National Train Day is coming on May 9, and with it, Amtrak has released a bunch of new discount codes that are lowering train fares nationwide.
Even beyond codes, Amtrak is doing a lot of plain fare discounting. They've brought down fares on some Acela high-speed trains to $79 each way from New York to Boston, and $99 each way from New York to Washington. For weekends in April, they're doing $75 round-trips -- yes, that's round-trip -- from New York to Montreal. Fares in Michigan are all 20% off through June 14, as long as you but your tickets through May 31. And if you're a pair traveling within the state of Missouri, you automatically get 50% off your second ticket for most dates through Dec. 13.
If you've got some free time on May 9 and you like trains, it's worth checking to see if there's a National Train Day event being thrown at your local railway station. The official website (www.nationaltrainday.com/2009/) lists events in Washington DC, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as in cities as small and as varied as Lacey, WA, Sturtevant, WI and Emeryville, CA.
If you're here for the discount codes, remember that many codes nowadays only apply for certain cities, or for booking by phone. If you can use a code to get a discounted ticket to a nearby city by getting off the train early, we'll note that below.
Codes slash Amtrak's prices. To use a discount code, start booking a ticket on www.amtrak.com or call tel. 800/USA RAIL (or 800/872-7245), 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 Website 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.
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, don't work on high-speed Acela trains and don't work during certain holiday periods. This year, that includes April 10, April 13, Sept. 4, Sept. 7, Nov. 24-25 and Nov. 28-30.
If codes don't make sense for you and you live in the San Francisco Bay area, Eugene or Portland, OR, 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 and a free child's ticket on the Cascades service. The San Francisco one gives you a free companion ticket on Amtrak's Capitol Corridor train. Check them out.
Amtrak's Northeast Corridor Discounts
Amtrak's got plenty of discounts in the popular Northeast Corridor, you just have to pick the right one for your trip. We'll start with destinations in Massachusetts and work our way southward. Codes cover almost every major stop along the way.
The state of Maine is proud of their Downeaster train to Boston, so they try to make sure it's full with lots of discounts. The most impressive one is a buy one, get one free ticket deal good for northbound departures in the morning and southbound trains in the afternoon or evening. Use code V773 for this deal; it's good for trains at least through December 13.
If you're heading southbound into Boston, you can get 25% off all Downeaster fares to Boston provided your trip takes the late 11pm train back home; use code V687 through June 27 for that one.
Kids ride free on the Downeaster on Sundays through June 25 with code V581; seniors 62+ get half off Tuesdays-Thursdays through June 22 with code V543.
If you're heading from anywhere in the Northeast to any city in Massachusetts, make a reservation by phone (not online!) and ask for discount code V221. That will give you 20% off each ticket, though Dec. 15.
For 20% off trips to Rhode Island, book online and use code V174 through Dec. 16. This code can also help with trips coming northbound into New London or Old Saybrook, CT -- buy a ticket to Westerly, RI for those stations. On one sample itinerary we tested, a ticket from New York City to New London cost $43, but a ticket to Westerly with the code cost $36.80. You can get off early without a penalty.
If you're a pair heading to Newark, NJ through Dec. 16, you can get 40% off your second ticket using code V558 online. This can also help with trips southbound into New York City; book a ticket to Newark and get off early. On an itinerary we tested, two Boston-NYC tickets cost $124, but two discounted Boston-Newark tickets cost only $100.80.
If you're a real bargain hunter, you can use that Newark code to get into Manhattan northbound, too; you just have to switch trains. Get off at Newark northbound, and switch at that station for the PATH subway train, which takes 25 minutes to drop you off in downtown Manhattan for $2.
For 20% off all tickets to Philadelphia through May 20, use code V451. There are various other Philly codes out there, but this one is the best.
Pairs going to Wilmington, DE through Dec. 16 should use code V256 for 40% off the second ticket. If you're a pair headed to Baltimore, use code V828 through Dec. 16 for the same 40% discount off a second ticket.
Finally, there's Washington, DC. Pairs headed to DC or BWI Airport should use code V722 for 40% off the second ticket, through Dec. 16.
Discounts Across the Nation
Amtrak discounts outside the Northeast this spring seem to focus on short-distance trains, not the long-distance, cross-country routes. You'll get the best deals for short trips within your region.
If you're headed to Vermont on any train, use code V446 for 20% off all tickets through Oct. 31. You must call to make this reservation -- the code doesn't work online.
Going to Disneyworld? For tickets to the Orlando area on the three Silver Service trains, call Amtrak and ask for code V145. You may have to show the conductor a free Orlando Magicard; you can print get one at www.orlandoinfo.com/magicard/
For the Heartland Flyer train from Fort Worth, TX up through Oklahoma. you can get a pretty OK discount by calling tel.800/USA-RAIL -- not going online -- and asking for code V206 for travel through June 30. That will get you 20% off tickets to any of the seven stops on the route.
Within Illinois and to St. Louis on the Lincoln, Illini, Saluki, Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg trains, you can get 20% off fares for trips through June 30 by citing code V574.
There are a whole bunch of codes for Westerners. Pairs of tickets for the Cascades trains Monday-Thursday anywhere between Eugene, OR and Vancouver, BC (including Portland and Seattle) through May 22 get you 50% off the second ticket with code H779. On weekends (Fri-Sun) between now and April 26, traveling pairs can get 25% off their second ticket with code H783.
If you're heading to or from Monterey, CA between now and May 28, you can get a 20% discount on the Coast Starlight train to Salinas and the connecting bus to Monterey -- but only as part of a ticket to Monterey. (You can't even use it for a trip to Salinas!) Use code V275 to get this discount.
There are a two discounts for kids on the Pacific Surfliner trains between San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles and San Diego, but they're both for very narrow dates and locations, and they both have to be booked over the phone rather than online. Code H755 lets two kids 15 or under ride free with a paying adult passenger to Ventura, CA from April 14-20, and code V411 works to and from Oxnard, CA from May 16-18.
College students traveling on the Pacific Surfliners at any point through June 21 (buy tickets through June 18) should use code V363 for a 20% discount. But watch out, the conductor may ask to see your student ID.
And if you're traveling on the Pacific Surfliner or San Joaquin trains to anywhere in Santa Barbara County, CA, you can get a special code for 20% off your ticket by signing up at www.santabarbaracarfree.org/traindiscount.htm.
Finally, high school students visiting colleges can get 50% off a second ticket for a parent or guardian, by signing up at www.campusvisit.com/Amtrak.
Have you encountered any great Amtrak discounts? Share your stories on our Car Rental, Bus, and Rail Forum today.