The best credit cards to use for train travel6th September 2019
All aboard! For the entire month of September at The Points Guy, we’ll be exploring the world of train travel with reviews, features, deals and tips for maximizing your trip by rail.
As the CEO of the Rail Passengers Association, Jim Mathews travels up to 17,000 miles a year. That may not sound like a lot when compared to air travel, but Mathews reminds us that those are surface miles, which adds up to 75 one-way trips between Washington, D.C., and New York City.
The association, based in D.C., represents more than 40 million rail passengers in the U.S. with a mission to improve and expand conventional intercity and regional passenger train services; support higher speed rail initiatives; increase connectivity among all forms of transportation; and ensure safety for the country’s train and passengers.
When it comes time to pay for his travel, he uses two cards: the Wells Fargo Business Platinum Credit Card and the Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard. The Wells Fargo card is used for business travel. It comes with $500 cash back or 50,000 points after spending $3,000 on the card in the first three months of the account opening, with no annual fee. Earn either 1.5% cash back for every dollar spent or 1 point for every dollar spent and receive 1,000 bonus points when your company spend is $1,000 or more in any monthly billing period. (The information for the Wells Fargo Business Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.)
The Amtrak Guest Rewards card offers 3x points for Amtrak travel, including onboard purchases, and 2x on other travel, including airlines, car rental agencies, hotels, motels, inns, resorts, cruise lines, commuter rail, non-Amtrak passenger rail and travel agencies. You’ll earn 1x on all other purchases.
Mathews’ personal credit card (no surprise) is Amtrak Guest Rewards, because he earns solid points per dollar on rail and air travel purchases — and because the points are tied to what you pay for a fare, the more you spend the more you earn. Other perks include the free companion and upgrade coupons he receives each year the card is renewed, and the 5% Amtrak Guest Rewards point rebate for redemptions made on Amtrak travel. Also, the card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
Like Mathews, Amtrak Guest Rewards card holders earn 1,000 Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) toward elite status after spending $5,000 in a calendar year on the card — up to 4,000 TQPs a year — a 20% rebate on food and beverage purchases onboard when using the card and a complimentary station lounge pass upon account opening, worth up to $25 in Amtrak travel.
Typically, Mathews redeems his points to cover his wife’s weekly trips between Washington, D.C. and New York. “Otherwise, she would take the bus, despite me being the CEO of the Rail Passengers Association,” he quipped.
Of course, the Amtrak Guest Rewards card isn’t the only game in town when it comes to earning points for train travel. Here are some other great options for travelers exploring the world by rail.
Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Citi Premier℠ Card
$0 intro for the first year, $95 after
3x points on Amtrak travel, 2x on other travel and 1x on everything else
2x miles on all spending
2x points on travel and dining, 1x on everything else
3x points on travel and dining, 1x on everything else
3x points on travel, 2x at restaurants and on entertainment, 1x on everything else
40,000 points after you spend $2,500 within 90 days of account opening
50,000 miles after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months from account opening
60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months
50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months
60,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months of account opening
TPG points value*
Up to $300 annual travel credit, Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100)
1 free station lounge pass per year; annual companion, upgrade coupons; and 5% rebate when booking travel with points
10x for spending at hotels.com/venture; transfer miles to 15 airline partners; up to $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck
Transfer points to 10 airline/3 hotel partners; travel insurance; and purchase protections
$300 annual travel credit; Transfer points to 10 airline/3 hotel partners; up to $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck; travel insurance; and Priority Pass Select membership
Points worth 25% more on airfare when redeemed at ThankYou.com; transfer points to 15 airline partners
*Bonus valuation based on TPG valuations and not provided by issuer
If you travel regularly on Amtrak like Mathews, having the Amtrak Guest Rewards in your wallet is a smart choice, thanks to the 3x points earned on trains and 2x points on a very generous definition of travel, along with the train-related perks that come with the card. We also really like the 2.5 cents per dollar spent you earn on the card, based on current TPG valuations. But, in order to get the best value from your points, you need to redeem them on Amtrak travel, although you can also redeem them for hotels, car rentals, cruises, dining, entertainment and gift cards.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Citi Premier are the only cards that match Amtrak Guest Rewards when it comes to higher points for train travel. All four cards, including the Capital One Venture and the Chase Sapphire Preferred, offer higher points for dining. The Premier, Reserve and Preferred all offer higher points for dining. And all four cards allow you to transfer points to airline partners; the Reserve and Preferred also allow transfers to three hotel partners.
Featured photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy