Update: UR program no longer partners with Amtrak.
As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, the deadline for Chase UR transfers to Amtrak is December 7th. I won’t rehash the details, as Frequent Miler has written an excellent post on this subject. Lots of great tips on how you can maximize your redemptions and get the best bang for your UR point. So, if you are sitting on a huge pile of Ultimate Rewards, you may be wondering: Should I jump on this option before it goes away? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not going to, and I’ll explain why:
1) Amtrak will still partner with SPG program (for now), so I can always use my Starpoints if I decide on Amtrak redemption. I really don’t like to make speculative transfers. Our travel plans are set for next year, so the earliest we could do an Amtrak trip would be in the spring of 2017. That means I wouldn’t be able to book it before April or May of 2016.
2) Ultimate Rewards currency transfers to United program, and I plan to do just that for our flights from Belarus to USA. This redemption currently runs at 30K United miles one-way (no fuel surcharges) and allows a stopover as long as it’s less than 24 hours. That’s all we need to spend the night in Frankfurt, Lufthansa hub.
My point is, your UR currency might be more valuable if transferred to another program. It just depends on your unique situation. As you probably know, Chase has monopoly on Southwest, which is an excellent option for flights within Lower 48 states as well as Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. Southwest Rapid Rewards is the king of loyalty programs when it comes to family travel. You can take two bags free of charge and cancel award tickets without penalty.
3) While not ideal, I can always consider signing up for Bank of America Amtrak co-branded credit card. Read about both versions of it here The sign-up bonus isn’t spectacular, but it would give us the points we need if we got two cards. Which brings me to my next point…
The new redemption system may suit your family’s needs just fine
Under the new scheme (coming to Amtrak in January), each point will be worth around 2.9 cents. Right now, the biggest value lies in redeeming points for expensive sleeper cabins on multi-zone routes. Reader Leticia wrote about such a trip in a guest post on my blog. That’s where current flat pricing truly delivers, since they got almost 5 cents per point on this particular redemption.
However, if you are looking for shorter non-stop routes, it will probably be a wash. Let me give you an example. I’m seriously thinking about visiting Washington DC during spring break of 2017. And Amtrak happens to have a non-stop route from DC to Orlando. My kids would go crazy for it, I’m sure. Of course, we wouldn’t get much sleep (it’s an overnight train), but the experience would be unforgettable. Plus, we would have to spend points on flights anyway. So why not mix it up just this once?
Here is what the redemption runs under the current system:
They don’t have bedrooms on this particular train, so we would have to redeem 30,000 points for two roomettes. And here is the price per roomette (in dollars) for this very route. The amount is for two people, and it includes dinner and breakfast:
Under the new system, here is what each roomette will cost in points:
That would be 13,490 instead of 15,000 points. Of course, this is just an estimate. Plus, I don’t know what the rate will be for 2017, but it’s unlikely to run at much more than 15,000 points. So, in our case, the program changes shouldn’t really affect us tremendously. If we were looking at taking a train all the way from Boston, then this would absolutely hurt us points-wise. Why? The current pricing is per zone, so you could potentially go all the way from Miami to Brunswick for 15,000 points in your roomette (as long as the routing is valid.)
However, it would involve 1 or 2 train changes. I’ll be honest, I’m not too crazy to do something like that with small kids. Besides, my husband has been wanting to visit DC for some time, and this would give me an excuse to finally utilize Amtrak redemption. It’s kind of like burning miles for a ticket with 5 stopovers. Is it cool? Heck yes! Is it practical for a family with small children? Most likely not.
If you have a lot of UR points and are thinking about taking an elaborate cross-country trip in Amtrak bedroom, you should absolutely consider parting with your stash. If you have an eye on a more humble redemption, sit tight.
Readers, who is considering transferring UR points to Amtrak before the deadline?
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.