Honest Amtrak Review: 4 Things to Expect on Your Trip
Once again, I find myself sitting in a big squishy seat surrounded by Amish families on the Amtrak Capitol Limited train going overnight from Chicago to Pittsburgh. After every Amtrak trip, I find myself answering the same questions to my coworkers and family.
People still do that?
Yep, every day.
Are you afraid to fly?
What is it like?
Let me tell you!
Not every experience will be the same, but I’ve taken many Amtrak rides and am giving an honest review of what I’ve experienced.
1. More Comfort Than Flying
Trains are significantly more comfortable than flying coach. The seats are wider and have more room between them. You can recline your chair back and it doesn’t invade your neighbor’s space too much (and likewise your space isn’t reduced to nothing by the person in front of you). There are footrests so you can stretch out – I’m 6 feet tall and I’m comfortable.
If you want a break from your seat, you have the luxury of being able to get up, walk around and explore other parts of the train. Particularly, you can go to the cafe car, which sells food and drinks and has restaurant-style booth seating. This is where I go to stretch my legs and get some work done. On my train rides, the booths have been surprisingly unpopular and I usually spread my work materials out and take up a whole booth without bothering anyone.
Besides the cafe car, you can get up and use the bathroom (also roomier than on a plane) and you’re able to step out for some fresh air or a cigarette at train stops en route. For reference: a trip between Chicago and Pittsburgh has 8 stops along the way.
2. Delays Happen – You Should Factor Them Into Your Travel Time
The railways are limited – all trains (passenger, freight) share the same rails. To date, all but one of my trains have been delayed. The worst delay was going from Chicago to St. Louis and my trip went from being 4 hours to 6. On my usual trip between Chicago and Pittsburgh, I’m delayed 1-2 hours on average (on a scheduled 9 hour trip).
It’s a pretty normal factor of train travel. My trains have always left right on time but haven’t made it to all their stops like clockwork.
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3. Lower Price (+ More Scenery) Than A Flight
People are usually surprised when I tell them that Amtrak is my cheapest way home between from Chicago to Pittsburgh. It costs less than $60 each way if I book early enough (I used to pay $54, but it looks like Amtrak raised their costs to $57). That’s less than gas would cost, and it’s A LOT less than a flight.
I find the experience more enjoyable too, and look forward to my train rides. There’s a serenity in watching miles and miles scroll by the window, and I enjoy seeing parts of the country that I would’ve completely missed by taking a flight. A few train rides that are on my bucket list:
- The Empire Builder, going from Chicago all the way to Seattle across deserts and mountain rangers, over rivers and through valleys between snow-capped peaks. It’s a dream.
- The Coast Starlight, going from Seattle to Los Angeles. The Pacific Coast Highway is considered to be one of the most scenic drives in the world, and experience that landscape from the unique vantage point of the train tracks must be bliss.
- The famous old Amtrak bubble car, where you sit inside a glass dome and you can enjoy the full view of your surroundings.
4. Lots of Promos + Loyalty Perks
The rewards points are adding up for me. The “frequent flyer” benefits (called Amtrak Guest Rewards) add up quickly after a few trips, and Amtrak has ongoing promotions that I always look to take advantage of. They have a great sign-up bonus that I recommend to everyone who’s going to take a trip. How it works:
· I enter a person’s email address on the “refer a friend” page
· They get an email inviting them to sign up for guest rewards
· If they sign up and book a trip in 90 days, we both get 500 points (my normal Chicago->Pittsburgh trip is ~2,500 points so every referral makes this trip 20% off)
There’s also a lot of promotions around kids (children under 12 ride 50%) and college students (15% student discount), a AAA membership discount (10% off) and more.
Amtrak is my cheapest way home, and also my favorite. Flight is obviously the most time-efficient way of travel, but you don’t see any of the places you’re passing by. I like the connection to my surroundings that I get on the train.
Flying may cut time but taking the train cuts emissions. Between the four most common methods of travel transportation – plane, train, car and bus – flying has largest carbon footprint. The smallest footprint of these methods is bus or electric car.
With a little preparation, you should have a nice time. If you keep in mind the common delays and pack food and entertainment, you can look forward to a nice trip.
I hope this was helpful to anyone contemplating train travel or just those who are curious. Comment with any questions and I’ll do my best to answer!
This writing is unsolicited by Amtrak, and I receive no money or perks in exchange.
Hello, friend! I’m Kayla. I help people shrink their footprint on the Earth and find freedom in owning less. On Writing From Nowhere, I share ideas on living more intentionally and sustainably.