Our tips on how Amtrak fares work. [ Please Google terms you are not familiar with to learn more ]
Amtrak uses a fare management system called "yield management" based on supply and demand. This system can be very confusing compared to the older methods used in the past when fares changed once or twice a year. One way fares were one set price and roundtrips were discounted on the return portion, if used off peak only (called excursion fares).
With the current pricing,
the question "how much to go to Someplace" no longer has one answer.
Fares are charged within a given range for a given city pair, or destination, based on demand. Because Amtrak
as been charged by Congress with the task of running the railroad in the black, they have no choice but to charge
the most that a seat can "yield" at any given time. Discounts are not based on roundtrips but on choice of timings.
This means that fares are set up in terms of "peak and off peak" time slots as well as in "buckets". This does
not mean that you will get a "bucket seat", actually the seats are much the same in every coach. It means that
once a certain number of seats are sold on a certain train the fares automatically move up to the next "bucket"
level. The system is dynamic and automatic. Fares can change and quotes are not "fixed" until a reservation is
made to "lock down the fare". Discounts can occur both ways, one way, or neither way, depending on choices. To make things even more complicated, each of the "bucket levels" can be discounted using "senior", "military". or "membership" based percentages off the going "bucket level" available.
A fare quote displayed at the Amtrak internet web site may not be available later at the station. To "lock" the fare
that you discover at the web site you need to make the reservation. The same fare may or may not be available
later or at the station. The fare is strictly demand based. There are times when the fares are not showing at all, which indicates that there are no seats to offer at any fare. This can also change at any time. Cancellations occur all the time and seats do become available.
To see what the fares are for a given destination is not difficult to learn. Follow these steps and you will see.
1. Reach Amtrak at www.amtrak.com
2. At the top of the opening page you will see the "fare finder".
3. Insert the starting station in the first input and the destination station in the input below.
If you have a certain date or time you may enter it there as well. Otherwise it will default to the current date and time.
4. Click on the button that says "next". This will take you to the page that will display your options and fares.
Don't worry if you make a mistake the second page will come up and tell you what is amiss and needs redoing.
5. If you need more options you can go back and reset the departure times or dates for more quotes.
Note that there a button that will sort by either the schedules or by the fares if you are seeking by cost.
Again, these fares are not "fixed" until you actually make a reservation.
6. You can also make a reservation by calling Amtrak, or to have the agent check your internet reservation to assure you of your discounts and dates.
If you get confused you can call Amtrak and ask for the agent. 1-800-872-7245 open 24 hours a day.