My race to the top — an update

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Sunday, March 6, 2011

On February 9, I posted a brief essay about my quest to achieve Select Plus status from Amtrak Guest Rewards during 2011. To do so requires 10,000 “rail points,” two rail points being awarded for every $1 spent on Amtrak tickets. Why do I try? More goodies from Amtrak Guest Rewards. More train rides. Lots of time on my hands. OK, I have no rational explanation for my behavior. Still, I thought I’d let you know how it’s going.

If you read that ditty, you’ll recall my strategy: Make a lot of short trips, because no matter how few bucks you spend on a one-way trip, you get a minimum of 100 rail points. So I’ve made maybe a dozen runs between Washington, D.C., and Alexandria, Va., just across the Potomac River, for less than $13 but still those 100 rail points. Altogether, AGR credits me 1,870 of the needed 10,000 points so far. To put that in perspective, with almost one-fifth of the year gone, I’m almost one-fifth of the way there. Plus, AGR’s count doesn’t included (by my calculation) 600 points for trips taken the past 10 days but not credited. And I anticipate adding about 1,200 points less than two weeks hence, when my Jaguar and I ride the Auto Train to Florida.

One of the nice things to come out of this rather pointless quest (I agree, it is absurd what I am doing) is that I’m taking a couple of longer trips just to see railroads I’m fond of. Twice I’ve done Alexandria to Richmond, Va., and will make a third round trip this Wednesday with a friend. I invited myself to lunch in Baltimore the next day with Rush Loving, so that’s a brief trip up the Northeast Corridor. I'd like to make a circle trip when days are longer from Washington to Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to Washington.

My one frustration has been getting to Charlottesville and back on Amtrak’s triweekly Cardinal. On Fridays and Sundays you can go out and back between late morning and mid afternoon. Last Wednesday, entering Washington on one of my quick trips from Alexandria, we meet the westbound Cardinal, train 51, and darned if I don’t see a dining car on it. Ah ha, Amtrak has finally returned sit-down meals to this train.

Upon returning home I immediately seek to book a round trip to Charlottesville on Friday. No luck. I could get a seat going west, but train 50 going east is sold out in coach. So I try for Sunday and get reservations. I show up this morning and five minutes before train 51’s arrival in Alexandria, pull out my BlackBerry to see how train 50 is doing in the other direction. (To do this yourself, go here.) Uh oh. It left Cincinnati this morning more than four hours late. I like Charlottesville, but not that much, on a rainy Sunday in March.

I sadly walk to the ticket window and cancel my seat reservations. I watch train 51 load its passengers and see that this time, there’s no diner. I suppose what I saw Wednesday was a dining car headed for the shops in Indianapolis. And as I walk in the door at home, the phone is ringing; it's Janet, a cousin of Julie, Amtrak’s automated agent, informing me that train 50 has been cancelled from Charlottesville today, to be replaced by (I am not making this up) bus 50.

Now here on a rainy Sunday afternoon I sit at home. Whereas I should have my nose pressed to the window of an Amdinette, I’m writing a *** blog. Guess which I’d rather be doing? — Fred W. Frailey

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