Amtrak Offers Frequent Rider Program

Amtrak said today it will begin rewarding frequent travelers with free train tickets, flights, hotel stays and other gifts as the U.S. rail service pushes to boost ridership before a 2003 deadline to wean itself from government subsidies.

Train travelers will earn points for every trip under the new program, Guest Rewards, launched in tandem with the beginning of ticket sales for Amtrak’s high-speed Acela Express train that begins service Dec. 11.

The company said the program will allow members to earn free rail travel or flights on UAL Corp.’s United Airlines, Continental Airlines and Midwest Express.

Two Points Per Dollar

Hilton Hotels Corp., Starwood Resorts & Hotels Worldwide Inc., Marriott International Inc. and Hertz Corp. are among other participants in the program.

“[The program] is another important step in putting our guests first,” Amtrak President and CEO George Warrington told a news conference at Washington’s Union Station. “It will energize the resurgence of rail travel.”

Members also have the option of redeeming their points for gift certificates with retailers and restaurants including Barnes & Noble Inc. booksellers, Federated Department Stores Inc.’s Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, Spiegal Inc.’s Eddie Bauer, and Darden Restaurants Inc.’s Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants.

Travelers will earn two points per dollar spent on regular Amtrak routes and 500 points per trip segment on Acela Express and Metroliner service between Washington, New York and Boston.

Not participating are US Airways and Delta Air Lines, the two airlines that provide frequent shuttle service between Washington, New York and Boston.

Taking Airway Fliers

Amtrak, looking to take passengers away from the airlines with its luxurious and fast Acela Express service, is also competing with the airlines’ frequent flyer programs.

Delta offers travelers 500 mileage-points for each trip-segment on the same routes, while US Airways gives flyers 500 points per flight, regardless of whether the trip includes more than one leg.

Amtrak faces a possible restructuring if it fails to reach operational self-sufficiency by 2003, according to the terms of 1997 U.S. legislation.

In July, the railroad said it would give free tickets to dissatisfied patrons, after its own research had shown 15 percent of its riders are not repeat customers.