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You’ll save with new Amtrak fares ($9, anyone?), but they’ll have restrictions

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner
Blue skies ahead as Amtrak introduces Saver Fares designed to save travelers as much as half off.
(Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

Amtrak is taking a new pricing model for a spin — a model that looks a lot like the airlines’ basic economy fares: less expensive but with more restrictions.

Some of the new fares will cost as little as $9, Amtrak said.

Legacy airlines, including Delta, United and American, jumped on the basic economy bandwagon starting in 2012, realizing that ultra-low-cost carriers were starting to take a bigger bite out of their sack lunch.

The lower-priced airline seats cost less than a plain-vanilla coach fare, but they come with restrictions that may include limits on carry-on bags (United allows none, American and Delta allow one). Basic fliers are generally at the end of the seat assignment process (meaning they often get middle seats). If you can’t make the flight for some reason, you lose the value of your ticket.

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Cue Amtrak and its new Saver Fares, which make their debut early next week. An Amtrak news release called this category “deeply discounted tickets and reduced fares.”

The Saver Fare cannot be changed or upgraded, and if you cancel more than 24 hours after purchase, you lose the value of your ticket. The biggest difference between this and the airlines’ basic economy ticket: You can check baggage on the train at no cost.

Before you break out the low-cost Champagne, note that the first flurry of bargain fares will be confined largely to Florida and the Southeast.

How long will Westerners have to wait for their fair share of the lower fares? “We will have a better sense of timing for additional reductions after we launch the initial low Saver Fares,” Olivia Irvin, an Amtrak spokeswoman, said in an email.

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Some saver coach fares will start at as little as $9, Irvin said, and no Saver Fare will run more than $39 between Atlanta and New Orleans, she added.

Richard Anderson, president and chief executive of Amtrak, joined the passenger railroad from Delta, where he served as chief executive and, later, executive chairman of Delta’s board of directors. That makes the airline/Amtrak fare saver comparison inevitable.

But, Irvin said, the train fares are “based on the fact that current customer behavior limits the company’s ability to forecast demand and optimize seat usage.”

And, she added, “Passenger growth is expected to come both in the form of people who currently find Amtrak fares unattractive for various reasons (advance purchase requirements, absolute price) or who are price sensitive and willing to exchange some flexibility for an even more attractive fare.”


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