One of My Best Value Ultimate Rewards Redemptions Ever!

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amtrak special routes chase ultimate rewards
Ann Arbor Train Station

The Wolverine – A 5.7 Cent Per Point Ultimate Rewards Redemption

This past weekend I was in Ann Arbor for a fantastic meetup of miles & points fanatics. It was a great weekend, but I ultimately decided to head to Chicago from Ann Arbor at the last minute to hang out and pick up a few more Hyatt stay credits out by the airport.

Amtrak runs one of their “special routes” from Michigan to Chicago called the Wolverine. Since I was going at the end of the Ann Arbor Art Fair, the train was packed. In fact, the 12:17pm train that I wanted to travel on was sold out, so I gave up on the idea of heading to Chicago. Then I decided to check one last time on Sunday morning and found that a single coach reserved seat had been released for $86!

amtrak special routes chase ultimate rewards

Special Routes

Of course I didn’t end up paying $86 for my ticket. Remember how I said the Wolverine is a special route?Well Amtrak only charges 1,500 points each way in Coach or 2,000 each way in Business Class on their special routes no matter the price of the ticket. (For long haul redemptions, see my post about our trip from California to Chicago.)

As I covered in depth last year in my Guide to Amtrak Guest Rewards, Chase is a transfer partner of Amtrak Guest Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. To book the ticket, I simply transferred over 2,000 Ultimate Rewards points (they only transfer in 1,000 point increments) to my Amtrak account. Since the points post instantly, the entire process of transferring and booking took less than 5 minutes and it was all done online.

amtrak special routes chase ultimate rewards

Amtrak has a number of special routes that are available for the same cost. In a write up about his trip from Los Angeles to San Diego, Amol at Travel Codex listed these as the available special routes:

Coach vs. Business

While I wasn’t able to travel in business due to a lack of availability, I would do so if given the chance. In some stations business class passengers have lounge access and are able to board first. (Which makes a difference in Chicago.) The business class cars are also arranged in a 1-2 configuration instead of a 2-2 configuration in coach. For 500 points, I don’t see why you wouldn’t do it, but that is just me.

The Experience

amtrak special routes chase ultimate rewards
In case you didn’t know, Michigan is beautiful!

Every time I told a local in Ann Arbor about my Amtrak plan, they all laughed and told me to prepare for delays. I was prepared, but I checked the website before leaving for the station and it said the train was on time. After standing on the station platform for awhile, an announcement came over the speaker that the train was delayed 15 minutes due to a “bad switch” Joy!

Eventually the train arrived and for the next 3 hours everything went as planned. The scenery outside was beautiful and the Wifi was not great, but tolerable. I was able to get a lot of work done and I was looking forward to arriving in Chicago. Then just as we crossed the border into Indiana, the train screeched to a hault.

amtrak special routes chase ultimate rewards
Pure Michigan.

We were stuck behind freight traffic and had to wait for them to clear the tracks. An hour later the train began moving again. We must have made up some time, because we did arrive in Chicago’s Union Station only 50 minutes late! The delay had me thinking back to what my Lyft driver said on the way to the station in Ann Arbor. He told me that the best part of Amtrak is the bar. Given the length of the delay, I could see his point, but thankfully I was occupied with writing and other tasks and managed to stay sober!

Conclusion

The cheapest price for a coach ticket on this route is $36 one-way. A lot of days the tickets cost $62 and when you are booking the last ticket on the train like me, then the cost is $86. It really doesn’t matter though, because Ultimate Rewards are there to save the day. At a redemption value of 2.4 cents per point on the low-end and 5.7 cents on the high-end, this is a great deal every day of the year if you don’t mind a delay or two.


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9 COMMENTS

  1. I got some of my best redemptions on last minute tickets from DC to NY when I worked down there and came back home for the weekends. It’s amazing Amtrak doesn’t have blackout times (except for Acela tickets)

    I took that route a few months ago, although I paid for my ticket because it was only $24.00

  2. By the way, my best ultimate reward redemption was a 26 c/m ticket from PHL to YYZ (BA award ticket on US Airways). It was a $1200 ticket for only 4,500 points!

    • Wow. I have redeemed for about $.10 per point on long-haul Amtrak and a couple of Avios redemptions, but that is amazing! How did US Airways have Saver availability when fares were that high? Crazy!

  3. Cool post. I don’t often think of taking the train, but really should. The route from PDX to Seattle (or even Eugene to Vancouver BC) is beautiful. And sounds like a potentially great UR redemption.

    • Having gone that way on the Coast Starlight, I can attest that it is quite beautiful. The only portion I haven’t done is from Seattle to Vancouver, which I have heard is spectacular.

  4. Skepticism about your plans to take a train to Chicago are warranted (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/08/us/chicago-train-congestion-slows-whole-country.html):

    “Shippers complain that a load of freight can make its way from Los Angeles to Chicago in 48 hours, then take 30 hours to travel across the city. ”
    “The commuter trains get to go first, he said, and so “Amtrak tells me they have more delays here than anywhere else in the system.”
    More delays than anywhere else in the Chicago area? No, he said. “In the entire United States.””

  5. I’ve taken the Lincoln Service to St Louis from Chicago 3 times, maybe. Never actually had a delay. It can be pretty fun traveling with all the Blackhawks fans heading to the game in St Louis (unless you’re annoyed by people drinking at 10 AM, then it wouldn’t be too fun 😉 )
    I think next year we will take the train to the AA do. The drive there was brutal, and then we left early anticipating a similar struggle with traffic on the way home and had almost no problems. That’s probably because we did leave before everyone returning home from their Michigan vacation homes, though.
    Nice meeting you in Ann Arbor! Really enjoyed your talk, and the whole weekend was a great time.

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