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UPDATE: The Starwood American Express credit card offers in this post are no longer available, but check Hot Deals for the latest offers!
Update: You can no longer transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Amtrak.
Amtrak is making changes to their award program starting January 24, 2016. In many cases, award tickets will cost fewer Amtrak points than before!
Folks looking for a different way to use Starwood points (and who enjoy train travel) could get lots of Big Travel by transferring their points to Amtrak.
Let’s see where the best deals are!
How Does It Work?
Link: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Link: Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
Starwood points transfer to Amtrak at a 1:1 ratio. There’s a 5,000 point minimum transfer.
You will NOT receive 5,000 bonus points when you transfer Starwood points in 20,000 point increments, like you do with airlines.
To transfer Starwood points to Amtrak, you must call Starwood at 888-625-4988. Starwood says transfers can take up to 14 days.
Note: I asked a Starwood representative if they knew if Starwood points transfers to Amtrak would be affected by the new award program. She said they haven’t been told of any changes.
It’s a good time to think about earning more Starwood points, because the sign-up bonus on the AMEX Starwood card (personal and small business) is increased for a limited time!
Until September 14, 2015, you’ll earn 30,000 Starwood points after meeting minimum spending requirements.
What Can You Get With Amtrak Points?
Under Amtrak’s new award rules, starting January 24, 2016, Amtrak points will be worth:
- ~2.9 cents each for regular train travel
- ~2.56 cents each for travel on the high-speed Acela Express
Because Starwood points transfer to Amtrak at a 1:1 ratio, you’ll get a value of ~2.56 to ~2.9 cents per Starwood point if you use them this way. That’s not a bad deal!
That said, your Starwood points are potentially worth more towards airfare or hotel stays, especially at pricier hotels. Check out some of my top Starwood hotel picks in Europe, the US, the Caribbean & Mexico, Asia & Australia, Central & South America, and US beaches!
Plus, Starwood points are hard to earn. So you could consider transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Amtrak instead.
That said, while it’s nice to crunch numbers and see where you’re getting the most value per point, the best way to use your Starwood points is for travel that’s meaningful to you!
Check Out These Deals
Here are some ways you can get Big Train Travel with your Starwood points!
Note: One of my favorite things about Amtrak’s new rules is there are no blackout dates. So as long as paid tickets are available, you can travel on holidays and during busy vacation times.
That’s not always the case with booking airline award tickets!
1. Acela Express
The Acela Express is the only high-speed train in the US. It runs between Boston and Washington, DC, stopping in other major cities like Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia.
When you factor in the time and aggravation of getting to and from the airport, the Acela Express is often more convenient than flying! And all seating is Business or First Class.
Award tickets on the Acela Express cost a minimum of 4,000 Amtrak points (or 4,000 Starwood points transferred to Amtrak).
A 1-way Business Class seat between New York and Washington, DC on the Acela Express in February costs $238.
To book this as an award ticket, you’ll need 9,282 Amtrak points (worth ~2.56 cents per point).
To compare, award tickets on airlines like American Airlines or Delta (both Starwood transfer partners) cost 12,500 miles 1-way in coach.
Even with the 5,000 mile bonus when you transfer 20,000 Starwood points to airlines, you’ll still pay 10,000 Starwood points for a 1-way airline award ticket between these cities.
And you’ll probably spend more time getting to and from the airport than you would on the train! Plus, you’ll have a more comfortable experience in Business Class on the Acela Express!
Note: If spending the fewest number of Starwood points is most important to you, consider transferring your points to British Airways.
Short-haul flights on American Airlines and US Airways cost just 4,500 British Airways Avios points.
2. Short Trips
Paid tickets on regional trains, particularly Amtrak’s “Special Routes” (short-haul routes between certain major cities) are usually inexpensive.
And because Amtrak’s new award program is revenue-based, the cost of an award ticket depends on the price of a paid ticket.
For regular trains, Amtrak points are worth ~2.9 cents each, which means your Starwood points (transferred to Amtrak) are worth the same amount.
For example, a 1-way coach ticket on the Cascades train between Seattle and Portland in April costs $35.
Under Amtrak’s new system, an award ticket on this train costs 1,208 points.
Like our Acela Express example, you’ll pay more points if you transfer Starwood points to airlines for an award ticket on this route.
The train is even a better deal than British Airways Avios points!
You could get a lot of train travel from your Starwood points by choosing the right routes and booking ahead to get the cheapest tickets!
3. Sleeper Accomodations
Traveling in sleeping cars on Amtrak is a relaxing and fun way to spend a long train trip. And any time you book sleeping accommodations (roomettes or bedrooms), meals are included with your ticket!
To see what kinds of deals you can get during busy travel times, I looked up a 1-way ticket for 2 adults in a roomette from Chicago to New Orleans during Mardi Gras week.
The ~19 hour, overnight journey costs $428 total.
The same trip costs 14,766 points at ~2.9 cents per point.
This is a terrific deal when you consider:
- Two 1-way coach airline award tickets (on American Airlines or Delta, for example) on this route cost 25,000 miles, or 20,000 Starwood points transferred to airlines (including the 5,000 mile bonus)
- Even transferring Starwood points to British Airways is more expensive, because 1-way coach award flights cost 7,500 British Airways Avios points on this route (15,000 total for 2 adults)
- Meals and 1 night’s accommodation are included (so you don’t have to spend cash or Starwood points for a hotel stay)
- No blackout dates – so award travel by train is easy to book!
I think this is a fantastic way to use Starwood points! And to travel at a much more leisurely pace.
For most tickets, your points are worth ~2.9 cents each (on the Acela Express it’s slightly less). That’s a good deal!
In many cases, you’ll save points compared to transferring Starwood points to airlines for award tickets. And although train travel is slower, for shorter routes you might save time when you consider travel to and from the airport.
Have you gotten a good deal transferring Starwood points to Amtrak? Please share your experiences in the comments!