Amtrak Coast Starlight: Booking My Ticket

amtrak-engine-186 Last year I had to travel from the bay area to Los Angeles. Although my airfare from SFO-LAX was relatively cheap ($85 one way) the return airfare options were a little high ($200 plus). I kept waiting in the hopes of a VX last minute discounted price.

I also checked out Amtrak's prices on the Coast Starlight (train 14) which travels from Los Angeles to San Jose (then continues all the way to Seattle). The fare was $103 for a coach seat and there was a $131 upcharge to a private roomette sleeper room. There were other options like the Family Bedroom and Superliner room as well, but they were more expensive. At the time neither 10 hours in a coach seat nor $234 for the roomette seemed right. The roomette was just a little too steep.

Of course as the week went on, no discounted airfare became available - in fact the price started to sky rocket. From $200 to $376. Amtrak was looking more reasonable. I finally went the rest of the way through the Amtrak booking process past the first screen that displays the coach price and underneath, the room upcharges.

This time, when I actually clicked the room option, the price did go up, but only to $183, not $234 as I had expected. I didn't realize part of the $103 fare is an accommodation component for the coach seat. But either way, I was happily surprised that the train fare wasn't as expensive as I thought.


If two people are traveling together, 2 coach seats are $206, while 2 people in a roomette total $235. They get a large benefit for only $30 more including:

  • a welcome lounge at Union Station
  • pre boarding
  • two free meals each
  • access to the Parlour Car
  • a private compartment
  • complimentary juice, water, fruit, and sparkling wine

Once ticketed I had to figure out how I was going to get up to SFO for my flight out, while leaving my car in San Jose for the return train ride. I ended up driving my car to San Jose station. All inter-city Amtrak passengers can park for free by obtaining a pass from the attendant in the station. Then I took Caltrain to SFO.

Next up: Los Angeles Union Station and Boarding


I have been looking forward to this report for...many months!

It makes so much sense, if you don't buy in advance, to upgrade to a room--your post makes that very clear.

Mike July 7, 2011 at 12:08 pm

@Matthew good point. I just did a search a few months out and the coach price drops to $82 each. So $164 in coach vs $235 for food, room, champagne and separate parlor car. Still, for $35 per pax extra, seems like the way to go as you could easily spend that on food in coach anyway.

Gene July 7, 2011 at 08:05 pm

Surely the $$ saved was not worth the time wasted. Did you choose this option just to try something new or strictly to save the $$?

Mike July 7, 2011 at 08:26 pm

@Gene lol this question from someone who "wastes" dozens of hours a month flying the globe? ;)

To answer your question, I had power at my seat and did a lot of work. But even if I hadn't been productive, it was a very enjoyable trip. No TSA, no long check in queues, great views of the coast and more. I met some very nice people on board who (hopefully) read this blog now. And it was a Sunday which meant I didn't have a bunch of other things going on.

So my decision was partially motivated to save some money, but mostly I wanted to try it. Now that I have done it, and under the same circumstances, I would choose this option again.

Gene July 7, 2011 at 08:50 pm

@Mike -- Yes, but I'm earning miles while wasting time :-)

Nick July 7, 2011 at 11:26 pm

@Gene: he is earning miles, they just have to go through Amtrak points first ;)

Having had a period in my life where I was traveling almost exclusively by Amtrak, it is a wonderful experience. The stations are better than many sections of airports, and depending on where you are, a lot more convenient. The only downside I've found is that they can be even worse than airlines in updating passengers on the status of a train.

james July 8, 2011 at 06:14 pm

You've almost convinced me to give Amtrak another go after a 6 hour delay on new years eve 2005 on the snow train from Sac to Reno - we arrived to an abandoned station, so they let us out a la Schindlers List behund the Harrahs casino into the snow. Needless to say, we missed our NYE party.

Mike July 8, 2011 at 06:26 pm

@james that is the issue with Amtrak, when they run late, they run laaaaaaaaate. Sorry to hear about your ruined NYE. Hope it's better next time.

Philip Richards December 15, 2013 at 01:46 pm

As an ex AT&SF fireman and yard hostler (70's) I still have a love for trains. I recently visited a nearby live steam park and am re-hooked for 7.5 guage locos. Back on topic, I travel from Salem, Or to Martinez, Ca to see my 92 yr old dad. I graduated from cattle car coach to lower level until my latest trip. I booked a handicapped sleeper for him and myself, however, he balked and went to my brothers house. As I too am disabled I kept the room, I will never go back to coach, never!!! My fare down was $66 and the room was $270, very inexpensive. I have booked a return trip on Christmas eve, same room, cost is $330. As far as schedules, you do not get on a train and look at your watch. Now I have to understand how to get the best price and clearly, book in advance. As a disabled 'Nam vet, I can't say enough, how quiet and peaceful it was, my room was the width of the car, very roomy. Happy travels!!!

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