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Introducing the next stop for Amtrak Guest Rewards

Introducing the next stop for Amtrak Guest Rewards

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Old Jun 4, 19, 3:11 am   -   Wikipost
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Changes to Amtrak Guest Rewards in 2016

Amtrak Guest Rewards (AGR) underwent numerous changes beginning on January 24, 2016. This wiki attempts to provide a summary of those changes (and Amtrak's ongoing unannounced revisions of the rules). For additional details, see the Amtrak website.

Table of Contents
Earning Status
As in the past, members earn Tier Qualifying Points (TQP) for paid travel at the rate of 2 TQP per dollar. With the 2016 changes, however, AGR has eliminated
  • the 100 TQP minimum (so fares under $50 earn fewer TQP), and
  • the Acela "select city pairs" TQP minimums for Business class (formerly 500 TQP) and First class (formerly 750 TQP); see post #83
In addition, AGR now provides new class-of-service TQP bonuses: 25% for qualifying travel in Business class and 50% for qualifying travel in Acela First class. (As noted below, passengers will also earn redeemable AGR points in the same amount.)

The number of TQP required to earn status remains the same:
  • Select - 5,000 TQP
  • Select Plus - 10,000 TQP
  • Select Executive - 20,000 TQP
Benefits for each status level, including the Tier Bonus on cash fares (see below), remain the same.
Earning AGR Points Redeemable for Travel
Members continue to earn redeemable AGR points for paid travel (except as discussed below in this section) at the rate of 2 points per dollar, plus a new 25% point bonus for qualifying travel in Business class and 50% for qualifying travel in Acela First class. Sleeper-car tickets do not earn a bonus.

With the 2016 changes, however, AGR eliminates
  • the 100 point minimum (so fares under $50 earn fewer points), and
  • the Acela "select city pairs" minimums for Business class (previously 500 points) and First class (previously 750 points)
In addition to base points, members with status continue to earn Tier Bonus redeemable AGR points (i.e., not TQP) at the same level as in 2015:
  • Select - 25%
  • Select Plus - 50%
  • Select Executive - 100%
As was the case before, members do not earn points for Amtrak 7000-series Thruway services or the Canadian portion of joint Amtrak/VIA Rail Canada services.
Redeeming for Travel
For 2016, redemption rules have changed drastically. AGR has discontinued its fixed-point awards and zone system, transitioning instead to a revenue-based system. Under the new program, the points required for an award ticket--including multi-ride tickets and monthly passes--are, with some exceptions noted below, proportional to the cash price of the ticket.

In general, an AGR point is worth roughly 2.9 cents for non-Acela travel and 2.56 cents for Acela. (For example, 5,141 points are redeemable for a WAS-NYP regional one-way $149 ticket.) However, several new restrictions result in a lower yield for award redemptions:
  • Minimum award pricing: Regardless of the cash fare, a non-Acela award ticket costs a minimum of 800 AGR points. As a result, using AGR points for such tickets with a cash price under $24 (e.g., LNC-PHL or BWI-WAS) results in lower yields.

    Acela award tickets cost a minimum of 4,000 points. Using AGR points for Acela tickets costing less than $103 results in lower yields.

  • No redemption for Saver awards: Per AGR's FT representative, members cannot redeem points for tickets at the least-expensive Saver rate. For instance, even if a $52 Saver WAS-NYP cash fare is available, points can be used only to purchase tickets at the equivalent of an $86 Value fare or higher (resulting in a yield of 1.75 cents/point at best).

  • Peak travel dates/times: As discussed below under "Blackout Dates," Amtrak has quietly introduced a "peak travel" penalty in which certain high-demand itineraries (not published in advance) will cost 50% or even 100% more points than would normally correspond to the available cash fare.

  • Most discount fares inapplicable: Under the 2016 program, AGR points are redeemable for tickets based only on the Adult or Child price, and not at the equivalent of Senior, AAA, or other discounted fares. (See post #83.)

  • As was the case before, members may not redeem points for Amtrak 7000-series Thruway services or the Canadian portion of joint Amtrak/VIA Rail Canada services.
Note: Reward tickets booked before 1/24/16 are subject to the new redemption policy if modified or canceled on or after that date.

