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U.S. Rail Travel News, Bargains and Best Buys – Aug. 2

Vancouver, Washington, Amtrak Station Vancouver, Washington, Amtrak Station

Summer travel woes are not over:

  • Covid is not over. The latest mutation may be staging a comeback. Expect more places to follow Los Angeles’s lead and reintroduce mask requirements. And Canada has imposed random testing of international arrivals.
  • Europe is still a mess. The heat has eased, but labor troubles remain.
  • Expect some delays and cancellations for at least the next few months.

Headlines: Reopenings, New Services and Sales

  • Amtrak announced a BoGo sale on the entire capitol corridor in northern California, for travel now through Jan. 31. On the Amtrak website, enter two adult tickets and code V429.

Previous announcements:

  • Chicago-area Metra will operate three Sunday roundtrips to/from Joliet on the “heritage” former Chicago & Alton line. These Sunday excursions will operate on 10 consecutive Sundays starting July 2.
  • This summer, one kid aged 2-12 accompanying an adult can travel for $5 on Amtrak’s Piedmont and Carolinian trains to/from all cities within the state of North Carolina. The sale does not apply to through trains between Washington and the South. Buy and travel though Aug. 31; enter code V256 on the booking page.
  • Grand Canyon Railway is offering discounts up to 30% on the railway fare portion of rail-hotel-food packages for trips through Sept. 1. Hotel rates are not discounted, so the total package reduction is less than 30%, but at least it is something.

Headlines: Temporary Disruptions

  • Most Amtrak and CTrail trains between Hartford and New Haven will be canceled through Sept. 11 due to “infrastructure projects.” Replacement buses will operate.
  • Most rail operators in the UK—intercity, suburban, airport trains and the underground—are expecting continued strikes through coming weeks, and negotiations are not near an immediate agreement. If you are headed that way, be sure you check a rail or airport website for current alternatives and alternatives.

Ongoing Amtrak Deals: General Conditions

Except where noted, all Amtrak promotions apply to coach travel only; discounts apply to full-fare tickets and cannot be combined with other discounts; most deals entail blackout dates; seats are limited; some promotions do not apply to all trains; most promotions make provisions for one or two children accompanying each adult traveler. Companion and most children’s deals require all travelers to travel together. Amtrak also offers other minor deals and promotions. In most cases, the Amtrak website automatically computes and displays eligible discounts for any trip you enter. Check amtrak.com/deals for details and booking.

Standard Ongoing Discounts

Amtrak routinely offers modest discounts to certain travelers. For the most part, these discounts apply only to coach travel and are generally not combinable. Most routine discounts do not apply to weekday Acela Express trains, and many do not apply to some Thruway bus travel. When you enter itineraries and personal details, the Amtrak website automatically computes discounted fares. Discounts are subject to capacity control.

  • Senior: 10% discount for travelers aged 65 or over except on cross-border travel with VIA Rail, where the minimum age is 60. Senior discount is not valid on business class (except limited Acela options), Auto Train, Saver fares or sleeper accommodations. Fifty percent senior discount on Downeaster Fifteen percent discount for seniors aged 62 or over on Capitol Corridor, Pacific Sunliner and San Joaquins; any-age advance purchase fares may be lower.
  • Disability: 10% discount for travelers with disabilities and traveling companions, with appropriate ID. 50% discount on Downeaster
  • Children: One child aged 2-12 travels for 50% off with an adult age 18 or over.
  • Military: 10% discount for travelers on active duty and their spouses/dependents, including travel on Auto Train, excluding Canadian portion of transborder trains.
  • NARP: 10% discount for members of National Association of Railroad Passengers with three-day advance purchase.
  • “Share Fares:” Average 35% discount for groups of up to six traveling together with three-day advance purchase. Works best for groups of three or more; ends soon.
  • Veterans: 10% discounts for veterans are no longer tagged as “ending soon,” presumably, it is on indefinitely again. The deal applies to all coach seats and business class on Acela. Also, 15 Percent discounts for Veterans on Capitol Corridor, Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquins. Check “Military Veteran” in the booking window. Proof of veteran status can be required.

Advance-Purchase Discounts

  • Amtrak routinely offers Saver Fares discounts of 15% to 25% on most trains with 14-day advance purchase. These discounts are limited to coach class and to Saturday and select off-peak Acela business class trips.

Time-Limited Promotions

  • Northeast Sale: Discounts up to 50% on travel in the Northeast, with a 14-day advance purchase on Keystone and Pennsylvanian trips and 21-day on Northeast Regional. Does not apply on Friday and Sunday plus numerous blackout days, coach only, no upgrades. Amtrak posts no expiration date.
  • Saturday BoGo: Buy one full fare ticket at least three days before travel, get two for Saturday travel on almost all Northeast Corridor trips, including Acela. Couple must travel together. No cutoff date specified.
  • California Deal: Up to five companions: 50% discounts on most dates in Capitol Corridor; buy through Dec. 31, travel through Jan. 1, 2023.
  • Short-Term “low fare” promotions: Amtrak regularly selects individual routes and areas to cut normal fares by as much as 50%. Discounts require 7- 14-day advance purchase.
  • Acela promotion: Buy 14 days in advance, with no cutoff date specified; not available for travel on Fridays and Sundays. Sample one-way fares include $79 Boston-Washington, $69 New York-Washington, and $59 Boston-New York.

Other US Rail

  • New Mexico has extended the reduced fare program on the Rail Runner through the end of the year.
  • Brightline’s current promotion is $5 fares for 12 and under when accompanied by a full-fare adult. Buy tickets through Sept. 5. Also, groups of four or more traveling together on a single reservation get 25% off regular rates. And Brightline is running “Home Runner” trains to Marlins home games, including free shuttle from the Miami station to the ballpark.
  • South Shore (Chicago-South Bend) trains are not operating between Dune Park and Carroll Avenue now through “fall” to permit double-track and off-street construction. Bus replacement is filling in the gaps.
  • Communities around the country are using the low pandemic traffic levels or new infrastructure funding as opportunities to maintain and upgrade their light rail, metro and heavy suburban rail systems. This means temporary shutdowns of various lines at various times, typically with substitute bus service. I will try to highlight major changes, but I cannot keep up with every local transit system. Check any city you plan to visit. Ditto major tourist lines, many of which are just reopening.

Ed Perkins, editor

See our report on rail news outside the U.S.

For more travel tips from Ed Perkins, see our companion site Ed on Travel

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