For many years I was a booster of Chase Ultimate Rewards transfers to Amtrak Guest Rewards, due to their zone-based redemption system which made it possible to get 3 or more (possibly much more) cents per point when redeeming Amtrak Guest Rewards for transcontinental sleeper accommodations.
Unfortunately, in December, 2015, Ultimate Rewards points could no longer be transferred to Amtrak Guest Rewards, and in January, 2016, Amtrak moved from a zone-based to a fixed-value redemption scheme.
However, those fixed-value points are still quite valuable!
Refresher: the value of Amtrak Guest Rewards points
Amtrak Guest Rewards points are similar to Southwest Rapid Rewards points in that they have fixed values, but the value they're fixed at depends on the redemption in question. For example:
- a coach seat on the Northeast Regional from Washington to Boston costs $79 or 3,830 points, for 2.06 cents per points;
- a business class seat on the Acela Express between the same cities costs $138 or 7,176 points, for 1.92 cents per point;
- a first class seat on the Acela Express costs $282 or 10,998 points, for 2.56 cents per point;
- a coach seat between Chicago and Los Angeles on the Southwest Chief costs $142 or 6,107 points, for 2.33 cents per point;
- a Superliner Roomette costs $794 or 27,393 points, for 2.9 cents per point;
- a Family Bedroom costs $1,158 or 39,951 points, for 2.9 cents per point;
- a Superliner Bedroom costs $1,606 or 55,407 points, for 2.9 cents per point.
Starpoints can be transferred to Amtrak Guest Rewards through July 31, 2018
Starwood has announced that transfers to Amtrak Guest Rewards will end with the introduction of the new Marriott Rewards program on August 1, 2018, although it's fair to speculate whether Marriott will arrive at their own accommodation with Amtrak after that date.
Amtrak redemptions are good and you should consider speculatively transferring points
Amtrak Guest Rewards points aren't very valuable if you want to do anything but take train trips, but if you do want to take train trips, they're quite valuable. Earning 2.9% in value on unbonused spend with the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card on unbonused spend puts it solidly up there with the most lucrative cashback credit cards.
If you have an upcoming trip you might consider buying points
I earn virtually all of my miles and points through manufactured spend, but I'm perfectly aware that periodic opportunities to pay cash for miles and points can offers discounts off cash rates under certain circumstances. As Frequent Miler explains, there's currently a Starwood Preferred Guest promotion to purchase points for 2.275 cents each, which would offer a discount of 21.6% off the long-haul Amtrak Guest Rewards redemptions I mentioned above.
That's not a huge discount in absolute travel hacking terms, but if you have an upcoming Amtrak trip planned and you'd otherwise pay cash for it, it would be silly not to instead pay 21.6% less for the same trip.
Speculatively transfer points skeptically
I like trains, so I'd happily transfer an almost unlimited number of Starpoints to Amtrak if I were certain they would maintain their current redemption system. Unfortunately, I'm certain they won't, and I wouldn't recommend anyone transfer Starpoints to Amtrak Guest Rewards for train trips they plan to take more than one or two years in the future.
The Starwood-Marriott merger has created a lot of one-time opportunities we'll all be talking about leading up to and after August 1, 2018. The opportunity to transfer Starpoints to Amtrak Guest Rewards is one that anyone with a large Starpoint balance and an interest in Amtrak travel should consider.