Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

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.

Amtrak sleeping accommodations broadly come in two different types: Roomettes and Bedrooms. (That's because we don't need a Handicapped or Family bedroom.) Within those two types, there are also two types of sleeper cars: Superliners and Viewliners.

Superliners are the double-deck equipment used on most of the long-haul trains operating west and south of Chicago, plus the Capitol Limited between Chicago and Washington. Viewliners are the single-deck equipment used on most of the long-haul trains operating east of Chicago. The reason for the difference is that most trains on the east coast, particularly those operating to/from New York City, are restricted by bridge and tunnel clearances.

Both Superliner and Viewliner bedrooms have en suite toilet/shower compartments and a sink. Superliner roomettes have neither; there is one shower compartment on the car plus several toilet/changing rooms. Viewliner roomettes on the trains we're taking have an in-room sink and a toilet (not a separate sub-compartment, though) plus one shared shower compartment per car. (There are two types of Viewliner equipment, and we expect to be on the older Viewliner I equipment. Viewliner II cars are slightly different, but as we don't expect to have them on the trains we're riding, I'm not going to discuss them further.)

We'd rather not ride in a roomette unless there's no other sleeping car alternative. We're traveling relatively heavily, and some of the stuff we will need to keep with us in our room, so having additional space matters. One slight advantage that the Viewliner equipment has over a Superliner is that the former has an "attic" that give you more in-room luggage storage space as long as you can lift luggage over your head, which we can do. The bedroom has more storage than the roomette, which is not surprising.

If you want to know more about this, ask and I'll explain in more detail, or follow the link I gave above.

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!
Tags: amtrak, train, travel, worldcon

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