Save On Train Tickets With These Exclusive Tips From Our Travel Expert

North America is home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world, and one of the best ways to experience them is by train. Train travel is a unique and immersive experience that allows you to witness the beauty of the continent firsthand at a leisurely and comfortable pace. Unlike air travel, train travel is a more relaxed mode of transportation that allows travelers to take in stunning views that are otherwise inaccessible.

However, train travel can be pretty expensive, often more costly than air travel. Despite the higher price tag, many people still prefer to travel by train because of its unique experience. Fortunately, there are ways to save on train tickets and make the most of your journey.

To help you navigate the world of train travel, Jim Loomis, author of "All Aboard! The Complete North American Train Travel Guide" and member of the Rail Passengers Association, has provided tips and insights in an exclusive interview with Explore to help you save money on train tickets, plan your itinerary, and make the most of your journey. Whether you're a seasoned traveler or a first-time train rider, this guide is essential for anyone who wants to enjoy scenic train rides across the U.S. and North America.

Cabins, companions, and cost-effective choices

Loomis explains that Amtrak fares are dynamic and vary based on demand and the time of the year. Unlike traditional peak and off-peak hours, train fares fluctuate based on factors such as seasonality and popularity. For instance, popular routes like the California Zephyr, which passes through several attractions in the West, tend to have higher fares during peak travel seasons. However, fares on the same route may be lower during the off-peak season when demand is low. To secure the best deals and avoid last-minute surprises, he recommends planning your trip well in advance. Early booking not only guarantees availability but also gives you access to more favorable prices. Amtrak offers discounts to early bookers, and you can take advantage of other promotions, such as limited-time deals.

It's also essential to understand the nuances of booking sleeping accommodations. Some trains have rooms big enough for a small family. Much like other types of lodging, a room (or roomette) is set at a certain rate, whether you're traveling solo or with someone else. Therefore, "when a second passenger is added to either a Viewliner roomette or bedroom, only the basic rail fare is charged," he explains.

Sleeper Service passengers get full meals, linen service, bottled water, and access to lounges. Personal room attendants provide coffee, bedding, and turn-down service. You also get outlets, a table, lights, climate control, and a garment rack. Upgrading to sleeping accommodations adds comfort and can lead to savings, especially if you're traveling with others.

Smart strategies for budget-friendly train travel

If you plan to travel by train, a few other tips might be helpful. First, keep an eye out for discounts that are available for seniors, students, military personnel, or group travelers. Second, consider joining loyalty programs offered by train companies. Through these programs, you can accumulate points or miles that you can redeem for discounted or even free travel in the future. Additionally, using travel apps and websites to compare prices across different platforms can help you score big savings.

Another great option to save on train travel is to check if you can use credit card reward points for train tickets. Some credit card companies partner with train operators, allowing you to redeem points for tickets. When packing for your train trip, including some meals or snacks can save you quite a bit over purchasing food en route. Also, for shorter trips, consider coach class, a practical way to enjoy a comfortable travel experience without spending as much for premium seats. By combining these tips with insights from rail travel expert Jim Loomis, you can create a budget-friendly and enjoyable train travel experience.