Getting What You Pay For on Amtrak.
Little by little, Amtrak has become just as confusing as the airline when it comes to fares. You think you’ve discovered the rationale behind a particular pricing structure, then you run across something weird that defies logic.
For travel on Amtrak, everyone pays a basic rail fare for which you get one coach seat. If you’re by yourself and you want to travel in a sleeping car, you pay an additional charge for which you get a roomette or a bedroom. And all your dining car meals are included … no additional cost.
If someone is traveling with you, they pay that same basic rail fare, but there is no additional cost for them to share that roomette with you … it costs the same, whether there are one or two people occupying it.
To illustrate this, I just went onto the Amtrak web site, picked a date in the middle of March, and plugged in an arbitrary itinerary: one-way on the California Zephyr from Chicago to Salt Lake City. The cost for a roomette was $767 for one adult and $910 for two adults. The difference of $143 would be the second passenger’s basic rail fare.
But, given that Amtrak is under constant pressure to break even on their food and beverage service, here’s the fundamental problem I have with the existing system:
If my wife and I are traveling together, I pay my basic rail fare, I pay for the room, and I pay for my meals through the room charge. My wife pays the basic rail fare, as indeed she should. She doesn’t pay anything for the room and that makes sense because I’ve already paid for it. And she doesn’t pay for her meals. To me, that doesn’t make sense . . . unless, of course, the supplement I pay for the roomette assumes two people, in which case I’m being overcharged when I’m traveling solo … paying for two, but eating for one.
I suppose, if nothing else, the point is that Amtrak fares should be priced fairly so that everyone pays for what they’re getting . . . an no one pays for something they’re not getting. It’s too much to ask, of course, that the fare structure be clear and consistent and easy to understand. That’s just not the way it works these days.