Amtrak USA Rail Pass: See The Country By Train On A Budget

If you’ve ever wanted to travel the country by train but were put off by the cost, the Amtrak USA Rail Pass is exactly what you’ve been waiting for. Amtrak recently debuted an updated version of this pass, and we’re taking a look at what you need to know.

Amtrak USA Rail Pass – New Pass, Same Value And Savings

Amtrak USA Rail Pass

Amtrak relaunched its multi-segment pass program in late spring 2021. The Amtrak USA Rail Pass isn’t the first pass the company has offered in its five decades of operation. Previously, Amtrak offered 8-segment, 12-segment, and 18-segment offerings at various prices, which needed to be used in 15 to 45 days. The closest comparable offering was a 12-segment, 30-day pass that cost nearly $600 for adults, or slightly under $50 per segment. The current pass provides a similar value, at $50 per trip segment.

How Much Does the Amtrak USA Rail Pass Cost?

The price of an Amtrak USA Rail Pass is $499. For that cost, travelers will get 10 “segments” to use over a 30-day period. The first trip needs to happen within 120 days of purchasing the pass.

How Does the Amtrak Rail Pass Work?

As mentioned above, the Amtrak USA Rail Pass comes with 10 “segments.” This is how Amtrak refers to a trip of any length on the rails, as long as you don’t get off. For example, taking the California Zephyr straight through from Chicago to Emeryville uninterrupted would count as just one segment, despite the multi-day trip. However, if you board in Chicago, get off in Omaha, reboard there and ride to Denver, get off there, and reboard and ride to Emeryville, that would count as three segments, despite covering the same overall distance. Similarly, as long as you’re able to obtain a seat, it doesn’t matter whether non-pass customers are paying $20 or $200 for tickets – it still requires just one segment from your pass, which essentially has a value of $50.

As you can see, this is where value-oriented travelers can make the most of the pass. Riders can hop off at several stops along the route, get to know the area, and then hop back on another train in a day or more. Of course, you’ll need to find your own overnight lodging in these cases. But for the cost of two or three regular-price tickets, you can explore a long-distance route in-depth or check out several shorter regional trains.

Amtrak Rail Pass Sleeper Upgrades

Unfortunately, the USA Rail Pass only includes standard coach seats. While they’re fine enough to catch a few hours of sleep (especially if you know your seatmate and don’t mind a lack of personal space), it can get a bit old on trips where you’ll spend multiple nights on the train. Still, don’t despair. You CAN upgrade segments booked with your USA Rail Pass from coach to sleepers for an additional fee. Generally, this fee will be equal to the difference between a coach seat and a sleeper at the time of booking. You’ll need an Amtrak agent to help you with this upgrade, so speak to one at the station or call Amtrak’s main reservations number.

Upgrades may not always be possible, depending on availability. So, if it’s something you’re interested in, it’s worth making your move early.

How To Use Amtrak Rail Pass

At the time you purchase your rail pass, you’re not purchasing tickets for any actual trains. You’re essentially purchasing credits, which you can then use to book the trains of your choice. You’ll then need to book your individual segments by modifying your trip on Amtrak.com. You can also reach out to Amtrak via phone or at a station to have an agent book your segments. As there’s no cost to reschedule segments, it’s in your best interest to book them as soon as you know the outlines of your trip. You’ll still have the flexibility to change times later (depending on availability), and you’ll be assured at least one ticket if things get busy. Just make sure to re-book before your original train leaves – your segment expires when your scheduled train departs!

You’ll have 30 days from the date of your first trip to use your 10 segments. Trips need to be taken during that period, not just booked. Any segments not used expire, which is essentially wasting free travel. Still, you may find a rail pass is a cheaper solution than booking individual trips, even if you won’t use the full amount of segments.

Restrictions

There are three must-know restrictions you should keep in mind before purchasing your pass. First, you’re barred from using segments on some of the most expensive or high-demand routes (like the Acela or Auto Train), as well as any routes that use Thruway Bus Service to complement your rail trip. You’ll also only be able to use the pass if a train has Saver and Value class fares available, which could prevent you from riding some busier trains on short notice. Finally, Amtrak also restricts your pass to two round-trips between the same cities.

Sample Rail Pass Itinerary

To give you an idea of the wide-ranging, nationwide possibilities of using this pass to the max, we’ve put together a short sample itinerary using 10 segments in 28 days. We’ve started in New York City, but you could start at any point on this loop and work your way back around, or even join from another city through another line. Now, all you need to do is get your boss to let you take those four weeks off!


Day 1: Segment 1 – New York City, NY -> Chicago, IL via the Cardinal

Day 2-3: See Chicago for 2 days.

Day 4: Segment 2 – Chicago, IL -> Denver, CO via the California Zephyr

Day 5-6: See Denver for 2 days.

Day 7: Segment 3 – Denver, CO -> Emeryville/San Francisco, CA via the California Zephyr

Day 8-9: See San Francisco for 2 days

Day 10: Segment 4 – Oakland, CA -> Los Angeles, CA via the Coast Starlight

Day 11-12: See Los Angeles for 2 days

Day 13: Segment 5 – Los Angeles, CA -> San Antonio, TX via the Sunset Limited

Day 14-15: See San Antonio for 2 days

Day 16: Segment 6 – San Antonio, TX -> New Orleans, LA via the Sunset Limited

Day 17-18: See New Orleans for 2 days

Day 19: Segment 7 – New Orleans, LA -> Atlanta, GA via the Crescent

Day 20-21: See Atlanta for 2 days

Day 22: Segment 8 – Atlanta, GA -> Washington, DC via the Crescent

Day 23-24: See Washington, DC for 2 days

Day 25: Segment 9 – Washington, DC -> Philadelphia, PA via the Northeast Regional

Day 26-27: See Philadelphia for 2 days

Day 28: Segment 10 – Philadelphia, PA -> New York City, NY via the Northeast Regional

Is The Amtrak USA Rail Pass Worth It?

If you’re interested in exploring the country via long-distance train travel, the Amtrak USA Rail Pass is an incredible value. For the equivalent of just $50 per segment, you can have the freedom to go nearly anywhere the rails will take you. Even for those not planning to use the full ten segments or 30 days, you may find you’ll save money if your plans would otherwise require 2 to 3 separate tickets.

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