When it comes to
planning a vacation, many people are more concerned
with getting to their destination than in the travel
experience itself. But if you find sightseeing to be
a joy, a trip by train can enable you to see more of
the country that you're passing through, while possibly
saving you money in the process.
As the nation's airlines have in recent
weeks announced price hikes to combat rising fuel costs,
the cost of train tickets has remained stable. "The
cost of fuel is a much smaller portion of what it costs
to run passenger trains than it is in other modes (of
transportation)," says Marc Magliari, a spokesman
Planes "are much more driven by fuel
prices than we are. Not to say we're immune from it,
but generally speaking, we are much less driven by fuel
prices than some other modes are."
That doesn't mean you won't pay a pretty
penny for train service, particularly during the peak
travel season, which ranges from two weeks before Memorial
Day until two weeks after Labor Day, according to Magliari.
Other peak travel times are during the Thanksgiving
and Christmas holidays.
Not only are rates lower during off-peak
travel times, but since the lowest-priced seats tend
to fill up first, you're less likely to be able to buy
the least expensive tickets if you don't book your seat
weeks or even months in advance.
It's important to "plan and make
reservations well ahead, especially on Amtrak's most
popular routes during the summer," says John Pitt,
author of "USA
by Rail." That's because trains tend to fill
up quickly during these times, he says.
Since Amtrak is pretty much the only game
in town for long-distance rail travel, passengers don't
have as many options as airline passengers, who get
to choose from a variety of competing airlines. As a
result, there is less of an incentive for steep price
cuts during the travel season.
If you're not planning to go far, you
may have other railway options. Several states have
train systems that offer travel between cities or counties.
For example, the Capitol Corridor Service offers railway
travel to parts of Northern California, while New Jersey
Transit offers train service throughout the Garden State.
Though these railway services are primarily designed
for commuters, you can take advantage of them if your
destination is not far, or if they can take you to another
airport or train station where you can find a less expensive
plane or Amtrak fare.
Shopping for discounts
Naturally the first place to check for fare specials
is the Amtrak Web
site. The site features weekly specials on varying
routes. Certain passengers are also eligible for discounts.
For example, children between ages 2 and 15 ride for
half price, while students, seniors and veterans are
among the groups that benefit from special rates as
well. AAA members can save 10 percent on a ticket by
mentioning their memberships.