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Just hit 60,000 points... help planning a coast-to-coast trip

Just hit 60,000 points... help planning a coast-to-coast trip

Old Nov 21, 12, 4:25 pm
  #1  
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Just hit 60,000 points... help planning a coast-to-coast trip

Hello all,

New on this forum and looking for some advice.

I just hit 60,000 AGR points that I have been saving up for many years for a coast-to-coast bedroom trip (we live in Boston). As you can imagine, I was pretty bummed when they increased the award from 50 to 60K points... in any case, I'm there now.

I just generally love seeing the scenery from outside trains or planes, so this would be a bit of an accomplishment for me.
So far I haven't been on any Amtrak train other than in the Northeast corridor...

The plan would be to go from the East Coast to the West Coast and then take a plane back.

I have been reading through many threads regarding coast-to-coast award redemption.
Here are some questions I have and partial responses that I could find or infer based on the forum. Any help confirming or filling out missing info would be great!
(You can also feel free to point me to great threads that I may have missed)



1. How much flexibility do I have regarding the routing? For example, can I go from Boston to Seattle via Chicago/Denver/SF?
Can I go down to DC (or even further South) before heading West?

2. What do you consider as the most beautiful/scenic routes to travel on a coast-to-coast Amtrak trip? In the Western zone, I would assume that the Denver/Salt Lake City/Reno is pretty breathtaking, but wonder what the ND/Montana route, or the routes through NM/AZ, are like. Same question in the Central zone...
Basically, if you have a preferred East-to-West routing (to the extent it is an allowable redemption), what would you suggest? In which areas should I make sure that I travel during the day?

3. How many stopovers can I make? Can I make stopovers only in major cities (ie, at the end of the major train lines, like Chicago) or also in the middle of a line (say, SLC).
[I believe that the answer to this is that I cannot make any stopovers and can only take the "next available train" in between lines... or I have to use several separate awards]

4. How is the food (included in the redemption, I believe) and the bedroom? My gf would be happy to come along, but is a bit of a picky eater / doesn't like camping-like conditions...

5. What do I need to consider regarding which room to choose? I've read about the bottom ones being quieter in general (less traffic) and having a bit more room due to the curvature of the train.. but the top-floor ones providing a better view (although I understand that there are dedicated cars that provide better views and it is nicer to hang out there during the day).





Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!!
romlevy is offline  
Old Nov 21, 12, 5:13 pm
  #2  
 
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I'll answer the easy question. All five bedrooms are on the upper level of a sleeper. Bedroom E is closest to the center of the car, and therefore experiences less motion, but it is also right next to the stairs. I would try to get Bedroom C as the happy medium. For the same points you can also book the Family Bedroom, which is on the lower level at one end of the car. Its beds for adults are exactly the same as the Bedroom. However, it has no sink, no toilet and no shower. It does extend the entire width of the train without any need for a corridor and it is one of only two rooms you can move around in at all after the beds are made up.

The above applies to the Superliner Sleepers, which you will find on all the trains heading west out of Chicago, as well as the Capitol Limited, the Texas Eagle and the Sunset Limited. The Eagle, however, has only roomettes available about half the time. If you opt for the Lake Shore Limited out of Boston, it has Viewliner Sleepers. Viewliner Bedrooms are very similar to Superliner Bedrooms, but have more headroom. For this reason, I prefer Viewliners.

Dining on Amtrak is certainly not gourmet and the menu choices are limited, but I have always been able to find something satisfactory and it is much better than camping out. I love eating while the scene constantly changes around me. And it's fun to meet other people in the diner.

I have ridden the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco, the Empire Builder from Chicago to Portland and the Southwest Chief from Chicago to Gallup. I think the Empire Builder is the best. Someone else will have to tell you about the Sunset Limited, the Coast Starlight and the rest of the Chief route. My reasons for preferring the Empire Builder are it runs on time better, it goes through Glacier National Park and the ride through the Columbia River Gorge is inspiring to this desert kid. However, the Zephyr has some impressive sights as well.

Last edited by peteypablo; Nov 21, 12 at 5:32 pm
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Old Nov 21, 12, 5:32 pm
  #3  
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Originally Posted by romlevy View Post
The plan would be to go from the East Coast to the West Coast and then take a plane back.
Be sure to allow an overnight on the west coast before catching that plane back, just in case the train is late. You may also wish to consider reversing things, such that the best part of the trip is the last part of the trip.

Originally Posted by romlevy View Post
1. How much flexibility do I have regarding the routing? For example, can I go from Boston to Seattle via Chicago/Denver/SF?
Can I go down to DC (or even further South) before heading West?
You'll have some flex, but for example you could not go via New Orleans. But DC is doable, but know you won't have much time in DC. You can also take the Lake Shore straight from Boston, and that would include all meals. Going to DC would see you buying lunch on a train along the way and it requires an earlier start from Boston.