Redemption options: With the 2016 changes, AGR members are able to redeem points for multi-ride tickets or monthly passes as well as standard one-way & round-trip tickets.

Sleeper-car travel: The number of points required for sleeper-car travel is calculated using the prevailing fare, which reflects the actual number of passengers occupying the room. Amtrak assesses a single accommodation charge for the room, plus one adult/child rail fare per occupant.

Auto Train travel: Members are able to redeem points for Auto Train travel using the same process as for other itineraries. Vehicle(s) are priced the same as other portions of the itinerary per standard Amtrak Auto Train policies. Priority Vehicle Offloading may not be redeemed using points.

Credit card rebate: Holders of either new Bank of America co-branded credit card (see below) receive a 5% points rebates on Amtrak award tickets. This is the same as the benefit offered by the recently discontinued Chase card.

Blackout dates eliminated: On the plus side, AGR will eliminate award redemption blackout dates and Acela time-of-day restrictions. When the 2016 changes were announced, AGR claimed that blackout dates were being eliminated. As of January 24, 2016, the AGR website still makes that claim. Unfortunately, it is a lie.

On January 24--the day the new program changes took effect--AGR Insider posted new information making clear that the blackout-date policy has not been abandoned:
you may find limited availability on peak travel dates or times and it is possible that not every seat will be available for redemption. When redeeming points for trips during peak travel dates and times, some itineraries may be available only to our Select Plus and Select Executive members.
Amtrak quietly added similar language to the website in early February 2016. The website also indicates that the point costs for "peak travel" dates and times may be increased in addition to any increase resulting resulting from a higher cash fare. To date, additional points costs of 50% and 100% have been observed on certain itineraries.

Under the old program rules, AGR published an advance list of blackout dates. AGR has provided no public information specifying the "peak travel dates or times" when general members are charged additional points or blacked out entirely from redeeming for travel.

Cancellation penalties: Canceling or modifying a standard ticket incurs an automatic 10% penalty. Doing so less than 24 hours in advance for non-sleeper tickets (or 14 days for sleeper-car travel) results in a "close-in" penalty of an additional 10% (i.e., a total penalty of 20%) for most travelers; however, this additional 10%/close-in penalty does not apply to Select Executive members.

No-shows result in 100% forfeiture for the missed segment, as well as cancellation and forfeiture for any later segments on the same itinerary. (As a result, it is less risky to book round-trip travel as two separate one-way tickets and, where possible, to book passengers individually rather than on a single shared ticket.)

For multiple-segment tickets, you can cancel the remainder even after travel begins. Thus, on a round-trip ticket you can cancel the return leg even if you have already begun the outbound leg.
CAUTION: The new policy is worded to imply that reservation "modification" and "cancellation" are treated differently. A "modification" ostensibly triggers a penalty only of "any fare difference returned to member," implying that changing to a more expensive fare should involve no penalty and changing to a less expensive fare should be subject to a penalty only on the refunded points difference.

Unfortunately, there are now multiple reports that there is no difference in practice: AGR is treating any change as a full cancellation and rebooking, and penalizing accordingly. This includes asking to be rebooked in a different room on the same train (at the same price), changing dates, or altering routing. It is unclear how the new policy will be applied to travel affected by service disruptions such as weather-related train cancellations.
For complete details on the 2016 change rules, including the special rules for multi-ride tickets and monthly passes, see the AGR website.

Points & cash redemption: AGR has indicated that a points+cash redemption option will be introduced in 2016. No details are available, and it is unclear how this will work with respect to earning TQP and redeemable points.
Points Expiration
AGR altered its expiration policy, which previously required paid travel once every 36 months. Effective August 27, 2015, any points-earning or redemption activity will reset the 36-month clock. Effective April 2019, points expire after 24 months of inactivity.
As today, AGR MasterCard cardholders' points will not expire as long as their credit card accounts are open. AGR has moved its co-branded credit card relationship to Bank of America, which now offers two different versions of the card, including one with no annual fee. All Chase AGR MasterCards were converted to Chase Freedom cards on September 30, 2015.
Post-Rollout Issues/Unknowns
  • Class-of-service bonuses have been posting initially as non-TQPs, although subsequent data points suggest there is currently a delay of ~12 days in proper crediting.
  • Agents have claimed that any change incurs the 10/20% penalty (up to and including asking for a changed room assignment) on the full value of the ticket, rather than just anything involving a reduction in price being penalized 10/20% on the changed portion

