Mikeonbehind the curtain

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.

amtrak-coast-starlight-ticket-price
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.

amtrak-coast-starlight-ticket-roomette  

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

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Comments

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.

#2
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.

#3
Gene July 7, 2011 at 08:05 pm

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

#4
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.

#5
Gene July 7, 2011 at 08:50 pm

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

#6
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.

#7
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.

#8
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.

#9
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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