Ride The Rails And Save Big on Your Travels with these Deals

A woman smiles as she looks at a scenic view of trees through a train.
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Finishing the Transcontinental Railroad, the first line connecting the United States coast to coast, on May 10, 1869, was a high point for the country’s love affair with trains. By 1910, traveling by train made up 90% of intercity travel. That statistic held steady until the 1970s.

These days, fewer than 1 out of 10 Americans ride the rails. People started to prefer cars and planes for long-distance travel. Now, with the rising costs of airline tickets and gasoline, Americans are looking to save by traveling by train.

Amtrak, the main provider of rail service in the country, is looking to attract more passengers. It is offering tickets at rock-bottom prices for the thrifty traveler. For spring break and summer vacations, people can travel down to Florida beaches for as little as $34 for adults and $17 for kids on their auto trains. That means even bigger savings, as you can bring your car with you and avoid rental or Uber fees. That’s just the start on what to know about traveling by train.

Advantages of Traveling by Train

Trains offer flexibility and comfort for long-distance travel. Amtrak trains offer 39 inches of legroom in coach seats compared to the 28-32 inches most airlines offer for economy class. All Amtrak trains also offer dining cars open to all passengers, with a wide array of options for meals. Several models also offer lounge cars or observation cars for more room and comfort for passengers and offer great views of some of the most spectacular landscapes across the country.

Traveling by train also cuts down on restrictions and extra costs, such as limits on baggage. Some airlines charge for checked baggage and carry-ons. Amtrak allows you two carry-on bags that weigh up to 50 pounds each, two personal bags that weigh up to 25 pounds each, and your first two checked bags are free as well.

Train travel also is an excellent option for people who can’t travel on planes for health reasons, such as expectant mothers. There are no lengthy security lines or processing, and generally, Amtrak staff are quick and efficient at boarding passengers.

While you are enjoying some of the natural vistas you may see on certain routes, you can rest easy knowing your travels aren’t having as big an impact on the environment. Traveling by train creates 73% less greenhouse gas emissions than flying and 83% less than driving by car.

What To Watch Out For While Traveling by Train

While there are several benefits to traveling by train, like any other form of transportation, it isn’t without drawbacks. First and foremost, traveling by train is not for you if you’re in a hurry. An average flight from New York City to Los Angeles is about six hours, while traveling by train between the two cities will be, at best, 2 days and 18 hours. That also comes before delays, which are chronic. In 2023, 28% of Amtrak trains arrived on time, with delays ranging from a few minutes to several hours.

Another restraint that may frustrate travelers is the small number of destinations. While it’s no surprise trains can’t take you to Hawaii, places like Wyoming and South Dakota have no Amtrak stations. Amtrak’s network of 500 train stations pales in comparison to the more than 5,000 airports scattered across the country.

In short, train travel is best for short or mid-range trips or vacations you are willing to take at a leisurely pace.

The Best Ways To Save On Trains

Amtrak is rolling out several deals for inexpensive tickets. If you are willing to burn the midnight oil, Amtrak offers Night Owl fares between major cities for as little as $5. Specific lines and regions managed by Amtrak offer various discounts to seniors, veterans and students, ranging from 5% to 15% discounts on ticket purchases. Amtrak’s Share Fares system also gives groups of 8 up to 60% off ticket prices.

Timing can also affect prices. Travel peaks on the weekends, so ticket fare tends to decrease in the middle of the week, between Tuesday and Thursday. Otherwise, buy tickets at least 14 days in advance for the best prices.

If you are going on a long trip that may take multiple days, there are perks and savings to upgrading to a private room or sleeper car. While you may face an upcharge of at least $100, meals are included in the price. Plus, the ticket fare will beat the price of a hotel or other night’s accommodation. If you make a habit of traveling by Amtrak, it also has a rewards program for even more savings. Regular passengers on Amtrak can earn two points for every dollar spent and save on food, hotels, car rentals and more through partners with Amtrak.

While Amtrak dominates interstate travel, there are still a number of local rail lines that also offer competitive prices. For example, if you are in the Orlando area, Miami is only $39 away on the high-speed Brightline, which beats even the lowest airline ticket prices. Brightline will also be expanding to a second line from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

William Fewox has worked as a freelance writer since 2017, and his work is featured in literary magazines such as The Aquarian, The Navigator and The Historian.