We had high hopes this summer for low fares on Amtrak, but it turns out the railroad has been ratcheting back its discounts for single travelers, while still allowing savings of up to 90% for families and groups. We tore through Amtrak's list of discount codes to find you the best ones for August and September.
Our first stop when booking a train ticket is always Amtrak's weekly specials (http://tickets.amtrak.com/itd/amtrak/WeeklySpecials), where they sell tickets on specific routes from a few days to a month in advance at up to 90% off. The weekly specials are available on trains pretty much everywhere except the heavily traveled Northeast and California corridors; for instance, we found a ticket from Chicago to New York City for $41.10, an excellent discount over the regular rate of $87 each way.
If you can't find your route on the weekly sale page (and remember, it changes every week), don't despair. Discount codes cover many Amtrak routes. Sometimes they're also combinable with senior, children's, or AAA discounts. So pile on the discounts to get the absolute lowest fares.
To use a discount code, start booking a ticket on www.amtrak.com. On the page with the list of trains, marked "2-Select Train" -- there's a promotion code field near the bottom. Enter the code before you click the "View Fare" button. If one code doesn't work, try another.
The bad news: at the moment, there is no code to help single travelers in the heavily-traveled Northeast corridor. The well-loved old V626 code offering 20% off ticket prices is dead online, though we've heard reports of it working over the phone, especially with trips to or from Rhode Island. Remember you can still get 10-15% discounts by being a member of AAA, NARP (www.narprail.org/cms/index.php/main/join_narp), or a senior citizen 62 years old or older, or by having an International Student ID (ISIC), Student Advantage or Veterans' Advantage card.
Groups of two or more in the Northeast have better luck. Code V737 will give couples 50% off the second person's fare from Portland, Maine all the way down to Norfolk, Virginia and out to Albany, NY. This code will work through Dec. 15, though the July 4, Labor Day and Thanksgiving weekends are blacked out; you also have to buy your ticket three days before traveling.
Code V707 fills out the rest of New York state, giving 50% off a second person's fare on trips entirely within the state or between New York destinations and Rutland, VT or Montreal, QC. Unfortunately, that code doesn't work on Fridays and Sundays between 9 am and 7 pm, or on pretty much any holiday weekend, but it's good through March 31, 2006.
Groups of 3-6 in the Northeast can save even more with H545. That takes a stunning 90% off the third through sixth passengers' fares -- yes, ninety percent. This amazing code works on trains through December 15, although the July 4, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving weekends are blacked out; you must buy your tickets three days in advance, and buy them by Sept. 30.
For travel further down the East Coast, V616 gets you a 20% discount on the Piedmont, Carolinian or Silver Star trains. The Piedmont runs between Raleigh and Charlotte, NC; the Carolinian goes from New York to Charlotte via Raleigh, and the Silver Star runs from New York all the way to Miami via Raleigh and Columbia, SC. This discount is good for travel through December 3, with the July 4, Labor Day and Thanksgiving weekends blacked out.
In the Midwest, code V648 will get a free second person's ticket for couples traveling together on the Hiawatha, Empire Builder, Texas Eagle, Ann Rutledge, Blue Water, California Zephyr, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Heartland Flyer, Illini, Mules, Lake Shore, State House and Wolverine between now and Dec. 15. Like most other codes, it's blacked out over Labor Day and Thanksgiving weekends. For those not so familiar with Amtrak's whimsical train names, those are the trains from Chicago to Milwaukee, Seattle, Denver, New Orleans, Detroit, Port Huron, Texas, most destinations in Missouri and Illinois, and the train from Fort Worth to Oklahoma.
Up in the Northwest, use code H515 to save 25% off ticket prices on Cascades trains, which run from Eugene, OR to Vancouver, BC. That code will work on trains through Nov. 15, except over the Labor Day weekend.
In the West, you can get a free companion fare on the Pacific Surfliner train between San Diego and San Luis Obispo by signing up for a coupon here: (www.santabarbaracarfree.org/register.htm). The coupons are good for travel between Sept. 6, 2005 and June 15, 2006, with federal holiday weekends blacked out.
A slew of kid-related discounts are just about to expire - they're all good for booking through August 28 and travel through August 31 -- but they might work for a last-minute summer jaunt. Code H511 lets two kids ages 2-15 ride free with each paying adult on the Auto Train between Lorton, VA and Sanford, FL. Code H508 adds one kid per adult on the Crescent train from Charlotte, NC to Atlanta and New Orleans. Code H516 puts two free kids per adult on the Hiawatha trains from Chicago to Milwaukee. Code H509 adds one kid per adult on the Carolinian and Piedmont trains within the state of North Carolina. And code H550 works Mondays-Thursdays only to add two kids onto the Pere Marquette train from Grand Rapids, MI to Chicago.
Speaking of kids, if you're taking your teen for on a college visit this year, check out www.campusvisit.com/amtrak. If you fill out the form on that page, you'll get a special promotional code that will give you buy one, get one free tickets anywhere in the country for high school juniors or seniors traveling with a parent or guardian to visit a college. Certain holiday weekends are blacked out, as are trains between Boston and Washington leaving on Fridays and Sundays from 9am until 7pm, but it's still a great deal.
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