Taking a later train
December 23, 2009 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Are amtrak tickets train specific?

I am a little confused as to how the amtrak ticketing system works. Is it like an airline where I buy a ticket for a specific train and the ticket is not valid on any other trains? Or is it like some of the commuter trains where you buy a ticket for a certain destination and can ride any train that goes there?
posted by Brennus to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
Train specific.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:29 AM on December 23, 2009

Posted too soon. I seem to recall that once I caught a different train or had a different date and it wasn't a problem for the 2-3 hr journey. The train wasn't full.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:32 AM on December 23, 2009

They're for specific trains.
posted by dfriedman at 11:32 AM on December 23, 2009

It depends. If your ticket is for "1 Reserved ____ Seat", then it's train-and-date-specific. If it's for "1 Unreserved ____ Seat", then you can use it on any equivalent (e.g. peak or off-peak, same starting point and destination) trip. That delineation will be readily visible when you search for tickets on amtrak.com. You can usually tell by looking at the ticket itself, which will say either "valid only for the route/date above" or "valid for off-peak travel on any date between x date and y date except special days a, b, and c." Most or all travel in the northeast corridor (DC-Phila-NYC, and maybe Boston) is Reserved. Travel on, say, the Keystone between Harrisburg and Philadelphia is Unreserved. Even if your ticket is reserved, though, Amtrak is good about letting you change them.
posted by The Michael The at 11:45 AM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

For the most part they are good about letting you transfer to another train of the same cost (IE local -> local, or amtrak business -> amtrak business). Though for Christmas travel, all the trains are usually pretty packed ..
posted by shownomercy at 11:55 AM on December 23, 2009

An Unreserved train ticket can be used on any other Unreserved train on the same route between the same origin and destination. However, if the train is too crowded, people with Unreserved tickets are going to get booted in favor of people with Reserved tickets, and if there's space for people with Unreserved tickets, the people with Unreserved tickets for that particular train get precedence.

I travel Amtrak all the time, including at holiday seasons, and I have only ever seen the conductors not letting Unreserved passengers on once. But the people who didn't get let on that time were fucked.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:08 PM on December 23, 2009

Coach seats are unreserved and you can pick any train. Business class seats are train specific.
posted by 26.2 at 12:31 PM on December 23, 2009

Coach seats are unreserved and you can pick any train.

Not on the Northeast Corridor.
posted by The Michael The at 12:43 PM on December 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I travel on the north-east corridor every week and I regularly get on different trains even though tickets are train specific. Sometimes conductors get pissy and tell you that you should have changed your ticket. As long as you're substituting like with like (i.e. a DC to NYC train with a DC to NYC train and not one that originated anywhere else) they seem to be OK. If you try that on a train with a different origin they sometimes stop people boarding. I traveled yesterday and trains were very busy, thus I wouldn't try getting on a different train over the holiday period.
posted by ob at 12:45 PM on December 23, 2009

Talking about unreserved in CA...I have learned through hard, shitty experience that your ticket is valid for (a) the train you bought it for, and (b) any trains afterwards if you missed the first one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:17 PM on December 23, 2009

I always thought thy were Line specific. I remember reading on a ticket I bought that you had a period of time ( a month I think) to use the ticket.
posted by Max Power at 3:33 PM on December 23, 2009

Correct, Max Power, there is a certain time limit. It might be longer than a month, but I think you'd still have to exchange it. ob's strategy, while technically functional, seems a bit risky, especially because Amtrak, as several others have mentioned, is quite understanding about letting you change your ticket.

I second The Michael The's observation that all trains on the Northeast Corridor are reserved seats only.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 5:13 PM on December 23, 2009

Hmm. Maybe it's a laid back West Coast thing. Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight are all unreserved unless you buy a Business Class fare. You buy a ticket for a specific train, but you can use it for any train.
posted by 26.2 at 5:50 PM on December 23, 2009

The tickets have the train number printed on them, but the conductors are often flexible about letting you onto a different train running the same route (an earlier or later one, for instance). Presumably they might give you trouble if the train was booked solid, but I've never seen it happen.

I've done it once or twice (usually with tickets for a earlier train, missed it, and took a later, less-crowded one) and was never really questioned, except maybe just a "missed the train?" glance. But by going later I was moving onto a less-crowded train so it wasn't causing a problem.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:23 PM on December 23, 2009

I've switched on the NE Corridor, usually to an earlier train when I finished up early and really wanted to get back to NYC from DC, etc. I was never given much grief, but if you're somewhere with a staffed counter/window, the five minutes it takes to stop and ask nicely makes all the difference.
posted by pupdog at 11:45 PM on December 23, 2009

I'd also point out that Amtrak doesn't have any penalties for exchanging a ticket (unlike the airlines). So if you know you're going to want to get on a different train, you can call them and have your ticket moved, officially, to your desired train. Then you just trade your paper tickets at the station, or swipe your CC and have the tickets printed at one of the automated kiosk-thingies.

If you're moving from an on-peak to off-peak train, this will generally net you a refund.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:17 AM on December 24, 2009

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