It remains unclear whether these are merely IT errors or unannounced program devaluations, particularly as in some cases the contradict explicitly stated terms and conditions.
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Old Jan 24, 16, 4:35 am
  #316  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: NYC
Programs: Amtrak Select Plus, Marriott Lifetime Gold, Hilton Diamond
Posts: 3,061
UPDATE: Appears to be working now. I was able to book three reservations, all without error and at the correct points amount; the Bank of America points rebate was applied correctly as well. I like the booking interface and the ability to toggle between dollars and points.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What the....

Revised site is up but not ready for prime time. IE 11 and Chrome 47 throwing intermittent errors. When it works, it shows double the points requirement as the calculator.

This is for a one-way $178 fare on NER in Business.

Points calculator says 6,141.

If you try to book, it is double that, 12,282.

And now....

Service Temporarily Unavailable

The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to maintenance downtime or capacity problems. Please try again later.

Or....

We are unable to complete this redemption reservation on Amtrak.com: For assistance, call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245) to speak with a customer service representative.
[Error ID: 335A]

Clicking Terms and Conditions during purchase (which fails) shows empty pop-up.

Last edited by vatraveler; Jan 24, 16 at 5:08 am Reason: Issues appear to be resolved.
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Old Jan 24, 16, 5:14 am
  #317  
Company Representative - Amtrak
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2010
Location: Washington, DC
Programs: Amtrak Guest Rewards (Select Executive)
Posts: 528
Originally Posted by vatraveler View Post
UPDATE: Appears to be working now. I was able to book three reservations, all without error and at the correct points amount; the Bank of America points rebate was applied correctly as well. I like the booking interface and the ability to toggle between dollars and points.
Thanks for the positive feedback. You hit the site in the early few minutes after it came online with the new changes, and we were still performing final configuration.

Anthony
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Old Jan 24, 16, 8:23 am
  #318  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: NYC
Programs: Amtrak Select Plus, Marriott Lifetime Gold, Hilton Diamond
Posts: 3,061
Originally Posted by AGR Insider View Post
Thanks for the positive feedback. You hit the site in the early few minutes after it came online with the new changes, and we were still performing final configuration.

Anthony
Yeah, I was probably a little overanxious.
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Old Jan 24, 16, 8:24 am
  #319  
 
Join Date: May 2009
Location: South Park, CO
Programs: Tegridy Elite
Posts: 5,404
The Frequent Miler blog describes his experiences this morning whereby business seats and sleepers are not always available for points redemptions even when the same are available for cash purchase, particularly around a holiday.

Can AGR Insider explain if this is a system glitch or an intentional feature of the new program?

http://frequentmiler.boardingarea.co...m-award-seats/
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Old Jan 24, 16, 9:40 am
  #320  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: NYC
Programs: Amtrak Select Plus, Marriott Lifetime Gold, Hilton Diamond
Posts: 3,061
Originally Posted by 84fiero View Post
The Frequent Miler blog describes his experiences this morning whereby business seats and sleepers are not always available for points redemptions even when the same are available for cash purchase, particularly around a holiday.

Can AGR Insider explain if this is a system glitch or an intentional feature of the new program?

http://frequentmiler.boardingarea.co...m-award-seats/
I can reproduce the behavior but only when not logged in. Once I log in, full Business, First, and room points availability shows.

Last edited by vatraveler; Jan 24, 16 at 10:10 am
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Old Jan 24, 16, 9:50 am
  #321  
 
Join Date: Aug 2015
Posts: 178
I had a smooth experience this morning booking my trip for this summer. It was exactly what the points estimator told me it would be and everything went through fine. I know I'm only one data point but kudos to Amtrak on a good experience just a few hours out of the gate.