Out of Chicago you should be able to go direct via the Empire Builder, take the Zephyr to Sacramento connecting to the Coast Starlight, and even the SW Chief to LA and again connecting to the Starlight. The Zephyr to CS is probably the most scenic.

Originally Posted by romlevy View Post
3. How many stopovers can I make? Can I make stopovers only in major cities (ie, at the end of the major train lines, like Chicago) or also in the middle of a line (say, SLC).
[I believe that the answer to this is that I cannot make any stopovers and can only take the "next available train" in between lines... or I have to use several separate awards]
Zero. Any stop overs requires a new award.

Originally Posted by romlevy View Post
4. How is the food (included in the redemption, I believe) and the bedroom? My gf would be happy to come along, but is a bit of a picky eater / doesn't like camping-like conditions...
No camping conditions with bugs & such. Don't expect the Ritz either. Probably closer to a Denny's or a TGI Fridays in terms of food. All meals are included for 2 when taken in the dining car. Anything from the cafe car you must pay for. One exception that rule is out of Boston on the Lake Shore, where your lunch is served in the cafe car.

Originally Posted by romlevy View Post
5. What do I need to consider regarding which room to choose? I've read about the bottom ones being quieter in general (less traffic) and having a bit more room due to the curvature of the train.. but the top-floor ones providing a better view (although I understand that there are dedicated cars that provide better views and it is nicer to hang out there during the day).
As already noted, all Bedrooms are on the upper level. Only roomettes can be found on the lower level.

Note that in the case of the Lake Shore, the entire train is single level. The Capitol, out of DC, is bi-level.
AlanB is offline  
Old Nov 21, 12, 6:12 pm
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On the subject of stopovers, I would note that a two zone roomette is the same price as one third of a three zone bedroom. I also note that Viewliner Roomettes are superior to Superliner Roomettes. The upper bunk is much less like a coffin.

So, what you could do is book a two zone bedroom between Chicago and San Francisco and a two zone roomette between Chicago and Boston. That would allow a stopover in Chicago. Other combinations are possible. And, if you don't mind slumming it in coach between Toledo and Chicago, you could go bedroom all the rest of the way for 60,000 points.
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Old Nov 21, 12, 6:20 pm
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If you could scrounge up 5,000 more points, you could have a stopover at any city on a zone boundary, Denver, Trinidad, Albuquerque, Wolf Point, Toledo, ElPaso, or Cincinnati and still go bedroom all the way.
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Old Nov 21, 12, 7:28 pm
  #6  
 
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Assuming you have a little money to spend. If they were my points I would buy 2 seats on A Northeast regional to NYP for $98.00 the day before I booked the rest of the trip below.

The next day it would be the NER to Washington. . If on time you have an hour or two to walk around Washington.

The Capitol Limited to Chicago. If on time you have time to explore downtown Chicago. Top of what used to be the Sears Tower within 2 blocks. Magnificent Mile is Doable if you are in decent shape to walk. Grab an Italian Beef at one of the shops

The Empire Builder to Portland. Time for some donuts at VooDoo donuts

The Coast Starlight to Los Angeles.

If you should decide this is for you PM me for a tip or two on booking this route to your benefit
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Old Nov 23, 12, 3:00 am
  #7  
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A couple of additional pointers:

It was mentioned that you'll get meals and make better time on the Lake Shore Limited directly out of Boston. IME, though, you skip the only scenic part of that routing by doing that--that is to say, the best part of the Lake Shore is the section running along the river between New York and Albany. Since you'd be coming from Boston and joining the Lake Shore at Albany, you'd miss all of that and just have a little bit of travel through the woods before nightfall (and the rest of the trip is in the dark).

The Capitol Limited from DC to Chicago is far more scenic as it winds through the hills of Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania and is a much better option. You can also (if you time it right) take the Cardinal from DC to Chicago, which traverses the beautiful New River Gorge (probably the most scenic stretch of Amtrak west of the Rockies), but note three limitations of that train: the number of rooms is limited on the train (leading to limited availability, although many find the single-level Viewliner rooms superior to the double-decker Superliner rooms), the train only travels three days a week, and the train lacks a true dining car (the lack of a grill and presence of only a convection oven leads to limited menu options).

