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Travel Tips

Last major update December 2012

On Track On Line - Amtrak Tips - Planning

Trip Planning

Study the Brochure and Timetables: Initially plan your own trip even if you intend to use a travel agent later to make the bookings. Familiarize yourself with your train numbers and scheduled arrival and departure times. Watch out particularly for trains that don't run daily, as some long distance trains don't. The timetables contain a wealth of information about every train and every station in the system, and are an invaluable tool for planning ahead for your vacation.

Searching: Learn to use the search feature on the Amtrak web site. A link to search is at the bottom of most pages. Simple one word searches work best and are most likely to result in the display of useful pages. The site also has an Advanced Search page. Additionally, Amtrak now offers "ask Julie" a Virtual assistant. An icon/link to Julie appears at the top of most pages.

Scheduling Hint: Traveling on days just before the full moon is suggested because you can more easily see many things at night. You may wish to vist either Sunrise-Sunset or the U.S. Naval Oceanography Portal to help you to plan when to take your trip.

Schedules on-line: The complete Amtrak schedule is on-line on the Internet in an easy to use format at the Amtrak Web Page. Amtrak has lots of general info there too.

For specific information about the Amtrak Auto Train (also written "AutoTrain") which travels between Lorton VA and Sanford FL, visit our Amtrak Auto Train Travel Hints.

Check the Train Status Calculator (third party site) for recent on-time status of the trains over the past several days. Historical delay information, as well as the causes of the delays, can be found at the Amtrak Route Performance page.

Visit the Passenger Train Advocacy and Travel Links section of these Travel Tips for links to several more useful Web sites.

"Amtrak Vacations": Amtrak Vacations operated by a private travel agency on Amtrak's behalf, offers complete packages that include Amtrak travel, hotels, rental cars, planes, and travel insurance. You can call Amtrak Vacations at 1-800-AMTRAK2 (1-800-268-7252) or visit them at the Amtrak Vacations Web Site. Their travel planner can be ordered on line by clicking here and a PDF version can be found here. An interactive digital version can be found here.

Additionally, the Amtrak website now offers the ability to book hotels & cars right along with your train reservation. You however must do the leg work when using this feature, unlike Amtrak Vacations or a travel agent who look for the best prices for you and for hotels near where you want to be.

Fares: Amtrak fares are complex and cannot reasonably and accurately be posted here. Please contact Amtrak directly about fares.

Rail Passes: Amtrak offers two different Rail Passes that can provide you with significant savings on train travel. The first is the USA Rail Pass which has gone through an overhaul. It is good for both international travelers and US citizens and can provide significant discounts for travel throughout the US. There are 15 day, 30 day, and 45 day passes. Travel cannot be booked prior to six months from the dates of your trip. Additionally, it used to be that as long as a seat was available, you would get that seat. Now only a set amount of seats are set aside for passes. If those seats are gone on the train you want, then you have the option to pay the difference between the price that Amtrak assigns to a railpass seat and the current price of seats currently being sold.

The second pass that is available is the California rail pass, good only for 7 days of travel within the State of California over a 21 day period. Further details on the California pass can be found here. Note that advanced reservations are required on many trains, and these passes do not cover accommodation charges (see below).

Discounts: Fare discounts available include 15% for seniors, 1/2 fare for children (2-15; under 2 free), 10% for AAA and National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) members on most routes, and others. These discounts do not apply to accommodation charges. Ask about these and other regional and short term discounts. Regional, specially targeted, and short term discounts often require a special code. The code is typically a letter followed by three numbers. You'll need to know that code when booking any reservation. For various promotional fares and packages see the Amtrak web site and select the region you wish to travel in to see the current deals & discounts. Selected 25% discounts are available on Smart Fares page.

AAA Numbers: A note about entering AAA numbers on Amtrak's web site, quoting Amtrak:

AAA numbers come in a wide variety of formats. Please enter your three digit club code followed by a "-" and then the remainder of the numbers and letters. For example, 123-456789ABC is a valid format. If your number contains the word "plus" do NOT enter that along with the rest of your number. Please do not enter any spaces between the numbers.

For example, my number is entered like this: 004-xxxxxxxxx, that is 3 digits, dash, 9 digits with no spaces and omitting other digits. However, we've found that the AAA number can only be entered reliably in one's "profile", after registering on the site (free). Entering the number on the reservation pages sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.