Last edited by musicalbox; Jan 31, 16 at 9:05 am
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Old Jan 24, 16, 11:35 am
  #322  
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 375
GSC-SAC is 34k points on 12/20 for 2 roomettes, but 68k on 12/21!!!
It has the same price in dollars. ...???
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Old Jan 24, 16, 1:43 pm
  #323  
 
Join Date: May 2009
Location: South Park, CO
Programs: Tegridy Elite
Posts: 5,404
From the comments to the above blog post:

Jeff says:
January 24, 2016 at 1:53 pm
Looks like they are limiting awards for normal members (from the website):

“No Price” is displayed for Redemption Booking

When redeeming Amtrak Guest Rewards points during peak travel periods, some itineraries may be available only to our Select Plus and Select Executive members. For best results, please ensure that you are logged in to your Amtrak Guest Rewards account before searching.
Did I miss this nuance in the new program announcement last fall? So it sounds like for non Select Plus/Executive members there are some blackout dates, on some routes/schedules on some dates?
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Old Jan 24, 16, 2:21 pm
  #324  
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: BOS
Posts: 2,170
I am trying to book some Acela first class travel. I intentionally waited until today because even at the highest fare bucket the calculator showed the points required to be dropping.

When I try to book travel it looks like even though the fare is identical on a Friday and Sunday, the Friday peak times are being charged a 50% premium. So while my $285 one way ticket costs 11,115 points on Sunday, they want to charge me 16,673 points for Friday travel!

I have checked various dates and this seems to be the norm. I am on hold waiting for a service center representative but if this is accurate it's really outrageous. The entire premise of the changes was no blackouts, and redemptions are based on the cost of the ticket - for Acela travel $0.0256 per point. I don't know how they can make such detailed announcements, get us to rely on their calculator and then pull this nonsense.

I am trying to redeem 6 Friday trips so this is a big issue for me (i.e. A 30k+ point issue). Clearly I would have booked at the old levels if they provided full disclosure. Hopefully I have good news to report when an agent finally comes on line.
BeantownFlyer is offline  
Old Jan 24, 16, 2:36 pm
  #325  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: NYC
Programs: Amtrak Select Plus, Marriott Lifetime Gold, Hilton Diamond
Posts: 3,061
Originally Posted by 84fiero View Post
From the comments to the above blog post:



Did I miss this nuance in the new program announcement last fall? So it sounds like for non Select Plus/Executive members there are some blackout dates, on some routes/schedules on some dates?
That is a very interesting development. No, you did not miss it. It's new news.
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Old Jan 24, 16, 2:44 pm
  #326  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: NYC
Programs: Amtrak Select Plus, Marriott Lifetime Gold, Hilton Diamond
Posts: 3,061
Originally Posted by BeantownFlyer View Post
I am trying to book some Acela first class travel. I intentionally waited until today because even at the highest fare bucket the calculator showed the points required to be dropping.

When I try to book travel it looks like even though the fare is identical on a Friday and Sunday, the Friday peak times are being charged a 50% premium. So while my $285 one way ticket costs 11,115 points on Sunday, they want to charge me 16,673 points for Friday travel!

I have checked various dates and this seems to be the norm. I am on hold waiting for a service center representative but if this is accurate it's really outrageous. The entire premise of the changes was no blackouts, and redemptions are based on the cost of the ticket - for Acela travel $0.0256 per point. I don't know how they can make such detailed announcements, get us to rely on their calculator and then pull this nonsense.

I am trying to redeem 6 Friday trips so this is a big issue for me (i.e. A 30k+ point issue). Clearly I would have booked at the old levels if they provided full disclosure. Hopefully I have good news to report when an agent finally comes on line.
Fridays and Sundays aren't my typical travel days, so I gave this a whirl to see what I would get. You are absolutely right. Some Fridays are charging a premium over Sundays, even though the dollar fare is identical.
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Old Jan 24, 16, 2:50 pm
  #327  
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: BOS
Posts: 2,170
This is really outrageous. CSR - after checking with his lead - is saying that the trains in the old program's Acela blackout periods (i.e peak weekday times) will be subject to premium points redemption charges even when the fare is the same or lower than a non peak train.

