value. However, as always we need to decide what we're actually comparing the Amtrak companion coupon to. The best comparison is booking using Amtrak Guest Rewards points transferred from a flexible Ultimate Rewards-earning credit card. If you go that route, you'll spend 16,000 Ultimate Rewards points per passenger, or 32,000 points for two passengers, and save $412-$532 in cash. If you value your Ultimate Rewards points at more than 1.29 to 1.66 cents each, you'd be better off redeeming a companion coupon and paying the cash value of the first passenger's fare.
There are a few final things to consider when deciding whether an Amtrak Guest Rewards credit card is right for you, and when and whether to redeem a companion coupon:
- Amtrak Guest Rewards point redemptions on Acela have additional restrictions, in addition to Amtrak's standard redemption blackout dates. From Amtrak's redemption guidelines: "Weekday redemption travel is not permitted on any Acela Express segment with a scheduled departure between 12:01 a.m. and 8:59 a.m., or between 2:00 p.m. and 5:59 p.m., inclusive, Monday through Friday. Rule Buster redemptions are not exempt from this restriction." As I discovered last year, this rule can be circumvented by traveling to a station with a permitted departure time, like Providence, RI (slightly south of Boston, and therefore with a later departure time on southbound trains). This rule doesn't apply to paid fares or the companion coupon, to the best of my knowledge.
- You may want to spend money on Amtrak with your Chase Amtrak Guest Rewards credit card. For example, after spending $200 on Amtrak train travel with the credit card, you're able to transfer up to 25,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points (i.e. Ultimate Rewards points) to 50,000 Hilton HHonors points or 75,000 Choice Privileges points.
I'm still praying that some kind of increased signup bonus will return, so I can sign up for the Chase Amtrak Guest Rewards credit card with a clear conscience. For now, I'm unwilling to sacrifice a hard pull to save just 12,000 Ultimate Rewards points, even though I do redeem Amtrak Guest Rewards points at least 2 or 3 times per year and always receive exceptional value from them.