How to save money (and recharge) with train travel this holiday season

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The holidays are just around the corner, and that means the season for travel is almost here. Whether you’re visiting loved ones or just taking a much-needed vacation, you’ll probably find yourself on the move this winter, too.

Will you travel by car or by plane? Though these are the most common modes of transportation, they’re not your only option. And if you want to save some cash or get a little R&R along the way, they’re probably not your best choice either.

In these scenarios, traveling by train may be a better option. You’ll avoid the hustle and bustle of the airport, steer clear of the stop and go traffic and, to top it off, probably save a few bucks in the process.

Are you busy planning your holiday travels? Read on to learn more about traveling by train — and how to do it affordably.

Train travel can be a less stressful way to travel during the holiday season.(Image by Emilija Manevska / Getty Images)

How to save on transportation by train

Taking a train will likely save you money right off the bat. Compared to flights, train travel can save you hundreds, especially given the premiums charged by airlines around the holidays. Trains also offer free checked and carry-on baggage — a big plus if you’re bringing along gifts.

But aside from these initial savings, there are other ways you can reduce your travel costs when traveling by train, too. You can:

  • Bundle up – Buy tickets both for your departure and your arrival all at once (as well as any side trips you may be taking). You might also join forces with other travelers in your group during booking. Sometimes, buying several tickets at once will qualify you for bulk or group discounts.
  • Use a cashback credit card – Utilize a cashback card as you book your tickets (ideally a travel rewards one if possible), and earn cold hard cash or points from that holiday travel. It might not amount to a huge chunk of change on paper, but if you use the card on other travel expenses you incur, it could put a dent in those holiday bills — and every dollar counts this time of year!
  • Choose flexible tickets – Make sure you’re buying tickets that can be changed without huge fines or penalties. Airlines typically charge significant fees for re-bookings, so having this safety net can protect you in case plans change or something comes up. Just note that flexible tickets can sometimes cost more, so if you’re choosing one of these options, only do so if you’re likely going to change plans.
  • Use points – Many train operators have loyalty programs of their own, including Amtrak. You can use points from these programs to cover the cost of your ticket. Or you can use miles from cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to cover the cost of a travel purchases, including train tickets.
  • Check for discounts – Many rail services offer discounted tickets for children, students, military members, seniors, and more. Ask about these discounts before booking or call up a customer service rep to learn more about your options.
  • Use a price aggregator – Sites like Wanderu aggregate train routes and can let you shop multiple railways at once. Use it to price-shop and find the best deal out there for your expected travel dates.
  • Look for multi-ride tickets – Sometimes, railways offer multi-ride passes that let you use train services for multiple trips across a certain time period. These are a great option if you’ll be staying in a single city during your trip and need help getting around.

You should also consider baggage policies when planning your trip. While most train services offer free (or at least cheap) checked bags and carry-ons, not all do. Double-check the policy on any railway you’re considering, and make sure your planned luggage won’t come with any fees or charges. 

How to Book Train Travel

To learn more about your options for train travel, you can go directly to the website of your area’s railway (, in the U.S.) and view routes, ticket prices, amenities, and more. You can also book tickets there.

If you want to price-shop, your best bet is a site like Wanderu or LiliGo that allows you to see several railways and travel options at once.

Finally, keep in mind that it’s the holiday season. Though trains will likely be less crowded than airports or major highways, there will still be an uptick in travelers. Make sure you book early, choose your luggage wisely (it might be exposed to the elements as you move about the platform), and be flexible with your dates if you want the lowest fares.

Additional Benefits of Train Travel

We’ve covered the financial savings of train travel, but that’s not the only joy the railways have to offer. In fact, when compared to other modes of transportation, there are actually some serious perks to riding the rails — especially around the holidays.

 For example, train travel makes for:

  • Less stressful travel – You don’t need to arrive hours early or go through stringent security checks, and you can usually hop right on as soon as you arrive.
  • Fewer delays – Railways rarely see the delays of airlines, and they’re not as impacted by severe weather as other modes of transportation. They typically mean a quick, painless, and hassle-free day of travel.
  • A more scenic route – Take in the scenery and see more of the country. If you’re on a long journey, you might even get to stop off and experience a few adventures along the way.
  • Some R&R – You can’t sleep while driving, and getting rest in the claustrophobic seats of a plane is getting harder and harder. Train travel gives you time to rest, read, work, or do whatever you need as you go from point A to point B.
  • More comfort – Trains are roomy and come with bathrooms, beds, and dining cars, making them much more comfortable and relaxing than other modes of travel. Plus, you don’t have to make extra stops for restroom or meal breaks.
  • More options – You have more flexibility when traveling by train. You can bring along your pets, carry on your gifts, and more. You can even sleep on the train as you move across the country.

Finally, there are environmental benefits to traveling by train, too. Train travel emits half the carbon dioxide into the air as airplanes do, and it requires less energy than cars or planes, too. For the environmentally-conscious traveler, it’s a win-win.

The Bottom Line

Trains can make for an affordable, relaxing way to travel this holiday season, and with Amtrak’s nationwide network, you can get just about anywhere with only a little planning. Just make sure you use a cashback or travel rewards credit card during booking and enroll in the railway’s loyalty program to get even more out of your winter travels.

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Brendan Dorsey is an editor at Million Mile Secrets. He loves all things travel, points, miles and credit cards. He's worked for TIME and The Points Guy and has appeared on MSN, Yahoo Finance, Readers Digest, USA Today, and more.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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