The best credit cards to use for train travel

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.
Comparison Overview

Card
Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Citi Premier℠ Card

Annual fee
$79
$0 intro for the first year, $95 after
$95
$450
$95

Earning rates
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

Sign-up bonus
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*
2.5 cents
1.4 cents
1.25 cents
1.5 cents
1.7 cents

Credits
N/A

N/A
Up to $300 annual travel credit, Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100)
N/A

Benefits
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
Bottom Line
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

6 Things to Do When You Need a Break From New York City

Many people visit New York City with an itinerary packed as tight as a carry-on and leave thinking: “I could never live there.” But for those us who call the Big Apple home, we’re in it for the convenient (in theory) public transportation, endless job opportunities and indispensable dollar slices. But every now and again, even the most die-hard city slicker needs a getaway.
One of the best things about living in New York City happens to be how easy it is to get away, thanks to the solid network of local and regional transportation and a flurry of clever companies and programs designed to get New Yorkers out of the city. And that’s to say nothing of the places to go when you get out. Upstate, in the Catskills, Hudson Valley and Adirondacks, a boutique hotel scene is booming, and high-end campsites are cropping up, too.
Even if you’re just visiting, consider looking beyond the city for some of New York’s most unexpected — and relaxing — experiences.
With a destination in mind, your next order of business should be transportation. But fear not: It’s honestly easier to get out of town than it is to get the L to Brooklyn. Plus, virtually every mode of transportation comes with a way to score serious deals. So while we’ll always love you, New York City, a little absence makes the heart fonder.
Go camping
For those willing to brave the great outdoors — at least a little —Tentrr is a new company that’s sort of like Airbnb for backyards. Homeowners (called campkeepers) set up “fully-rigged” and completely nature-friendly campsites (think: canvas tents, Adirondack chairs, sun showers) and even arrange experiences like hiking in the Catskills or whitewater rafting in the Adirondacks. New Yorkers who want to get outside without splurging on expensive gear can book a stay at the Tentrr-approved site, like Camp Winterton by the Shawangunk Ridge.
Another option is Collective Retreats, which lets you go glamping in the Hudson Valley with luxe amenities such as 1,500 thread-count sheets, complimentary breakfast and electricity. Of course, if all you really want is to get off Manhattan island for a night, Collective Retreats offers glamping on Governors Island until late October — though you’ll still, technically, be in Manhattan. Who said New Yorkers were camping-averse?!
Take a hike
If fitness is your focus (those bagels aren’t going to burn themselves off), check out the new day trips from Equinox Fitness. Picture yourself stepping off the treadmill and heading up to Minnewaska State Park Preserve for seven miles of trail running, or — if that’s not exactly your idea of relaxing — joining an Equinox instructor at the Mohonk Preserve for a custom yoga workshop. In addition to workouts with fitness pros, the perk of booking an Equinox day trip is that you don’t have to worry about getting where you’re going. The round-trip transportation from a Manhattan fitness center is part of the price.
Catch a train
Sure, the MTA can have you beating your head on the subway doors from time to time, but luckily the commuter rails that run in and out of the city are much more reliable. Catch the Metro-North or New Jersey Transit from Grand Central and Penn Station, respectively, and relax as you’re whisked beyond the confines of the city. (Pro tip: Grab a tall boy from the concourse and get the party started early.) Off-peak fares, which include weekends, are significantly less expensive, and Amtrak often runs specials, such as its Double Days points promotion, when Amtrak Guest Rewards members can earn twice the points they’d normally get on train travel.
From Sept. 27 to Nov. 2, travelers can even ride Amtrak’s vintage glass-domed train for a scenic fall foliage journey through the Adirondack Mountains. Catch it in Saratoga Springs or Albany, both of which are serviced by regional Amtrak trains.
Get above the crowds
With three city-area airports, catching a flight to just about anywhere in the world is relatively easy from the Big Apple. And though it isn’t cheap, New York City also has a robust network of seaplanes and helicopters. For a view of the Big Apple that will really help you appreciate the city’s scope and iconic skyline, BLADE‘s cheaper Cessna Grand Caravan can take you to and from Teterboro, New Jersey and Montauk for $690 round-trip or $345 one way.
Plan a road trip
Getting out of the city by car can be a bit — how should we put this — harrowing. But once you’re cruising on the Saw Mill River Parkway with the wind in your hair, you’ll quickly forget the white knuckle drive. There are plenty of rental car deals to be had, and the service Silvercar, which primarily rents Audi A4s painted (you guessed it) silver. Simply use the mobile app to reserve the car, request pickup from the airport, unlock the vehicle upon arrival and get receipts. (If you haven’t used Silvercar yet, you can earn a $25 credit on your first rental by entering referral code: BKELLY1.) Car-sharing services like Car2Go and Maven are also popular in the city.