June 3rd, 2021

Pointless Arrow

Balancing Act

Even though it's still six months until Worldcon, I'm going through fits trying to work out our train travel plans. If I'd had about 2,000 more Amtrak points a month ago than I currently do, I would have booked the trip already, but I needed to wait for the next cycle on my Amtrak credit card to go through and deposit more points into the Amtrak account. Unfortunately, in the meantime, a bottleneck has appeared, in that the small number of bedrooms on the Amtrak Cardinal (Chicago-Washington) have disappeared.

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Our planned trip broadly consists of five segments. We intend to take sleeping compartments on the first four and ride in coach for the day trip up the coast.

  1. Bay Area-Chicago: California Zephyr (Superliner Bedroom)

  2. Chicago-Washington: Cardinal or Capitol Limited (See Below)

  3. Washington-New Orleans: Crescent (Viewliner Bedroom)

  4. New Orleans-Los Angeles: Sunset Limited (Superliner Bedroom)

  5. Los Angeles-Bay Area: Coast Starlight (Superliner Coach)

Segments 1, 3, 4, and 5 do not appear to be a problem right now, and our only question is whether we should lay over for a day at Los Angeles. But Segment 2 (Chicago-Washington) is a challenge.

We initially intended to take the Cardinal, which is longer but more scenic. However, it operates Viewliners and thus only has at most four bedrooms available, and as of now, all the bedrooms are now taken on the one day that would work for us to travel. The other possibility is the Capitol Limited, which leaves later and arrives earlier (it's a much faster route), and operates Superliner equipment and thus has more bedrooms.

However, the reason that the Cardinal has sold out its bedrooms is due to a fan group (TrainCon) putting together a trip on that route, and the rooms are blocked for them. I have put in a request for one of the bedrooms they have blocked. If we can get that, the rest of the trip seems to work itself out.

There's not much constraint on taking the Capitol Limited, which does have the advantage of Superliner Bedrooms and a Sightseer Lounge car, but putting it into the mix makes the "point deficit" more than I prefer. And it would probably be more fun to travel with fans as part of TrainCon, albeit that there's no full lounge car on the Cardinal, only a combined diner-lounge.

You may recall me talking about a glitch in Amtrak's pricing system that radically undervalued Amtrak Guest Rewards (AGR) points. I checked today, and they've fixed this. Assuming it holds until I can get the rest of the points I need into my AGR account, I should be able to buy either two or three of the sleeping car legs of the trip on points. I might end up having to buy AGR points to top up the account to make some of the plans work. I've done that math, and it costs less to buy the top-up than it would to buy the equivalent travel directly.

So far, I have worked out Plans A through D. We won't be able to decide until I learn whether we can get one of the Cardinal bedrooms. Fingers crossed that we can make this all work!