Changing Fares Can Make You Crazy!

A business sells its product or service for what the traffic will bear. I get that. I really do. But it sure makes it difficult for someone like me—with multiple travel options—to get to where I want to go at the most reasonable cost.
In April, I’m going to Washington, DC, for the annual Spring meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. As is my custom—and of course it’s my preference—I’ll fly to the west coast and take Amtrak from there to Washington, then do it all in reverse to get back home. The trouble is, there are lots of choices, both for the air and for the rail, and the fares are all over the lot … and constantly changing.
For example, from here on Maui, I can fly non-stop to Los Angeles, Phoenix, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, Portland or Seattle and connect with an eastbound Amtrak train at any of them. Air fares from here to those cities (one-way, economy, and non-stop) range from $374 to $758.
There’s a big swing in Amtrak fares, too. Three days ago, I could have bought a roomette on the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to New Orleans—a two-night trip—for $360. Today it’s $418.
Assuming I decide on that route, I’d leave New Orleans the next morning on the Crescent for an overnight ride to Washington. The fare would be $662. But if I wait and go a day later, it’s $423.
On my way home, I’ll probably take the Capitol Limited from Washington to Chicago. If I leave Washington on April 13, the last day of our meetings, a roomette on that train will cost a whopping $592. That’s for a one-night ride and just two meals, a dinner and a breakfast. If I travel just one day later, the fare is only $292. (Of course, that would mean an additional night in the Washington hotel.)
And, finally, there’s the California Zephyr—justifiably Amtrak’s most popular long-distance train. On Friday, April 15th, a roomette on the Zephyr for the two-night ride from Chicago to Davis, California, will set me back $887. But if I wait 24 hours and leave on the 16th, that roomette will cost me $445. Wow! For the difference, I’ll take an extra day in Chicago, stay in a really nice hotel, have dinner in an expensive restaurant, and maybe take in a Cubs game!
The bottom line: you can save serious money on Amtrak travel if you’re flexible, patient, and are able to consider all the routing options. Just be advised that the money you save may not be worth the aggravation.