by BEN WOOSLEY

A few follow-ups to points raised in the comments to the previous post:

K said…

You’ve heard of these groups of more than 2 people called “families”, yes?

Yes of course! I was one of 7 myself. First of all, as you might expect, Amtrak maintains discounts for children 15 and younger, fully 1/2 off:

Child 2 – 15 50% Up to two children per paying adult. Children must travel with adult.

1, 2

Infant Under 2 Free One infant per paying adult. Infants must ride on adult’s lap.

Also, as Steve points out in the comments, Amtrak maintains an off-season discount program from November to May which offers free companion travel (2 for the price of one) for trips from Seattle to Portland. Fully half the year! This ends on the May 23rd, but is something to keep in mind for your spring travel next year.

But my point extends to any number of people, discounts or no. It all comes down to how much your time, the environment, &c., are worth to you. Some are better off driving and some not, but in order to know who is which, it’s necessary to look at the numbers, to help overcome our natural biases.

I’ve extended the calculator to take these options into account here. Simply adjust the size of your party, the cost of tickets, or the MPG of your car, to get personalized information of what the costs are.

Anonymous bellevue said…
I wish they would offer a multi person ticket rate, I like taking public transit but I’m never alone so the cost just does not work out.

See the above points about discounts and such.
Again, I’m not saying rail makes sense for everyone everywhere. I do think that people (even transit-savvy people) underestimate their options when it comes to Amtrak, though.

So even if you’re skeptical, please do check out the updated calculator and fill in your info, to get a real sense of the costs and how it compares to driving.

10 Replies to “Amtrak Cascades: Families & Discounts”

  1. Amtrak Cascade is a good example of intercity rail working well. WA State’s support of this program is crucial for its success. I take it from Tacoma to Portland and it is often faster than driving (this takes out the slow urban crawl between Tacoma and Seattle). I suggest to some taking the 594 from Seattle to Tacoma then getting the Amtrak, it will save time and Money…but is less convenient. Also if you have evil triple AAA Amtrak will give you a nice 10-15% discount.

  2. I am one of ten(!!!) and we grew up in the city. Still, the Amtrak to portland made sense because of the discount, and for a large family, you can’t even all fit into one car!

  3. thanks for the info on the 2 for 1, my cousin that just rode it could have saved some $$.

  4. I really do mean to use Amtrak sometime this summer for a Vancouver BC trip, I would love to avoid the border crossing issue

    The funny thing is, my fiancee’ and I have historically been too cheap to consider any option other than the car – because we sleep in it rather than getting a hotel. (This was mostly “poor college student foo.”)

  5. At a different income scale, that’s how I can justify taking Amtrak on a weekend trip to Glacier Park Montana instead of flying. It’s an overnight trip there and another one back – that’s two hotel rooms we don’t need (round trip w/cabinette = $730 for two people).

  6. UW students and employees who have a U-PASS can also get 15% off Cascades tickets.

    I took the train down with my mom to Portland using the 2-for-1 deal two years ago and enjoyed it much, much more than the drive. Free movies, a view, nicely furnished coaches, a restaurant on-board beats flying any day. Plus, our hotel was in the Fareless Square so we didn’t have to pay anything else to get around the central city!

  7. ryan: For cheap overnight travel, I recommend couchsurfing.com or the like. My GF and I once traveled cross-country (Texas to Washington) staying every night at the house of a local.

    It’s more interesting, more comfortable, and just as cheap. Just requires a bit of trust/vetting on your part.

  8. In the prior post’s comments, the abysmal 60% on-time rating for Amtrak was mentioned.

    I can vouch for this; last year my sister rode Amtrak up from California. Her train was 12+ hours late rolling into Seattle! When she finally arrived she wasn’t even allowed to stay inside the train station because it had closed up. So she waited out on the street while I came to pick her up, not a pleasant experience for her, as that isn’t the most savory part of town to be standing on a sidewalk with your luggage.

    I’d still take Amtrak, but not in any instance where it were important for the train to be on time. Which is pretty sad. Once there was a time when you could set your watch by when you saw/heard a train. It’s offtopic for this blog but I’d be sort of interested in what Amtrak cites as the reason behind their atrocious on-time stats.

  9. I’ve taken the Amtrak Cascades train several times between Portland and Seattle and enjoyed it.

    A couple of ways you can save a little:

    – join the National Association of Rail Passengers
    – join Amtrak Guest Rewards

    An NARP membership is $35/year, if I recall correctly, and gets you 10% off Amtrak tickets. If you book $350 of travel in a year, you’ve broken even.

    Guest Rewards is like an airline frequent-flier program. You buy stuff, and get points that you can redeem for travel. On most routes, you need something like 3000 points to get a free ticket. But you can get a Cascades ticket for only 1000 points. When I joined, I got 500 points just for signing up.

    — Paul

  10. Wow. Ok. Didn’t notice the followup when it was current. :) Well, the point of my snark was that, once you start adding people, even kids at half-off, the value proposition goes down, especially if like me you have an economy car (which I bought back when few people cared about saving money or planet on gas).

    I get at least 34 MPG highway with 4 in the car, so a 150 mile trip to Portland will cost me much less than 2 adults 2 kids on Amtrak, even with 2 for 1.

    I guess, though, I am already saving money by having an economy car, but it means it’s really hard to save any further.

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