Sunday, October 30, 2005

Amtrak Guest Rewards, a must for regular Amtrak commuters and how it will save me $800+ the next two months

I am an Amtrak Guest Rewards (AGR) member. You can check out the site here: I suggest that any Amtrak customer create an account, as getting to free travel via this program can happen pretty quickly. Becoming an AGR member is a must for any regular Amtrak commuter. The benefits of free Amtrak travel via AGR can mean substantial commuting cost savings over the course of a year which I will go over below.

To rack up the maximum number of AGR points I also have a Amtrak Guest Rewards Platinum Plus® MasterCard®. I don't know if the " are necessary but I included them, better safe than sorry I suppose. This card is like any airline points credit card but the card is tied to Amtrak instead of an airline. The AGR credit card point plan is simple, you get 1 AGR point for every dollar you spend; and 2 points when you use it for any Amtrak purchase. You are eligible for a free NEC coach ticket for 2,500 points. The Amtrak Guest Rewards site goes over this too:

When you spend a certain amount of $ on Amtrak over the course of a year (any regular commuter will hit the AGR numbers) and you're an AGR member, you get a special status, which means you can receive additional bonus points. They're called the Select and Select Plus status respectively: Select Status, Select Plus Status.

2,500 AGR points = Amtrak coach ticket for the NEC. So if you spend $2,500 in a month on a Amtrak MasterCard, you can get a free ticket (since I blogged this the point amount needed has increased to either 3,000 or 5,500 points - see my blog post here). Since the normal fare to NYC Penn Station from Philadelphia is about $50, this is maps to about 2% cash back point program. It's not real cash of course but does represent potential cash savings. This is actually a pretty good points program deal when compared to what other credit cards offer. Other cards give you airline miles, offer a lower APR, or provide cash back. Let me go over why these are worthless to me:

1) Cards linked to airline points programs - Typically for 25,000 points you can get a free flight to anywhere in the US. But flights are cheap now, and you can get just about anywhere in the US for under $300 or so. This translates to about 1% cash back if you will, which is lower than the AGR MasterCard deal. So a card tied to airline miles aren't providing you a good benefit, unless you go far away (Hawaii, Europe), but then this requires way more points, and how often would you do this? For me, not often, and even when I tried to do this and cash in points to Europe, there were no eligible flights available. And the points expire if you don't fly on the airline, and airlines are going under like crazy so who knows if these points are going to be worth anything anyway.

2) Cards with low APR - I pay off my card in full, so this isn't an issue for me. Plus I still get 0% offers in the mail all the time.

3) Cards that give cash back - typically they give you 1% cash back, so the benefit cost evaluation I feel fails for me when compared to the 2% the AGR MasterCard provides.

So my Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard is my primary credit card and I use to rack up as many AGR points as I can. And the points do add up quickly when the bonus of being a Select/Select Plus kick in. More points means more free Amtrak tickets which means I can leverage this to keep my commuting expenses to a minimum, as I explain in the next paragraph.

My commute for November and December will consist largely of me cashing in my AGR points for my commute. There's plenty of holidays these next two months and not to mention vacation days I'll be taking around the holidays. So the number of trips to NYC is lowest over these two months. I did buy a 10 trip ticket effective into December (I don't have that many AGR points), so I'll supplement this by cashing in my points for tickets.

The drawback for AGR tickets is that you have to cash in points for tickets on specific trains on specific dates. My commute is pretty dynamic so the monthly pass is great in that it allows me to take nearly any train I want day or night. But the cost savings I'll realize by cashing in my AGR points will make up for this moderate inconvenience. What I'll do is cash in the points for a ticket on a specific morning train (morning is easier to schedule for me). On the leg back in the evening, I'll use the 10 trip pass as I can then choose whichever train I want, and I really like having this flexibility in the evening.

By being an Amtrak Guest Rewars member and diligently accruing points I can now subsidize my commuting costs. So by not buying a monthly pass for November and December (let's even use the lower $633/mo price but minus the $397 on the 10 trip pass I bought) I hope to realize $869 in savings ($1,266 - $397 = $869). The savings is even higher if you use the current montly pass price of $821; using this monthly rate I have a savings of $1,245 ($1,642 - $397 = $1,245).


Post a Comment

<< Home