Accommodation Charges: Accommodation charges are additional to rail fare and apply to sleeping compartments and service upgrades. Note that there is only one fixed charge (varies by route, segment, and season) for sleeping accommodations so, over and above basic rail fare, two travel as cheaply as one in a two person room. Both receive the same service and perks, including Dining Car meals.

Fare Check Tool: If one has some flexability in travel dates, then AmSnag may be of some help. This interesting tool, written by an Amtrak fan, allows one to search Amtrak fares over several days up to 30 days in total. It will display both coach and sleeper fares. You will need to know the three digit code for your starting and ending stations.

Reservations: When making your reservations you have several options:

  • First there is Amtrak's main phone number, 1-800-USA-RAIL. One has the choice of making simple reservations with Julie (Amtrak’s automated voice recognition system) or any type of reservation with a live agent. Any reservations you make this way will normally require you to pay for your tickets by credit card.

  • Second you can visit a station and talk to an agent face-to-face. At smaller stations, try to avoid their busy times (an hour or so before and half hour after a train is scheduled to depart or arrive respectively). Note that not all Amtrak stations are manned, and many have unusual hours to accommodate the trains they serve.

  • Third you can visit the Amtrak Web Site and use the automated reservations system there. Caution: Other than some standard discounts (AAA, National Association of Railroad Passengers membership, Senior 62 and over), you may pay full fare using the web page; we recommend you call 1-800-USA-RAIL instead if you think any other discounts might apply.

  • Fourth with the advent of Smart Phones, Amtrak now offers Apps for both the iPhone and the Android line. Other Smart phones can still book at, a mobile version of the site. That however contains far fewer features than the Apps for the iPhone and Andriod lines.

  • Last but not least, there are some travel agents (some free to the traveler) that are "plugged into" Amtrak and are knowledgeable about making rail reservations. Not all travel agents are in this group, however. So use caution in picking one and be sure to ask questions and verify train numbers.

Unreserved Trains: Keep in mind that major holidays are peak travel times and on unreserved trains you may find no available seats and may have to stand for all or part of your trip; particularly if you board at an intermediate stop. There aren't many unreserved trains left in the system, and many of those that are left go to a reserved status for the Christmas and Thanksgiving holiday periods.

Upgrading: If you're interested in trying to upgrade your reservation or trying to get a sleeping compartment when one wasn't previously available, try calling Amtrak after 4:00am or so East Coast time. It's about then that they enter daily no-show and cancellation info into their reservation computers. One can also call up an agent and ask to be placed on the waiting list for a sleeping compartment. Occasionally you might wish to upgrade (or even downgrade) a reservation at the very last moment. Sometimes, because of no-shows, compartments or coach seats become available; so it never hurts to ask the conductor when you board. Be prepared to pay appropriately on the spot; only cash and credit cards are accepted.

Changing Reservations: Reservations may be changed in most cases but various rules apply. Ask Amtrak or your travel agent when booking your trip for details about Amtrak's policies related to changing or canceling reservations.

Refunds of Sleeping Car Accommodation Charges: If canceled 15 or more days before scheduled departure, a refund fee of 10% applies with a minimum of $5 and a maximum of $100. If canceled 14 days or fewer before scheduled departure, but before the scheduled departure, ticket is not refundable but the value may be applied within one year toward future travel. Cancellation after departure or no cancellation at all (no show) will result in no refund and no credit. Additional rules regarding cancellation policies can be found here.

Tickets/eTickets: Prior to July 30th, 2012 Amtrak required all passengers to obtain paper value tickets that provided proof of payment for that train. Now all Amtrak trains, except for the Maple Leaf if one is traveling to/from points in Canada, use eTickets. Additionally some Amtrak Thruway buses use eTickets, while the rest still require the old fashioned paper value tickets. Once you've fully paid for your trip you'll receive an email containg a PDF file with a bar code. Simply print out that PDF and bring it with you to the train and show that to the conductor. That bar code can also be displayed on Smart Phones instead of carrying the paper printout. Further details on eTicketing can be found here on Amtrak's website.

Check Train Progress: If you're boarding at an intermediate stop or if someone is meeting you, call 1-800-USA-RAIL to see how the train is doing -- trains often run a little late. Once Julie (Amtrak's automated voice recognition system) answers, simply say "Train Status" to her and she will begin a series of questions to help you get the status for whichever train you want. Try not to call Julie from a noisy area, as she may have trouble understanding you, or she may interpret an outside noise as your response. Train progress can also be checked by speaking with a live agent or on the Home page of the Amtrak Web Site Just click the "Status" tab and enter the necessary information. Note that your train's departure time may depend on other trains. For example, the westbound Lake Shore Limited from New York can't leave Albany until the Boston section joins. When speaking to an agent you may wish to ask if any other trains will affect your train's departure.