He admitted that this is not what the website says at all.

He refused to let me speak to his lead and said he would transfer me to customer relations - which he insisted was open today but of course is not.

I would call back but I just spent 40 minutes on the line!
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Old Jan 24, 16, 3:22 pm
  #328  
Company Representative - Amtrak
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2010
Location: Washington, DC
Programs: Amtrak Guest Rewards (Select Executive)
Posts: 528
We are pleased to announce that the new Amtrak Guest Rewards program is now in effect. In addition to changes in the way members earn and redeem points for Amtrak travel, members will now find greatly enhanced features to book reward travel on Amtrak.com. The new program went live this morning; however, if you have attempted to reach the contact center, please accept our apologies as we are experiencing high call volume due to the blizzard impacting the Northeast. Please find some additional information below in response to some recent posts on the program.

1) Existing Reward Travel Reservations: If you have an existing reward travel reservation that was booked prior to January 24, 2016 and you decide you need to modify or cancel it, please be advised that the trip will now be subject to the new modification and cancellation policy found in the 2016 redemption guidelines. Additionally, our systems will now calculate the present value of the trip based on the new program rules and the price of the itinerary at the time you booked it. It is possible that this new value may be more or less than the number of points you used to book it originally. If you need to modify or cancel such a trip, we recommend you contact the Amtrak Guest Rewards Service Center for assistance. The agent will return your points based on the amount you used to make the redemption less the appropriate refund fee or penalty. If the new point cost is higher than the amount you used to book it, any points returned will be capped at the amount you originally spent less the appropriate refund fee/penalty. If you cancel the trip on Amtrak.com, the system will not return any difference in point cost to you between the original amount redeemed and the current point price for that trip. Any new reward travel reservations booked on or after January 24, 2016 may be canceled on Amtrak.com and the system will appropriately return your points and calculate the refund fee.

2) Reward Travel Availability during peak dates/times: While we have removed blackout date restrictions on reward travel, you may find limited availability on peak travel dates or times and it is possible that not every seat will be available for redemption. When redeeming points for trips during peak travel dates and times, some itineraries may be available only to our Select Plus and Select Executive members. For best results, we recommend that members log in to their Amtrak Guest Rewards account before searching for available itineraries. Depending on availability during peak travel times, you may find premium pricing on some departures. The peak departure may be available at a higher point cost or not available for redemption unless the member has Select Plus or Select Executive status. Members with Select Plus or Select Executive status, if not logged in, may see availability at a higher price or no availability, but if they log in they may find they are able to book the itinerary at regular point cost or at a premium.

As always, thanks for your feedback and for traveling with us.
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Old Jan 24, 16, 3:33 pm
  #329  
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: BOS
Posts: 2,170
This it really outrageous and a disgrace. Nothing wrong with having peak redemption levels if that is how you want to structure the program, but why hide it for all these months?

Did someone just decide this?

From the website:


Q: What is new in how I redeem points?

A: Members now redeem points for Amtrak travel the same way they earn themóbased on ticket price versus route or zones traveled.

Q: Why are peak travel times more expensive?

A: As of January 24, 2016, there are no longer blackout dates or times on reward travel. However, since demand is high during peak travel periods, you may notice ticket prices (and therefore the cost of reward travel) may be higher. Plan ahead to find the best prices and fares to meet your travel needs.

That says to me that my $285 Acela ticket should require the same number of points on Friday and Sunday. Apparently AGR has decided it means something else.
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Old Jan 24, 16, 3:50 pm
  #330  
 
Join Date: Aug 2011
Programs: UA PS, AA GLD, SPG GLD, PC PLT, CC GLD
Posts: 215
Originally Posted by AGR Insider View Post
While we have removed blackout date restrictions on reward travel, you may find limited availability on peak travel dates or times and it is possible that not every seat will be available for redemption.
Can you clarify if this will apply only to premium redemptions (e.g. business on NE Regional, sleeper cars, etc.) or will apply to all fare classes including those in coach?
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