A Sleeper Is Worth the Extra Cost.
There is a world of difference between an overnight train ride in coach and making that same trip in a sleeping car. Yes, of course the sleeping car costs more, but if you figure it out carefully, it often is a reasonable alternative to sitting up all night in a coach seat. In a sleeper, you get …
1. Privacy. That can be priceless if the alternative is sitting up all night in a coach with 50 or 60 other passengers. Perhaps you’ve got an obnoxious person in the seat next to you. Or maybe there’s a mother with unruly kids sitting right behind you. In a sleeping car, regardless which type of room you’re in, you’ve got privacy and you’ve got quiet … and that’s worth paying for.
2. A Bed. This is a big one for me. If I had to sit up all night in a coach seat, I’d be lucky to get 90 minutes of actual sleep. There is no substitute for a bed. In coach, the movement of the train keeps me awake; in a sleeping car, lying at full length between the sheets with my head on a couple of pillows, it lulls me to sleep.
3. Your Meals. They’re included in your sleeping car fare, and this is a big deal, too. Menu prices in an Amtrak dining car are not cheap, so if you’re riding in coach, you have two practical choices: buy snacks and microwaved sandwiches from the lounge car, or eat in the dining car and pay for your meals. It’s permissible to bring your own food on board, but that’s really not a practical alternative for a two-night trip.
Other Benefits. A sleeping car becomes much more affordable if you’re traveling with another person. Each of you will pay the basic rail fare, which is the cost of a seat in coach. But there is only one charge for a room in a sleeping car. It doesn’t matter if the room is occupied by one person or two.
And, if two of you are sharing a sleeping car room—either a roomette or a bedroom—dining car meals for both of you are included in the cost of the room.
That’s a big plus because there are quite a few meals served on most of Amtrak’s long-distance trains. On the California Zephyr, for instance, assuming you’re traveling the entire route from Chicago to Emeryville in the Bay area, each passenger will get two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinner meals. I’d estimate that as about a $225 value.
So before deciding you can’t afford to travel in an Amtrak sleeper, take the time to do the math. Chances are, the actual additional cost of the roomette or bedroom will turn out to be a lot less than you think.