March 3, 2004 -- There's something about a low train fare that's magic. Alas, in the train-happy Northeast corridor from Boston to Virginia, those fares can be hard to find. That's why we'll continue to publish Amtrak's online discount codes as they appear -- magic numbers that can cut your fares by 20%.
To use an Amtrak discount code, start booking your ticket online. On the screen with the list of trains, you'll see a space for "Promotion Code." Enter the code there. Poof! There goes your fare.
Right now, there are six codes to choose from.
The best of the bunch is code V822. It will knock fares down by 20% on all unreserved trains as far north as Albany, as far east as Boston, as far west as Harrisburg and as far south as Virginia. There are no blackout dates, and you can travel as late as Dec. 16 on this code. When you're picking your train on Amtrak's site, look for trains with a "U" symbol under the "Accommodations" column -- those are the unreserved trains. If V822 doesn't work, try V729, a very similar discount.
Want to try the high-speed Acela train? Use code V711 for Acela and Metroliner trains on weekends (except Sunday 1-6 pm) from now through June 30. It'll knock 20% off your fare. It won't work for trains from april 8-12 or May 28-June 1. If that code doesn't work, V745 and V704 are very similar discounts.
If you're traveling outside the Northeast Corridor, your code is H406. That'll knock 5% off almost all train fares nationwide for travel from now through August except on the Easter, Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends. It doesn't apply to trains to Canada or to Northeast Corridor trains on Fridays and Sundays, but if you're traveling in the NEC, you can get a better deal with V822 anyway.
Even More Amtrak Discounts
Travelers over the age of 62 can also get 15% off most Amtrak fares by asking for the senior citizen's discount. Even better, the senior discount works in combination with the discount codes for a super-discount.
There are two other places to find heavily-discounted Amtrak fares: Amtrak's Rail Sale page (tickets.amtrak.com/Amtrak/railsale), with its swiftly rotating collection of deeply discounted tickets, and, oddly enough, eBay (www.stores.ebay.com/id=56190638&ssPageName=L2).
At press time, Amtrak's rail sale page was showing roundtrips between Boston and Washington, on late-night trains for $84. Roundtrips between New York and Tampa, meanwhile, were a shocking $40, and a one-way ride from LA to Seattle on the really excellent Coast Starlight on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday was a mere $47.40. Rail Sale fares apply to all intermediate destinations, too, so that Coast Starlight fare could be used to get, say, from Oakland to Portland for $35.70.
eBay, meanwhile, is offering a round trip between New York and South Bend, IN (which can be extended to Chicago with a relatively inexpensive extra ticket) for $50 and a roundtrip between Philadelphia and New Orleans for $51.
To see a complete, downloadable map of all Amtrak routes, go to www.amtrak.com/pdf/national.pdf.
A Capital Deal For Canadians
Ottawa: it's like Washington, but colder, friendlier, and more bilingual. It's also an easy day trip for many Quebec and Ontario residents, with four roundtrip trains per day.
Right now VIA Rail is offering a Saturday twofer on Ottawa fares from as far east as Montr? and as far west as Kingston, ON: buy one roundtrip, same-day adult or senior ticket for Saturday travel between now and March 27, and get a second ticket for the same trip free. Keep your ticket once you get off the train, because you can also use it to get a 50% discount on Ottawa public transportation.
If you're coming, say, from Montreal, you can grab a 10AM train for the 99-minute ride to Ottawa, spend a day deeply admiring Canadian democracy, and head back on a 5:45PM train; you'll be home in time for smoked meat and poutine.
For Torontonians, Ottawa is a little far for a day trip -- four hours each way on the train, and you'd only get six hours in Ottawa before turning around. But if you insist, you can just buy separate tickets from Toronto to Kingston and then get the two-fer deal from Kingston to Ottawa.
No advance purchase is necessary for this deal. To get the special fare, call 888/VIA-RAIL and ask for promotion #10271.
For our complete guide to Ottawa, see www.frommers.com/destinations/ottawa.
We'd love to hear from all you fans of rail travel. Just go to our Rail Travel Message Boards to tell us what you love about taking the train. And if you'd prefer to get there any other way besides the train, we'd like to read about that, too.