The good news is I have over 55,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points.  The bad news is that I’ve moved to the second largest city (Phoenix AZ is the largest) without Amtrak service.  The nearest stop is Cincinnati, 2 ½ hours away, and even that is no prize; they have one train that stops at 3 in the morning.  After some research, one possible answer presented itself: through booking with Continental Airlines.  Continental has a deal with Amtrak where one can book through Newark (EWR) to trains stations up and down the northeast.  But, while this seems a good idea in theory there is a hitch in practice.

I picked random dates next month for a round-trip from Columbus (CMH) to Stamford CT (ZTF).  I made sure to have a Saturday stay over.  The results were as follows.

Screen capture of EWR to ZTF

Yes, you read that correctly: $1,764.45!!!  And that’s just for bog-standard, cattle-car economy class before the nickel-and-dime fees begins (baggage fees, landing fees, fee fees).  So for giggles I checked what the same trip would be breaking out the two legs (breaking legs is quite common in New Jersey, I’m told).

For the same Continental round trip flight (air only) I found:

Which is actually reasonable for the round-trip.  Typically the flights run between $250 – $400 (not including add-on fees).  Then I queried the Amtrak portion of the flight:

Incidentally. the Amtrak website has a much better interface.  As you can see, the results were  $65.  If I wanted to spend another $26 I could make the rail portion “Business Class” which would mean a free soda and New York Times.  This is clearly absurd.  Booking the two travel legs separately turns a $1,764.45 flight into a $433.40 flight.  I can’t see how Continental and Amtrak have the neck to charge over $1,300 for the “privilege” of interconnecting their flights.  And yet, Amtrak proudly announces this “service” in their on-board and mail shot advertisements.  This is a shame because otherwise AGR is one of the more generous travel programs available.   It is cynical stunts like this that turns off the general public to mass transit in general and Amtrak in particular.

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