Additionally train status can be checked via the Smart Phone Apps or the mobile website Also, now offers one a choice to be sent an email if the train(s) you are currently booking are delayed for some reason. This must be done during the booking process and it is located at the bottom of the page where one enters the Passenger information. Of course one must be able to receive emails while in transit to the station and at the station to utilize this service.

Yet another tool written by an Amtrak fan is Amtrak Status Maps. This site has maps for various parts of the country that show the approximate locations of every train within that section of the country. Please note these are not real time locations when in between stops. For those without Smart Phones another helpful person setup a text messaging service. If you text your station code and train number to 401-268-7251 (that's 401-AMTRAK-1) the system will send you a text message back with the current estimated arrival time. So for example someone wishing to know the estimated arrival time for the Coast Starlight would text "pdx 14" to that number and in short order you'll get a text back with the current estimated arrival time.

Lateness: Amtrak trains travel almost entirely on the tracks of freight railroads. As such they are at the mercy of many outside forces. Trains may run a little late, sometimes more than a little. Most of the time this lateness cannot be avoided within the constraints that Amtrak has to live with. (If you would like to see better Amtrak service, write to your representatives in Washington; they hold the purse strings and the ultimate control of Amtrak's destiny.) However, if lateness is a concern to you, one specific thing you can to is to plan on spending an overnight off the train at any stop where you will be changing trains. This may save you a lot of stress about missing a connection.

Amtrak Guest Rewards: AGR is Amtrak’s version of a frequent flyer's program. Unlike a normal airline program, one earns points based upon the dollar amount of your ticket, not on the number of miles traveled. Also unlike the airlines, Amtrak has no capacity controls. If you call up and there is only one room left on the entire train for that day, it's your room. It costs nothing to join and as long as one takes at least one paid trip every three years, your points never expire.

If you think that there is any possibility of taking more than one Amtrak trip, it is highly recommended that you join AGR before booking your first and/or current trip. However, if you've already booked your trip, it's still not too late. Once you sign up and get your membership number, just call Amtrak and have the agent add the number (numbers if you've also signed up family members) to your reservation. If you've already taken your trip, it may not be too late if your trip was within the last 21 days, but you'll have to call AGR to get those points. Additional program details and online registration can be found here.

Connections to Walt Disney World and other Orlando Attractions: This subject comes up often. At one time there used to be a special shuttle bus service operated, this has been discontinued unfortunately. At present your options are a Hertz car rental at the station, a taxi, or Orlando's public bus system called Lynx. Lynx bus route #40 runs near the station. This bus in the southbound direction will take one directly to Universal Studios if that is your destination.

Alternatively, one can take the #40 bus in the other/northbound direction to the Lynx Central Station. At Central Station one can then catch the #50 bus. The #50 will take one to Sea World, Downtown Disney, and the Walt Disney World Ticket & Transportation Center (TTC). From the TTC one can catch Disney buses and Monorails to reach all parks and hotels.

Connections to Los Angeles International Airport: We are often asked how one transfers between Amtrak and the airlines at LAX in Los Angeles. The fastest way is to use the Los Angeles International Airport - Union Station FlyAway bus service. The cheaper, but more time consuming method is to take the Metro Red/Purple line, Blue line, and then the Green line to the airport shuttle bus. Note that another good option is to fly into/out of Bob Hope Airport (formerly Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport) in the San Fernando Valley, if possible. Amtrak Pacific Surfliners serve that location (station name: Burbank Airport) with several daily trains which stop within easy walking distance of the airline terminal. The Burbank station is also served by L.A. area commuter rail trains (Metrolink) on working days.

Caution: NEVER get on a train unless you want to go somewhere, you know where the train is going, and you know where you are going. Read the front of your tickets carefully as soon as you get them and before you travel. Also never wander away from the train at intermediate stops; the train will NOT wait for you. Listen to announcements. Ask questions!

Accommodations All about Amtrak coaches, sleeping cars, dining cars, lounge and cafe cars.

Amtrak does not endorse this page and other associated On Track On Line pages, nor does it sponsor this or any other On Track On Line page. Amtrak sources were used to compile or confirm some of the information here, but this does not represent official Amtrak information, nor is this information endorsed by Amtrak.

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