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Using Amtrak and Via Rail
Tips for booking and finding the best fares

Here you find hints for booking Amtrak and Via Rail trains in Canada and the U.S.

You'll also learn some low fare tips.

However, in general, you should not think of American and Canadian trains as a way to save money. Often Greyhound and budget airline fares are cheaper.

Instead, Amtrak and Via Rail Canada offer a great way to see lots of beautiful scenery in considerable comfort in a friendly and relaxing environment.

We willl just help you pay as little as possible.


Book early

With Amtrak and Via Rail Canada, your main concern is not the fare. It is getting a reservation especially on scenic routes..

You absolutely must book the most popular long-distance trains early if traveling in busy seasons.

Amtrak and Via Rail do not have nearly enough equipment to meet the demand.


Booking tips

Even if you plan to use a travel counsellor who is knowledgeable about rail travel, research your choices and alternatives before beginning the booking process.

Both Amtrak and Via Rail Canada provide helpful Internet sites.

For example, on the Amtrak site, you can download actual timetables that show you what you will see during the day and what you will miss at night.

In some cases, the direction you travel a route may make a big difference.

Also, consider what a three or hour hour delay will do to your scenery.

As an example, it's better to travel between Chicago and California westbound rather than eastbound on the California Zephyr, especially during the winter.

You'll find this type of information on our scenic routes page.

When planning your trip, do NOT book same day connections between long-distance trains. If you must, allow many hours—more than three or four—between trains.

The freight railroads on which Amtrak and Via Rail travel most of the time are just too congested to foster on-time travel.

However, you can book connections from long-distance trains to regional services, where there are lots of alternative connections if you miss yours.

Expect to travel by coach (economy chair) class, unless you are flush with cash.

Private room sleeping accommodation on both Via Rail and Amtrak is horrifyingly expensive, with the budget group sleeping options available in Europe not found in North America.

Via Rail, though, does offer less expensive "berth" ("uppers" and "lowers") sleeping accommodation on some trains.

Both Amtrak and Via Rail economy seats on long-distance trains are quite comfortable—similar to first class seats on some airlines before airlines added sleeper seats. You enjoy lots of legroom, in contrast to flying.

On Via Rail, book the ones with leg rests. On Amtrak, all seats on long-distance trains in the western U.S. have leg rests.

You should plan to break journey on long trips to stay rested. Travelling from New York City to Los Angeles without stopping is a really bad idea.

All trains have large windows, washrooms, and at least some snack service.

Most long-distance trains—all in the west—have full-service dining cars with regional specialties.

Amtrak also offers a vegan burger at lunch and usually one lacto-vegetarian choice at dinner.


Amtrak and Via Rail North American Rail Pass

Sadly discontinued.

Amtrak Internet specials

Especially during the off season, Amtrak offers one-way Internet specials that are so cheap that they are nearly unbelievable.

Interestingly, the same prices usually apply to intermediate points on a route.

For example, if the Chicago to Los Angeles fare is $59, then the Kansas City to Flagstaff price is also $59.

Stopovers are usually not permitted.


Amtrak and Via Rail regional passes

Third, check out the Amtrak and Via Rail sites for regional passes.

These allow you to travel in a specific area, such as California, at a special price.

If doing the California pass, also check out the Amtrak "Thruway" bus times to many additional towns.
These are listed with the connection rail timetables.


Student and senior fares

Both the Amtrak and Via Rail offer discounts to seniors (62+) and students.

The passes mentioned above may be better deals.


Amtrak national passes

You absolutely must check out the USA rail passes on Amtrak.com. These come in various travel durations and number of allowed trains.

Note the way Amtrak makes booking easy for people who live outside North America.


Create "misconnects" to add stops on fares that do not allow stopovers

A big loophole in the limited stopovers permitted rule results from the lack of daily service along several Amtrak routes.

Let's suppose you want to leave Seattle for Tucson on Saturday.

You'll get to Los Angeles by Sunday evening, but the next available train to Tucson will not leave until Wednesday afternoon.

As a result, you've created a "misconnect" in Los Angeles, which does not count as a stopover.

A friendly Amtrak agent or travel counsellor will help you set these up.

If someone says no, find someone else to serve you.

You have the right to depart on the train you wish. It is not your fault that an immediate connection is not available.


Amtrak passes for international visitors

None at this time. See USA rail passes above.


A warning

Please be aware that Via Rail and especially Amtrak are political pawns.

Certain U.S. politicians hold an almost pathological belief that Amtrak should be self-supporting, while airports, air traffic control, and highways are subsidized to the max.

As a result, trains may be discontinued.

Go to >> Amtrak & Via Rail - Travelling the most scenic routes

Go to >> Amtrak & Via Rail - Changing trains in Chicago

Go to >> Home page for other useful travel tips.

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