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Thanks to all for the helpful advice. Good to know there's no real time pressure, but also little risk in booking once I decide which time train to take.
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- Tips for Traveling on Amtrak Trains.
The balance of my flights and hotel are due just before Xmas so will probably book Amtrak then while the credit card is taking a big hit anyway! This topic has been closed to new posts due to inactivity.
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Amtrak's 2-for-1 ticket deal is good for train rides in the Northeast - Los Angeles Times
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How Safe is New York? How Do I Hail a Taxi? Where are the best areas for shopping? Where are the Farmers Markets and Street Fairs? Exploring neighborhoods - where should I go and what should I see? Which is the best? Which are the significant churches in Manhattan? What should we do at night -- especially with kids or under 21's? It is also worth keeping an eye on journey prices after purchasing your tickets, as if you do see the price go down, Amtrak will generally adjust your fare with the difference.
Unless you are boarding at a small railway stop, most large stations will have somewhere to store luggage, and you can leave your luggage at the station up to 24 hours before the train departs.
This is perfect if you want to enjoy the last day of your trip, and are returning home, but don't want to spend the day carrying your bags around. In terms of cost, the dining car is generally the most expensive place to buy food on the train, with the snack cafe offering cheaper food, but one great tip is that they will give you free hot water if you want to bring instant noodles or soup with you to eat. There is also no problem with bringing luggage with you, so adding a cool-box with a picnic and snacks for the journey is one great way to save money. If you are regularly using Amtrak for your trips, whether they are for business or pleasure, it is well worth using an Amtrak Guest Reward Points account to build up points that you can then use for free journeys.
It is also worth getting the Amtrak Guest Rewards credit card, which will allow you to accumulate points on spending on your day to day expenses, while you will also get a healthy points bonus simply for registering for the card. The cabins or roomettes to be found on Amtrak trains are a little more expensive than the usual seats, but you will sometimes find that upgrades can be quite inexpensive if you speak to the staff on the train.
However, remember that even if you're not in the sleeping quarters you can still get some sleep, so bring a blanket and a travel pillow. Most people find that the seats in the observation cars will often have a little more space to relax and stretch out and fewer people there at night, and are a good place to catch a few hours of sleep. Make friends with the staff on the train, they are there to help you and if you tell them what you want, such as a break to stretch your legs or you ask where you can nip out to buy hot food, they will let you know which towns have a stop where you can do that.