Even though gas prices are at an all-time high and traveling by train is far more efficient than driving your own car, Amtrak still can't catch a break from the White House, Congress or from the unfriendly freight railroads who "host" passenger trains through most of the country, forcing Amtrak trains onto sidings so passengers can watch freight go by. Let's celebrate a greener form of travel with some new Amtrak discount codes. Amtrak has revived online-bookable codes for the popular northeast corridor, so now that gas is pushing $4, there's more reasons than ever to try the train.
Codes slash Amtrak's prices. To use a discount code, start booking a ticket on www.amtrak.com or call tel. 800/USA RAIL, depending on whether it's on online or phone code. If you can possibly book online, do so: reservations agents tend to slap more restrictions on codes than the Web site does. 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. Finally, get your tickets mailed to you or pick them up from a Quik-Trak machine at a station.
When searching for budget fares on Amtrak, your first stop should always be Amtrak's weekly specials page, where they sell tickets on specific routes from a few days to a month in advance at up to 90% off. Also check out Amtrak's "weekend getaway fares" page, which has special sales for weekend trips within the Northeast.
If you can't find your route on the sales pages (and remember, they change every week), don't despair. Discount codes cover many of Amtrak's most popular routes. Sometimes they're also combinable with senior, children's, or AAA discounts. So pile on the discounts to get the absolute lowest fares.
Amtrak discount codes work often, but not always. They generally require a 3-day advance purchase and don't work during certain holiday periods. This year, that includes Aug. 29; Sept. 1; Nov. 25-26; Nov. 29-30, and Dec. 1.
If codes don't make sense for you and you live in Minneapolis, the San Francisco Bay area, Eugene or Portland, Oregon, or Seattle, there's a different deal you can use -- coupons. Buy something called an "EcoMetro coupon book" from www.ecometro.com for $20. The books are full of coupons for local businesses, but they also all have Amtrak coupons. The Portland, Eugene and Seattle ones get you a free companion ticket anywhere in the country, along with a free child's ticket on the Cascades service. The San Francisco one gives you a free companion ticket on Amtrak's San Joaquin train. And the Minneapolis one gives you 50% off a companion ticket, apparently anywhere in the country. Check them out.
Everybody Must Get Codes
There's a great new code for travelers in the Northeast, sponsored by the state of Massachusetts. Code V856 will get you 20% off the price of tickets anywhere in the heavily traveled Washington-Boston corridor, including trains to Philadelphia, New York and all points in between. You just have to book regional trains (not Acelas) and book three days in advance. This code is good for trips at least through Dec. 13.
Couples get a bigger discount by using V454, which offers 50% off a second ticket (in other words, 25% per person.) That code is valid for travel through Dec. 10, with the same restrictions as the one above.
In the Northwest, two codes are about to expire. The transit-friendly city of Portland, OR sponsors code H750, which lets you buy one ticket and get one free if two people are riding together anywhere on that line through May 23 -- and yes, that includes trains (but not buses) to Canada.
Lonely travelers to the Northwest need not fear: Seattle has you covered. Use code V777 for a 25% discount on any Cascades train if you're traveling alone, but only through May 16th.
On the Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquin trains from San Diego up past Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, the city of Santa Barbara is sponsoring H752. That nabs you a cool 20% off those fares, through Dec. 8.
Active military and reservists get 20% off the fare on the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner trains within California through May 22. Use code V834 and bring your military ID with you when you board the train.
There are a bunch of codes for the Downeaster train from Boston's North station to Portland, ME and points in between. Starting with the most flexible, couples traveling through June should use V668 to get half off their second ticket. For singletons, if you're headed to Boston on a day trip and returning on the super-late 11:20pm train northbound, use V453 for 25% off your fare. Seniors get half off on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through June with V481. Kids under 16 can ride free on Sundays with V486. Finally, you can get 25% off with V279 if you are a patient traveling to a medical appointment in the region.
Phone Only Codes
If you didn't find your journey above, you'll have to call 800/USA-RAIL and ask to speak to a representative. I found I couldn't even get Amtrak's automated agent, "Julie," to accept the codes below.
You'll love train travel in New York State and Canada by using code V464 for 20% off your tickets -- but only over the phone, not online. V464 appears to work with any of the Empire Service trains within New York State, the trains to Montreal and Toronto, and even the Lake Shore Limited train to Chicago. It's good through September 2008.
If you're headed to Vermont, call and ask for V209. That gives you 20% off any fare to the Green Mountain State on trains through Oct. 31, 2008.
If Rhode Island is your destination, V731 is your telephone-only code. That code gives you 20% off the regular fare on non-Acela trains to any Rhode Island station, for trains all the way through Dec. 12.
Four stations in the Northeast have destination-specific discounts for couples and groups. All four codes work for travel through Dec. 13, and they all take 50% off the second ticket for a pair traveling together. From north to south, they are Newark, NJ: V863; Wilmington, DE: V256; BWI Airport: V722; and Baltimore: V828.
Sun seekers should pick up a free Orlando Magicard at www.orlandoinfo.com/magicard. You can use it to book yourself a ticket over the phone (not online) with V673. That will get you 20% off tickets on the Auto Train and Silver Service to the Orlando area.
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