A few here have expressed a preference for the Empire Builder. It is a very nice run, but I was absolutely blown away by the scenery between Denver and Salt Lake. I would strongly consider the Zephyr. After taking the Zephyr, I found the scenery along the Builder's route to be slightly underwhelming. (Of course, I grew up on the West Coast and in Alaska, so mountains are nothing new to me. )

And remember (in case you didn't already know), two people can go in a sleeper for the same number of AGR points as one, so definitely take your girlfriend along. As Alan said, it ain't the Ritz, but accept it for what it is and you'll have a blast. (And if she doesn't want to go, take me! )

Whatever you choose, it'll be an amazing trip! Enjoy!
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Old Nov 23, 12, 3:43 pm
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I, too, think the California Zephyr has better scenery than the Empire Builder. On my first cross country trip, I took the Cardinal, California Zephyr (to Sacramento), Coast Starlight to Seattle. I have taken the Empire Builder a couple of times eastbound, but not westbound.
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Old Nov 23, 12, 4:43 pm
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I agree the Zephyr is probably better scenery from Denver to about SLC but the Empire Builder to me is overall the better value.
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Old Nov 23, 12, 9:30 pm
  #10  
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Originally Posted by darben View Post
I agree the Zephyr is probably better scenery from Denver to about SLC but the Empire Builder to me is overall the better value.
Empire Builder is the better value how?

I mean, they cost the same amount of points, and when it comes to scenery it is totally a matter of opinion.

Better onboard experience on the Empire Builder? The trip is shorter?
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Old Nov 25, 12, 3:48 pm
  #11  
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Originally Posted by AlanB View Post
Out of Chicago you should be able... and even the SW Chief to LA and again connecting to the (Coast) Starlight.
If you really want scenery, and really want to pile on the miles for your 60K points, this is the way. It gives one Raton Pass, Southwest red rock scenery, SoCal coastal scenery, and a Cascades crossing.

I would be a little reluctant to take an SO who isn't fully committed, however, because Amtrak long-distance isn't for everyone. Denver to Sacramento (or farther west) is a single-zone, single-overnight possibility with some very good scenery (some of the less interesting miles covered under helpful darkness ) and thus presents a good test - IMHO.
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Old Nov 25, 12, 5:34 pm
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Originally Posted by nerd View Post
Empire Builder is the better value how?

I mean, they cost the same amount of points, and when it comes to scenery it is totally a matter of opinion.

Better onboard experience on the Empire Builder? The trip is shorter?
The scenery of the upper Mississippi with the Bald Eagles flying over, The beauty of the national parks. The onboard service with the nice little amenity bags and the wine and cheese sampling where they gave most of us a bottle of wine at the end. The champagne and Cider that we got after departure was a plus as well. The Coast Starlight trip is spectacular as well with the scenery and the Pacific Parlor cars.

The Zephyr has the Colorado river run for 12 +- hours which is spectacular but I think the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight is the better value both scenery wise and amenity wise. If you do the Zephyr to LAX and fly home you miss the Coast Starlight

Last edited by darben; Nov 25, 12 at 5:47 pm
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Old Nov 26, 12, 8:31 pm
  #13  
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Thank you all for the great replies!!
I think I need to first get a little more familiar with all the route names (thankfully the Amtrak website has a good interactive route atlas).

I like the ideas of doing the flight first and then an West-to-East route... as well as the suggestions to break the trip into 2 and either spend a few more points or downgrade to a roomette for portion of the trip, such that we can get a stopover at a "zone border" town.

As far as routes and maximizing/minimizing times... I'm not trying to really go anywhere other than spend some relaxing time and see amazing scenery, so if anything I'd be up for taking a *longer* route if it maximizes the enjoyment.

Based on what I'm reading, right now to optimize around the scenery I'm leaning towards starting in Seattle, taking the Coast Starlight, then Zephyr, then Capitol Limited, and Northeast back to Boston...
but I'm still fairly undecided between Empire Builder, Zephyr, or even SW Chief (if I get the names right).

I will keep you posted!

Last edited by romlevy; Nov 26, 12 at 8:39 pm Reason: typo
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Old Nov 26, 12, 8:38 pm
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Another random question.. purely out of curiosity.

I believe that those cross-country (or even cross-half-country) train rides are more expensive than most plane tickets (at least when not in coach) and obviously way longer. Are there people who routinely travel those long routes?

Can I ask why? Just folks not in a rush/would rather enjoy the trip? or medical conditions preventing them from flying? (I was in that latter situation for a bit, but while in Europe)
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Old Nov 26, 12, 8:50 pm
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Originally Posted by romlevy View Post
Another random question.. purely out of curiosity.

I believe that those cross-country (or even cross-half-country) train rides are more expensive than most plane tickets (at least when not in coach) and obviously way longer. Are there people who routinely travel those long routes?

Can I ask why? Just folks not in a rush/would rather enjoy the trip? or medical conditions preventing them from flying? (I was in that latter situation for a bit, but while in Europe)
There are plenty of people who travel those routes, in sleepers. Some do it thanks to AGR Rewards, but many many more still pay. They pay because they like the trip, the scenery, just relaxing, don't like the hassles to fly, and many other reasons I'm sure.
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