Amtrak fare sale has restrictions, but no blackout dates

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Eastbound Wolverine No. 352 pounds across the South Shore diamond at Michigan City, Ind., on July 3, 2019. While Amtrak is offering a sale on coach fares, Wolverine fares illustrate that the discount is not offered on all dates and trips.
Bob Johnston

WASHINGTON — Amtrak’s latest fare sale is offering “Amtrak Across America” discounts of up to 40% on coach tickets sold through this Friday, July 12, for travel between Aug. 1, 2019. and Jan. 31, 2020, on all routes outside the Northeast Corridor.

But while the sale — which increases the normal “Saver” fare discount, which usually is approximately 20 percent — covers holiday periods and includes no blackout dates, it will not be available on certain trains and dates, according to a Trains News Wire review of ticket availability.

For instance, the discounted Chicago to Detroit Wolverine Service fare is listed as $23 — a remarkable bargain on a route where trains with five coaches routinely sell out, and a figure derived from the “Value” fare of $39. But, as of noon CDT on July 9, only “Value” and “Flexible” fares at $39, $68, and $93 are offered on Dec. 1, the busy Sunday after Thanksgiving. No “Saver” pricing is offered on that date.

Roger Harris, Amtrak’s executive vice president, chief marketing and commercial officer, tells Trains News Wire that booking curves — showing how tickets are purchased over time — “exist for every day and every train, and they are based on history. We plan our revenue strategy around what has historically been likely to transpire.” 

Harris doesn’t believe in blackout periods because “you don’t want to lose the ability to sell on weak demand days,” adding, “It’s way better to control fares through inventory allocations [a certain number of seats sold at the lowest price]; with as capable as our [fare management] systems are today, we need to leverage that.”

This explains why the touted $67 Auto Train southbound coach fare out of Lorton, Va., is indeed offered on Thanksgiving Day, but “Value” fares of $112 prevail on the Monday before Thanksgiving and $140 on the Sunday after. Auto Train had been specifically excluded from an earlier “Share Fare” promotion offering discounts of 15%, 60%, and 70% for the second, third and fourth passengers, respectively, traveling together. [See “Amtrak introduces ‘Share Fare’ discount for group travel,” Trains News Wire, April 24, 2019.]

Nevertheless, there are bargains to be had on many routes for travelers who can pinpoint their travel plans in advance and are willing to risk a 25% cancellation penalty if the trip isn’t made.

A page on the Amtrak website gives some additional sample fares. No special booking codes are required, since Amtrak says all fares “will be automatically discounted from the standard fare price.”

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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