Short Haul Routes – Amtrak or Airplane?

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Amtrak or Airplane
Amtrak arrival at New York Penn Station.

Short-Haul Amtrak or Airplane?

I am currently in Europe after catching a flight from New York a few of days ago. Since Europe is so train centric, I seem to have the topic on my mind. (See my story from yesterday. I lost newsletter subscribers over it!)

Before my flight, I needed to get from Washington DC where I was vacationing with my family to New York for my flight. I had two options, airplane or train. (Ok I guess I could have taken the bus, but why would I?)

I have written pretty extensively about my Amtrak experience over the summer (here & here) where I took both the Coast Starlight and Empire Builder trains from Los Angeles all the way to Chicago. It was fantastic.

Before this past week though, I had never been on an Amtrak regional service. Since that clearly needed to change, I opted to take the train instead of flying.

The Miles/Points Angle

Before I relay my experience, lets talk about miles/points. Amtrak Rewards is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and charges 4,000 points for a Coach seat and 6,500 points for a Business Class seat on the route.

If I had chosen to fly, I could have used 4,500 British Airways Avios to travel to LGA on US Airways or JFK on American Airlines. In reality though, only the American Airlines flights were available for my date of travel.

One of the considerations for me was time. The train from Washington DC to New York takes about 3 1/2 hours, while flying from DCA takes about an hour. Of course JFK is about 45 minutes from the city whereas Amtrak arrives in Penn Station, which was only 10 blocks from my hotel.

A Few Issues With Amtrak

Amtrak or Airplane
On board Amtrak.

Ultimately I was happy with my decision to take the train, but I did have a couple of issues. I was staying in Arlington near the Pentagon (and Reagan airport) and decided to use my Uber credit to reach the train station. Big MISTAKE!

I almost always take public transport, but I thought using Uber (and their Amex sync deal) would allow me to wake up a little later. Of course I didn’t account for the traffic and ended up missing my train. Luckily Amtrak allows you to easily change to another train.

The next train to New York departed 30 minutes after my scheduled train. Unfortunately it was delayed 45 minutes and thus I ended up getting to New York 1 1/2 hours late. My fault for sure, but frustrating.

Since both flying and Amtrak are roughly the same cost, I thought I would compare the pros and cons of each option as I see them.

Amtrak or Airplane – A Comparison

Pros of Amtrak:

  • Depart and arrive in the middle of the city.
  • Do not have to deal with intrusive security.
  • Free WiFi and much more space to work.
  • More comfortable
  • No TSA Fee (Awards are points + $0.)
  • No Fee to change trains.
  • Much easier for families with children since there is more room to move around.

Cons of Amtrak :

Slower (Although may not be depending on airport transport and security times.)

Conclusion

In the end I really enjoyed my Amtrak experience. I was able to get a lot of work done during the trip, which is something that never happens on a short airplane flight.

While the train delay meant it took more time than flying, there could just as easily have been a flight delay as well. The next time I am connecting between cities on the East Coast (or California) I most likely will take Amtrak, but then again I have always been partial towards trains.


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2 COMMENTS

  1. Nice write-up and thoughts on train versus plane for short distances. Just curious what sort of value you got out of the UR points you used for Amtrak?

    You seriously lost subscribers over that Europe train post? I’m assuming objections over your mushrooms story? I might not approve of drug use, but why would someone be upset with you telling a story (or being nice to a young gal who might have made some bad decisions)? Keep doing what you do. Your have a great mix of content on your blog.

    • Just a couple. Who knows if it was related, but it came just as the newsletter went out. Either way no worry. The subscriber count is still going up! And thanks again for the support. I am glad you are enjoying the content.

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