Is The Amtrak Guest Rewards Elite Status Worth It?

While much of the world magnetically levitates on Maglev bullet trains going 330 mph into the future, America is just fine Amtrak-ing for the foreseeable, yet slowly arriving, future. Not to drag Amtrak, as it drags itself along just fine, but you'd think some of the 19th-century American gumption for railways would've left some residue of resolve on our nation's passion for trains. Regardless, the U.S. has Amtrak, and Amtrak has us.

Just like airlines, Amtrak offers an elite status through a reward point system for passengers who frequently chug along with them. And to be fair, Amtrak has made good strides recently to upgrade its system, service, and tech. The trains are getting faster and if you've ever taken a cross-continental or regional train ride in the U.S., it's a truly scenic experience. But let's pull into the station: Is earning a Guest Rewards Elite Status with Amtrak worth it? Maybe, but it depends.

How to earn Amtrak points

Earning Amtrak Guest Rewards points is similar to airline loyalty programs. The main way to earn Amtrak points is to ride the train. You earn points that both accrue for free future travel and points that go toward your Guest Rewards Elite Status. You also earn points for any money you spend on the train.

Also similar to airline loyalty programs, there are multiple elite statuses with Guest Rewards: Select, Select Plus, and Select Executive. From here, the points you can potentially earn relate to your Guest Rewards Elite Status. The specifics of how many points you get in relation to your status vary.

You can also improve your point-earning potential by enrolling in a co-branded Amtrak credit card. Mastercard offers two versions of a Guest Rewards credit card. By using these cards, you can earn 2x or 3x point bonuses, cabin upgrades, food and beverage rebates, and other perks. Overall, these credit cards allow you to jumpstart your climb to elite status.

Value is geo-contingent

There's nothing lacking with the perks of earning a Guest Rewards Elite Status. By earning points, you can receive cabin upgrades, exclusive access to Amtrak lounges, companion coupons, and free train rides. While you'll find the most value by redeeming your points with Amtrak, these points are transferable to non-Amtrak purchases, such as other travel modes, dining, and retail cards. One of the best parts of Amtrak's points is they don't expire.

Here's the rub. Most people in the U.S. simply don't take train trips enough to make chasing a Guest Rewards Elite Status worth it. Again, unlike Europe and parts of Asia, Amtrak doesn't really crisscross around the nation quickly enough to make train riding a common method of travel. And even between close cities, Amtrak can take a few hours. You'd need to be pretty committed to taking the train frequently for an elite status to really pay off.

If you live anywhere between the two coasts, earning a Guest Rewards Elite Status would take a lot of time and money. That said, if you take a train from San Diego to Los Angeles every weekend or commute in the Northeast Corridor every day, then earning an elite status by riding the rails could be worth it.