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Amtrak operates more than 300 commuter and passenger trains each day, across 46 states in the U.S. If you’re a frequent rider, be it for daily work trips or for longer adventures, you might be considering an Amtrak credit card to help you lower your fares and keep you on the right track.
But of the two versions of the card — both issued by First National Bank of Omaha (FNBO)— one offers more value, including better rewards and some lucrative side perks (such as a companion coupon) that can make up for its $99 fee.
Still, regardless of which card you hold, if you’re not hopping aboard frequently it might take you a while to rack up a pile of points. In that case, a general rewards credit card might make more sense.
Here are five things to know about the Amtrak credit cards.
As of Oct. 23, 2022, the Amtrak card portfolio changed issuers from Bank of America® to First National Bank of Omaha (FNBO). Legacy cardholders will be issued new card numbers from FNBO. Anniversary dates will remain the same. Additional details can be found here.
1. There are two versions of the card
Amtrak offers two different cards, with different fees and rewards structures:
The Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercard ($0 annual fee).
The Amtrak Guest Rewards Preferred Mastercard ($99 annual fee).
Both earn Amtrak Guest Rewards points, but as you might expect, the more expensive "Preferred" version offers richer rates:
3 points per $1 spent on Amtrak travel, including onboard purchases.
2 points per $1 on dining, eligible non-Amtrak travel, transit, and rideshare charges.
1 point per $1 on all other purchases.
The $0-annual-fee version earns 2 points per $1 spent on Amtrak travel, including onboard purchases, and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases.
If you’re a frequent Amtrak passenger, a 3X rate on those trips is pretty good. But beyond that, the rewards categories for both cards are underwhelming. You can find a number of credit cards that earn 2X back on all purchases, not just in narrow categories.
2. You'll get exclusive perks and benefits
The no-annual-fee version of the card offers a couple of perks, including a 10% rebate toward Amtrak food and drink purchases, plus a 5% points rebate when you redeem points for Amtrak travel.
But the $99-annual-fee Preferred card goes a lot further, including multiple benefits that can help defray that yearly cost:
A 20% rebate in the form of statement credit toward Amtrak food and drink purchases.
A 5% points rebate when you redeem points for Amtrak travel. (Redeem 100 points for an Amtrak ticket and you can expect to get 5 points back.)
1,000 Tier Qualifying Points or TQPs for every $5,000 in purchases with no cap. If you have a certain number of TQPs, you can qualify for elite status, which can get you a 25% to 100% points bonus.
Perks that renew annually
A companion coupon after opening an account and each year when you renew your card — a value of up to $300 when redeemed for Amtrak travel. This alone could offset the card’s $99 annual fee. Note that this works as a buy-one-get-one-free offer, meaning you must buy one full-priced rail ticket first. (The benefit comes as two one-way coupons; you and your companion must book and travel together.) Blackout dates apply.
A free one-class upgrade after opening an account and each year when your account is renewed. This is worth up to $150 when redeemed for Amtrak travel. Again, blackout dates apply.
A single-visit Amtrak lounge pass after opening an account and each year when your account is renewed, worth up to $25. This grants access to ClubAcela, Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge or Amtrak First Class Lounge. It covers the holder and one guest, or the holder's spouse/domestic partner and children younger than 21.
3. Redemption is flexible ...
Amtrak Guest Rewards points typically expire after 24 months of account inactivity. But if you hold one of the Amtrak credit cards, points don't expire as long as your card account remains open. (For non-cardholders seeking additional ways to keep points from expiring, check out some suggestions from Amtrak.)
Points can be redeemed for a variety of options, including Amtrak travel, car rentals, hotels and gift cards.
Redemption for travel, which starts at 800 points, will get you the most value for your points. (And as noted above, when you redeem for Amtrak trips this way, you’ll get a 5% point rebate.)
4. ... But point values vary
But the redemption process can be confusing because the value of your points will differ depending on what you redeem for and the amount of your redemption.
For example, based on a NerdWallet route simulation, a trip taken on a Northeast Regional train from New York to Washington, D.C., on an upcoming weekend would cost $115 for a coach seat and $176 if you ride business. This is equal to 4,083 and 6,248 points, respectively — a redemption value of more than 2.8 cents per point. That's an outstanding value. (Typically, you want to aim for a value of at least 1 cent per point.)
But on an Acela train, it's a bit different. Traveling the same route on the same day costs $155 for a business class seat, but you would need 7,400 points to cover the price. This comes out to a redemption value of about 2.1 cents per point. Or if you want to splurge, it would cost 13,080 points to cover the price of a First Class seat that retails for $327; a redemption rate of 2.5 cents per point.
That's still quite good, still some serious savings. But it all depends on which type of train you take, how much your fare is, departure and arrival times, and the like. Because there's no fixed point valuation, you'll have to do some math to know what kind of deal you're getting.
When redeemed for other options, points will also have varying valuations. A $100 Disney gift card, for example, would cost you 12,000 points — a point value of around 0.83 cent apiece. Meanwhile, redeeming your points for a car rental might give you a value of 1 cent per point.
5. You'll be eligible for a sign-up bonus
The $99-annual-fee Amtrak credit card features a limited-time welcome offer (expires 12/2/2022): Earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening. After this date, the bonus will revert back to the standard 20,000 bonus points for the same amount of spending in the same timeframe.
That's certainly not bad and can definitely cover some Amtrak trips. But it's worth noting that many travel credit cards with comparable or slightly higher annual fees tend to feature higher sign-up offers.
There are even no-annual-fee travel credit cards that can yield similar value — though that's not the case with the $0-annual-fee Amtrak card, which has a much lower bonus offer: 12,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening.