9 Things I’d Like to Know Before I Book an Amtrak Sleeping Car

9 Things I’d Like to Know Before I Book an Amtrak Sleeping Car

My earliest memory of a passenger train is from the 1970s, before the permanent press was common. My mother used to rent us clothes to iron. We cross a train track to pick up our clothes and usually get stuck there. I was fascinated watching the slow moving freight trains go by, my mom probably not so much.

One day, I saw a different kind of train. The railing fell and a gleaming silver train whizzed by so fast it seemed a blur. The railing rose and we rolled onto the track.

My mother explained to me that it was an Amtrak passenger train. She told me about sleeping compartments and dining cars. My five year old self was intrigued. I told myself that I would travel on a train like this one day.

Someday it was this spring. I planned to travel from my home in San Antonio to meet up with a friend for a hike in Big Bend National Park. Amtrak’s Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited trains pass through Alpine, a small town 80 miles from the park, so I decided to skip the trip and take the train.

My train left at 2:30am (ouch!) and I needed to get going on arrival, so I booked a sleeping car. I don’t regret my decision, but here are nine things I’d like to know before I book an Amtrak sleeper. As you read this, you’ll notice the general theme of “could have done better research.” Hopefully my experiences can help you have a smoother and cheaper train adventure.

1. How to get cheaper sleeping car tickets

I took the train for the experience and not to save money, although sometimes Amtrak is cheaper than flying or driving.

Before you get too far into the trip planning process, check out the Deals section of the Amtrak website. You’ll find a list of current special offers that sometimes include enhanced discounts for seniors or veterans on select routes. The holy grail of Amtrak discounts is the BOGO offer. If you are flexible, this is the biggest money saver. Sign up for Amtrak emails so you don’t miss out on notifications.

I bought my tickets five days before my trip and paid about 40 percent plus than I expected. The (expensive) lesson I learned was to buy tickets in advance at the best prices. Two or three weeks makes a big difference in price.

Pro tip: Capital One Shopping, Coupon Cabin and Rakuten may also have discount Amtrak gift cards or coupon codes.

A roomette on an Amtrak train
A roomette on an Amtrak train (Photo credit: Amtrak)

2. The differences between Roomette and Dorm

If my trip had been during the day or if I had been able to rest upon arrival (instead of driving 80 miles for a 3 hour hike), I probably wouldn’t have booked a sleeping car. I had to leave the train station at 1:30 am and needed to arrive rested, so I booked a Roomette to have a space to sleep on the way to Alpine.

The big difference between a Roomette and a Dorm on Amtrak is space and price. The Roomette can accommodate 1 or 2 travelers. The bedroom has more space and a private bathroom/shower area and can accommodate 2-3 travelers, although I think three would be too tight. I booked a Roomette and upgraded to a Dorm.

Sleeping car amenities include blankets, small pillows, bottled water, linens, and access to a coffee station.

Pro tip: I felt comfortable on my short trip, but if you’re going to be spending multiple nights on the train, I recommend leaving room in your carry-on for your own pillow and blanket. I slept in my joggers and socks and the Amtrak blanket didn’t cover the length of my body, it was more like a blanket.

By the way, once you get used to unfamiliar noises and movements, sleeping on the train is a wonderful dream.

Amtrak Dining Car Breakfast
Amtrak dining car breakfast (Photo credit: Amtrak)

3. Amtrak’s dining car is pretty close to being a fine dining restaurant.

I ate breakfast in the dining car and enjoyed the views of the West Texas desert and the company of friendly fellow passengers. Meals are included for sleeper passengers.

There are two styles of dining on Amtrak dining cars: traditional and flexible. Your assistant will tell you which one is available on your train and help you make any necessary reservations. They will also inform you about meal times through the public address system. If you would like to eat in your compartment, please let your attendant know in advance.

Pro tip: Traditional food are meals prepared by a chef; Flexible Dining has a smaller menu and consists of hot and cold pre-packaged items.

