What a Difference a Day Makes!

Q: In two months, I will be taking the Zephyr from Omaha to San Francisco. I’m afraid the roomette will be uncomfortably small. Should I upgrade to a bedroom?
A. I had some fun with this one . . . and once I started breaking things down to some basic numbers, it gave some interesting perspective to this issue of the ever-changing fares.
The cost for a roomette from Omaha to San Francisco (Fisherman’s Wharf stop) on the date you want to travel is $696. The cost for the bedroom for that same day is $843, which is a diference of $147.
Let’s look at it this way: Assuming the train runs on time that day, this is a journey of 43 hours. You’ll be departing Omaha at 11:05 p.m., which means you’ll be on board for two nights. Dividing the additional $147 cost of the bedroom by the number of hours you’ll be on board, we discover that you’ll be paying additional $3.42 an hour to enjoy the extra space and the wider bed and the convenience of the wash basin and the lavatory right there in your accommodations. Would I upgrade to the bedroom under those circumstances? Yes! And in a blinkin’ heartbeat!
But the fact is, you happened to hit on a travel day when the Amtrak computer was being unusually generous. I picked another date at random about a month earlier and was quoted $588 for the roomette and $1330 for the bedroom, which means it would now cost you an additional $17.25 an hour more than the roomette. Unless money is no object, I would never recommend that you upgrade on that day … not at those prices.
There is, however, a very good lesson for all of us here: If your itinerary is at all flexible, check the cost of sleeping car accommodations for several different dates. As you can see from this example, it can make a huge difference.