One of the Ultimate Rewards transfer partners that never gets much attention is Amtrak. Perhaps understandably so, since most people don’t think of train travel as particularly aspirational, and trains aren’t planes or hotels, but I think that Amtrak should merit a closer look.
When I was younger, I took Amtrak with my mom from Seattle to Chicago to attend my eldest sister’s college graduation. We booked a roomette, which meant that we had seats that converted to beds in a private space, access to showers, and all meals included. Granted, it took much longer than a plane, but it was peaceful with great scenery and a comfortable way to travel if you have the time. It was also fun meeting and talking to other travelers in the dining car during meals.
In general, just like how redeeming points for business or first class airline tickets is a great deal with points, redeeming Amtrak points for sleeper accommodations (e.g. roomette or bedroom) is a great deal. While the cash cost of a roomette might be 5x the cash cost of a normal seat, the points cost is only about 3x the cost. For example, for a random one-way trip from Los Angeles to Seattle on the Coast Starlight, the coach seat is $109 while a roomette would be $574; for an award redemption, the coach seat is 5,500 points while the roomette is 15,000. The coach seat is already a pretty decent award redemption in my book since you’d be getting close to 2 cents per point, but the roomette can be a better deal (assuming, of course, that you’d normally be willing to pay $574 for the roomette anyway).
But one of the best things about Amtrak awards is that you can redeem for last seat availability (note: except for blackout dates). Which means that even though the cash price can get much more expensive as your travel date nears, the award price is still going to stay the same and you can still get an award as long as there’s space left on the train.
In the future, if I find myself with a bit of time, I’m definitely going to consider transferring some Ultimate Rewards points to Amtrak and redeeming for sleeper accommodations on a decently long route (I hear that the Coast Starlight is supposed to be a beautiful route).