Buy Early for Best Amtrak Tickets.
You know what’s intimidating? Knowing there are more than a few people reading these posts who know a lot more about some of this stuff than I do! That’s always in the back of my mind and if there is an the upside, I guess it causes me to make an extra effort to get my facts right. With many of these issues, I frequently know a lot about the “what”, but not nearly so much about the “why”.
For example, I often get questions about Amtrak fares … questions that arrive in the form of lengthy complaints about the difficulty in finding the lowest fares. In that context, I’ve often come across the term “bucket fare” and I’ve never been sure of what that really is. Until the other day, that is, when one of the legitimate experts out there provided some illumination.
A bucket fare is the cost Amtrak assigns to the very first seat or roomette or bedroom on every train for specific dates running well out into the future. As time passes, and as space is sold on those trains, and fewer and fewer rooms remain available, Amtrak’s computer gradually raises the fares on the accommodations that are still unsold. Then, a day or two before departure, the cost of an empty roomette could drop again.
Sometimes travel plans pop up at the very last minute, but it is definitely not a good idea to wait too long to buy your roomette or bedroom. Sleeping car accommodations are often sold out, especially from about mid-May through Labor Day.
There’s a very clear lesson here: buy your rail tickets as far in advance as possible, most especially if you’re going to be booking sleeping car accommodations.
That said, on more than a few occasions I’ve probably paid more than I had to for a long-distance train journey . . . but I’ve never paid too much.
I have found that having to change roomettes on the day of travel can get some nice credits posted to the credit card used for the tickets. There is however a big risk of no other roometts being available. Being a confirmed type A personality I feel better paying the “bucket rate” by booking early and knowing I will have a room. I have found the Amtrak agents reall helpful when I did change rooms. Sometimes you can even change a roomette to a bedroom, IF you are willing to take a chance on a last minute availability.