Amtrak Hacks

Next Friday will be the end of my weekly NYC to Albany Amtrak commute, and for this I am thankful. As much fun as it sounds, I am pretty tired of losing 2.5 hours of my life every Friday and Sunday to travel. Long distance is hard (and expensive), yo.

I know that my travel hacks are not going to waste, but I want to get them down so you can see what an Amtrak baller I am. Because that is how I roll:

Purchasing tickets:
  • Join Amtrak Guest Rewards. You won't be racking up points like crazy since Acela trains do not run on this line, but eventually you will earn a free something just for entering in some extra numbers when purchasing your tickets. I’m cheap, so I’m also all about frequent anything.
    • Pro tip: Guest Rewards seems to always be hosting some sort of  promotion, which give you an extra hundred points here and there. All you need to do is sign into your rewards account and click the applicable promotion, then Amtrak does the rest of the rewarding for you. Easy peasy.
  • The earlier you buy your tickets the more you save. Almost all tickets are fully refundable so it doesn’t matter if you cancel your ticket later on, as going to get all your money refunded back to your card. If you happen to not cancel your ticket and miss the train, Amtrak sends you a voucher for future travel to be booked with an agent. It is slightly inconvenient, but at least you are not losing money.

Picking up tickets:
  • If you have a smart phone you can do one of two things:
    • Get the Amtrak app, which will display your ticket for e-collection. With the app, you are also able to check a train's status to see if it is running late which is always handy; why schlep to the train station when you don't have to?
    • Pull up your ticket from your confirmation email. This option is useful if you don’t use Amtrak that often and don't want to commit to getting a free app. 

Penn Station:
  • Nine times out of ten, the train to Albany will leave from track 5 or 6 E, next to the Dunkin' Donuts. Side story, there is also a Hudson News next to the track and one time I saw a woman pick up a candy bar and there was a mouse hiding behind it! She screamed and ran away and then everyone waiting for the train screamed at her for freaking out. Incredible.
  • If you are taking a cab to Penn and want to avoid the LIRR / NJ Transit traffic, ask your cab driver to bring you to the Amtrak entrance on 31st Street and 8th Avenue. Boom, time saver.
  • If you are taking the NQR to Penn, try to get on the car closest to the 32nd Street exit, which will drop you off one avenue away from Penn. Stand at the front of the train for the downtown line and at the back of the train if you are taking the uptown line. You’ll probably save 2 minutes maximum, 2 minutes makes all the difference when you're running late.
  • You can find more Penn Station hacks here, lots of which are super helpful!

  • If you are running late for the train, get dropped off in front of the post office doors (even thought they look like they are locked, they are not!) and save yourself 45 seconds to catch your train on time.

On the train:
  • Getting a seat to yourself is pure luck. I like to sit in the 2nd quarter of the train car and hope that other passengers will walk past me looking for an open seat and give up at the 2/3rds mark of the train so I can keep my own seat. Again, this is not guaranteed, so find your own lucky algorithm for getting your own seat.
  • If you are coming from New York and want to sit on the Hudson River side of the train, sit on the left side of the train (if you are facing the front of the train). If you are coming from Albany, sit on the right side of the train.

Good luck and come visit me!

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