A woman accesses train Wi-Fi in an Amtrak room
A passenger accessing the train’s Wi-Fi in an Amtrak room (Photo credit: Amtrak)

4. Not all trains have Wi-Fi

This was a surprise as I am used to Wi-Fi being universally available. Since I rode overnight, this didn’t hit me as hard as it might have if I had anticipated being able to work or watch movies.

The leg of the Texas Eagle I traveled passed through rural areas where cellular signals are notoriously absent. I had books downloaded which worked as I spent a lot of time sleeping. While the chance to unexpectedly unplug turned out to be nice, I recommend downloading movies or shows before boarding the train.

Pro tip: If you want to embrace the offline life, buy puzzle books or pack a card game.

The author with a handbag
The author with a handbag (Photo credit: Jill Robbins)

5. Free checked baggage

Amtrak allows two checked bags Y two carry-on bags per passenger. If you share your sleeping car, you’ll want to maximize space. Tripping over suitcases will make your compartment go from cozy to cramped. Put what you need for the trip in a carry-on and keep your space tidy.

Pro tip: Passengers in an overhead compartment (Superliner trains) may not want to lug a large suitcase up the narrow staircase, so that’s another reason to take advantage of free checked luggage.

Amtrak passengers enjoying a seat upgrade
Amtrak passengers enjoying a seat upgrade (Photo credit: Amtrak)

6. Amtrak BidUp Service

Riders can use Amtrak BidUp to upgrade their seats. I booked a Roomette and used BidUp to upgrade to a room. Passengers will see the BidUp option when booking.

BidUp will give you an idea of ​​how much you should bid. If your bid is too low, you probably won’t be competitive, even though you don’t have visibility into how many passengers are bidding. BidUp is a game of chance, although it does not bet. If your upgrade offer is not accepted, you will not be charged.

I made a mid-high bid to upgrade from Roomette to Dorm and ended up getting the upgrade. This gave me more space Y more money. I received notice that I had been promoted two days before my departure.

If this is your first time bidding, I recommend that you spend time researching BidUp and reading reviews before bidding. Research the price difference between what you have already paid and the price of the accommodation you are bidding on. I’m the perfect example of someone pushing buttons without doing proper research. I upgraded with minimal savings. I’ll never know if I could have succeeded by bidding lower and overspending on a space I didn’t need!

7. Do not close your compartment from the outside

I felt very safe going to sleep on the train. My door was locked from the inside and my room had curtains so no one could see inside.

However, when I went outside to visit the observation deck and dining car, I discovered that there was no way to secure my room from the outside. I brought my wallet and phone but took a chance and left my backpack with my laptop and other electronics hidden in my compartment. Everything was fine, but in hindsight I recommend being very cautious.

8. Tipping on Amtrak

You’ll want to tip your assistant and servers in your dining room. The sleeping car attendant will alert you to stops and meal times and help convert your seats into bunks for sleeping at night. They also provide clean towels, bottled water, and other assistance upon request.

Your meal (and a cocktail at dinner) are included in your ticket, but definitely take cash for tips. I recommend tipping the restaurant waiter per meal and the cabin attendant per day or at the end of the trip.

Passengers boarding an Amtrak train
Passengers boarding an Amtrak train (Photo credit: Amtrak)

9. Amtrak Accessibility Information

If your sleeping compartment is upstairs, you will find the stairs to be steep and narrow. If you have mobility problems, this can be difficult.

Amtrak Public Relations Manager Olivia Irwin says, “In addition to handcarts at various Amtrak stations, uniformed Red Caps provide free baggage handling assistance at many major stations. We are also pleased to serve passengers with disabilities and have worked to make our facilities more accessible to customers with disabilities.”

Would I book an Amtrak sleeper again?

Yes. There is something about train travel that adds a little more flavor to the act of getting somewhere. That said, although my fellow train passengers were sociable, I found myself longing for a companion to share my experience with. Since I am now a more informed train traveler and have learned a lot from my own mistakes, I would plan a future trip with special fares and adopt a slower travel experience.

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