The First Question: Coach or Sleeper?

I’ve just responded to a question about what to expect when traveling overnight on one of Amtrak’s long-distance trains and thought it would make an interesting couple of posts . . . starting with the most obvious question: Is an upgrade to a sleeping car worth the extra money?
I’m asked that question all the time and my answer is always the same: If you can afford it . . . even if it’s a stretch, book the sleeping car! The difference, compared to making an overnight journey in coach, is night and day.
For the record, it’s certainly possible for an overnight ride in an Amtrak coach to be an OK experience. The seats are wide and comfortable and there’s more than enough leg room. But you will probably have to sleep sitting up because you’ll be sharing the coach with another 60 or 70 people. One of them will very likely be sitting next to you, so you won’t be able to sprawl out over two seats during the night. And maybe—this is the worst case scenario—the person in the seat next to you will be traveling with an infant. No … wait … in the worst case scenario, it’s a colicky infant!
And maybe the people in the seats behind you brought their own food, and it’s kimchee or something else that has a very strong smell. Or maybe the two guys across the aisle have got a quart of vodka which, instead of putting them to sleep, fuels an argument. Sure, you can save money traveling in coach, but these are the kinds of things that might turn your train ride into a difficult experience which—depending on where you’re going—could last for 48 hours or even more.
 But in a sleeping car, you have your own room. Yes, it’s small, but you can close the door and pull the drapes for honest-to-goodness privacy. And whenever you want to turn in, there’s an actual bed to sleep in, with clean sheets and a blanket and a couple of pillows. And don’t forget: when you travel in a sleeper, all dining car meals are included in your fare. Depending on how far you’re traveling, that can add up to a significant amount.
So the next time you’re considering an overnight train ride, at least check out the cost of a roomette before you buy that coach ticket. Sometimes the difference is substantial, but once in a while, if you check at the last minute, you’ll find the cost has been drastically reduced. And don’t forget to figure in the cost of the meals that will be included in the fare. Bite the bullet if you have to, but an Amtrak sleeping car makes all the difference!
Next time: Getting the most from an Amtrak sleeper.