At one point, the thought of taking the Amtrak over a plane or driving would not have even been a consideration to most travelers. However, the tides seem to be turning when it comes to train rides, especially those that cover long distances with perks. From the romantic nostalgia of the Orient Express to the more modern convenience of cross-country sleeper trains, railroads are roaring back into travel trends.

With the question of whether or not a person should consider Amtrak for travel comes the next natural question: Are Amtrack Rewards worth it? There are many things to consider for those who travel often enough to reap the benefits that come with them. When it comes to Amtrak, specifically, here's a guide to know when - and if - its rewards are actually worth it.

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What Are Amtrak Guest Rewards, And How Do You Get Them?

It's important to know that Amtrack Guest Rewards points are given just like they would be for a hotel, car rental, or plane mileage. With that being said, they do offer benefits to passengers who use them often enough, and there are also multiple ways of racking up these points.

Purchasing Amtrak Tickets

The easiest, and most obvious way to earn rewards points through Amtrak is to purchase Amtrak tickets. The number of points a passenger receives is in direct correlation with the price of the ticket - so, a higher ticket price = higher rewards points earned. In total, passengers can earn two points for every $1 that's spent on Amtrak tickets. A bonus of 25% is given for tickets purchased in Business class, while a bonus of 50% is given for those who purchase tickets in Acela First class.

  • Tip: Members who refer a friend to Amtrak Rewards will also receive a bonus of 500 points per person.

Buying Amtrak Rewards Points

Another way to score points is simply just to buy them. While this might sound counterintuitive when a member could just purchase train tickets, this option can be helpful in the following ways:

  • If a passenger is only a few points short of a free ticket or reward trip.
  • If Amtrak Rewards points are given as a gift to someone else.
  • If Amtrak Rewards points are intended to be shared with another member (similar to sharing free flight miles).
  • If one is transferring Amtrak Rewards points into points with other loyalty programs, i.e. if a member is a World Mastercard holder.

While these situations arise, they won't likely apply to the average Amtrak user who purchases train tickets only a few times annually. These perks are more useful to the avid Amtrak traveler, who has enough to trade, share, and earn reward trips.

Other Ways To Earn Amtrak Rewards: Hotels, Rentals, & Shopping

Amtrak Rewards now works with a number of hotel chains and retailers via loyalty programs. These offer unique avenues through which members can obtain points without even needing to purchase them or purchase Amtrak train tickets. In total, members can choose from more than 350,000 hotels around the world to earn points.

  • Tip: Members can earn up to 10,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points by booking a hotel stay with Amtrak Hotels & Cars.

Related: Hacking It: How To Find The Best Vacation Rental Deals

In regard to car rentals, members also have more than 29,000 car rental companies to choose from. For those who travel and rent cars frequently, this can serve as a major perk when flying isn't an option.

  • Tip: Booking through Amtrak-approved car rentals can result in up to 500 Amtrak Rewards points per day.

If shopping seems like a better way to earn points, there are plenty of options here, as well. Amtrak Rewards members can choose from a variety of companies such as Home Depot, 1-800Flowers.com, Apple stores, QVC, Vinesse Wines, and more. Those shopping for specific brands will find that deals change regularly. At the time of writing, Amtrak Rewards offers seven points for every $1 spent purchasing through Pandora, three points for every $1 spent with Macy's, two points for every $1 spent with American Eagle, and more.

The Bottom Line: Is An Amtrak Rewards Membership Worth It?

Since membership in the Amtrak Rewards program is free, it doesn't hurt to sign up for those who use Amtrak. This way, whenever a ticket is purchased via Amtrak, members will begin to rack up those points. It is not, however, something that should be counted on for getting free tickets or other serious perks unless one is a regular Amtrak user. For the average traveler, it will be a nice surprise when a year or more down the road, there are enough points to redeem (which start at 800) in order to utilize the program perks.

For those who travel with Amtrak frequently, the rewards program has endless potential. As the points begin rolling in, members will notice that they're also earning Tier Qualifying Points. As an example, for every $100 spent on an Amtrak ticket, there will be 200 Rewards points to follow, which also equates to 300 Tier Qualifying Points. These can be combined with the bonuses for higher-class seating as discussed in the beginning to earn even more bonus points. The following tier system is as follows:

  • Select Status: Reaching 5,000 in TQP points
  • Select Plus: Reaching 10,000 in TQP points
  • Select Executive: Reaching 20,000 in TQP points

Once a member reaches Select status (the first class following average member status), they'll begin to have access to things like class upgrades. Following that, perks include companion coupons, 10% discounts, single-visits for Amtrak lounges, priority offloading, exclusive member offers, auto-registration for promotions, and priority call-handling.

Depending on how often one travels via Amtrak, shops at its associated stores and brands, the Amtrak Rewards program begins to look more alluring. If one lives within close proximity to Amtrak stations (for example, on the east or west coast), this is a valued opportunity.

For those who don't live near an Amtrak station or route enough to use it more than twice per year, the Rewards program might be better off unused, as it will take far longer to rack up points.

Next: Expert Advice To Make Your First Amtrak Ride Exceptional