JULY 28, 2006
The fun's been taken out of the Amtrak discount code game recently, thanks to the introduction of a "super code" -- a discount code that works to get you 25 percent off any train, any time except holiday weekends between now and Dec. 14. More on that later.
If you're looking for major savings on the rails, your first stop should still 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 percent off.
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 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.
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.
Codes almost never work during peak holiday travel times. That means from Sept. 1-4; Oct. 6-9; Nov. 9-12; Nov. 21-28; and Dec. 15-Jan. 7, you're on your own. Also, in general, code fares require a three-day advance purchase.
What's The Super Code?
The super code that's driving everyone crazy is H570. It works in the Northeast Corridor, on Acela high-speed trains, in the Midwest, the West, the South ... all over our fair land. Punch it in, and pow, it's 25 percent off.
H570 is an Amtrak Guest Rewards promotion, so if you want to follow the rules, sign up for Amtrak's free frequent-traveler program at www.amtrakguestrewards.com and get a membership number. And Amtrak told me it doesn't work on the Auto Train or 'selected California services,' but works on all other trains nationwide.
The only better discount available to the general public is Amtrak's group fare, and you need four people to make that cheaper. If you are, indeed, traveling in a group of four to six adults in the Northeast, use code H620 for travel between now and December 14. That gives the third through sixth people 75 percent off.
But I'm not one to count on a code lasting forever. So let me arm you with a true arsenal of smaller-gauge codes out there right now. If H570 falls to pieces, you'll still be able to save with one of these other deals.
On the East Coast, codes V617 will take 20 percent off the fare on the Carolinian (trains 79/80) and Piedmont (trains 73/74) running between New York City and Charlotte, NC for travel through Dec. 3. The code works with any two stations on those lines. Code V662 extends your 20 percent discount all the way south to Miami, working with any two stations on the Silver Star, trains 91/92. That one will work well into '07.
Pairs can bump their savings up to 25 percent each using companion fare codes. (Amtrak phrases this as 50 percent off the second ticket, but I like to think of it as 25 percent off each of two tickets. Same difference.) Use codes V383 (through Sept. 11) or V769 (through Dec. 11) to knock 25 percent off of pairs of tickets in the Northeast, except on the high-speed Acela/Metroliner trains. Code V707 works for any trip within the state of New York, as far north as Plattsburgh and as far west as Niagara Falls.
Midwesterners aren't left out of the code fun. Code V663 only gives 10 percent off, but it works on a wide range of trains, like the Texas Eagle (trains 21/22 from Chicago all the way to Fort Worth) and everything that runs from Chicago south to St. Louis and Kansas City, through Dec. 14.
Head north for code V524, giving you 15 percent off all destinations on the Empire Builder train from Chicago to Minneapolis, Montana, and ultimately Seattle and Portland Oregon through December 14.
In the West, code H625 gives a powerful 25 percent off all trips on the Cascades trains between Oregon, Washington State, and Vancouver through Oct. 31.
There's one code I want to warn you against, because I've seen some rumors swirling around the Internet without explanation. If you hear about V675, which supposedly offers tremendous savings, don't bite. It's an Icelandair employee discount, and you need an Icelandair employee ID number. Stick with the codes I list above.
Codes That Are, You Know, For Kids
Kids up to the age of 15 ride free this summer on two Amtrak trains: the Auto Train any day through Sept. 3 (use code H608) and the Hiawatha between Chicago and Milwaukee, though that one's only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 27 (use code H615). In both cases, you can bring along two free kids per full-fare-paying adult.
Parents of teens have an even more flexible option. High schoolers traveling with an adult can get a free ticket anywhere in the US by filling out the form at www.campusvisit.com/amtrak and pledging to visit a college campus on their trip. Interesting fact: did you know that nearly every town of any size in the USA has a college in it? I'm just sayin'.
In Canada, They Don't Use Codes
Canadians don't have codes. They just have discounts. A few summer discounts on our northern neighbour's VIA RAIL system are definitely worth mentioning.
On Saturdays through Sept. 9, trips of around three hours or less in Canada's most-traveled rail corridor are 50 percent off. That includes trains from Montreal to Ottawa or Quebec City and Niagara Falls to Toronto. Book on www.viarail.ca and pick the "Comfort Discounted Fare" when you're buying.
You can combine that promotion with VIA's impressive kids-travel-free promo, which gives you one free ticket for a child 11 or under for every adult ticket you buy, anywhere in Canada in Comfort (coach) class, on any day -- not just Saturdays. That promotion runs through Sept. 15.
If you're 60 or older, you can take along a companion of any age for free in Comfort class, and at a 75 percent discount in first class. VIA labels this somewhat complicated discount as "for seniors," but I'm laughing at the age requirement. My dad is in his early sixties, and he has absolutely no resemblance to a senior citizen whatsoever.
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