United Airlines and Amtrak will end a decades-long partnership, eliminating reciprocal lounge access and what historically has been a convenient way to earn miles when traveling on Amtrak.
Amtrak + United Wind Down Partnership
Stretching back two decades, Amtrak and Continental Airlines (and later United after the merger) partnered to provide reciprocal mileage earnings and United codeshare service on select trains to/from Newark Airport.
When I lived in Philadelphia, I often took advantage of this to “fly” from Philadelphia 30th Street Station (ZFV) to Los Angeles via Newark. The first segment, obviously, was operated via train, not plane, but had a United flight number and earned miles. Issuing both segments on the same ticket was often far cheaper than buying both separately.
I’m not sure when the codeshare routes ended, but I attempted to book one this evening and it quickly became clear that United is no longer selling Amtrak segments.
Amtrak – United Reciprocal Mileage Earning Ends December 24, 2020
I then noticed a banner on the Amtrak page of united.com that indicated that reciprocal mileage earning ends next month:
As of December 24, 2020, customers will no longer be able to earn MileagePlus award miles through Amtrak.
I also noticed that Amtrak no longer lists United as a partner. Last week, the Amtrak partner page looked like this:
Now it looks like this:
Amtrak – United Reciprocal Lounge Access Ends February 4, 2021
A note went out to Amtrak Guest Rewards members confirming this change:
Benefits With United Airlines Will Be Discontinued
December 24, 2020 wil be the last day to earn Amtrak Guest Rewards points on United Airlines itineraries. February 4, 2021 will be the last day that United Club access will be a benefit of Select Plus and Select Executive Tier members.
Note that Amtrak Select Plus and Select Executive currently have access to United Clubs and United Club members and longhaul Polaris business class travelers have access to Amtrak Acela lounges. I reviewed the Amtrak lounge in Philadelphia here.
United Confirms Dissolution Of Partnership
I reached out to United for confirmation and was told:
United MileagePlus offers members a wide variety of partnerships to help them get the most out of their travel. While our partnership with Amtrak is ending we will continue providing value across the entire travel experience, including working with over 100 partners to offer more travel perks for MileagePlus members.
I’ll address this issue below.
The Amtrak 1:1 “Loophole”
While United Airlines has now tied mileage earnings to fare paid, not distance traveled, the same change was never made for crediting United flights to Amtrak. Points continued to be earned (and can still be earned) at a rate of one point per mile traveled, with a 25% bonus for business class and 50% bonus for first class travel.
There was a huge loophole (of sorts) that many exploited (and may continue to exploit until December 2020). Apparently, those who put in their Amtrak Guest Rewards number earned points on a 1 mile: 1 point basis for ANY United flight, not just Northeast Corridor codeshare trains. So take this example:
Orlando (MCO) to Los Angeles (LAX) is $78 for a one-way ticket, so a MileagePlus member would earn 78 x 5 = 390 MileagePlus miles for this itinerary. However, those who credited to Guest Rewards would still earn on a 1:1 mileage basis, even on the cheapest fares, meaning this itinerary would earn 2,218 Amtrak points, the mileage distance between MCO and LAX.
That’s quite a spread!
United Closed City Ticketing Office In New York Penn Station
One other vestige of the historic relationship between Amtrak and United Airlines was the old city ticketing office (CTO) located inside New York Penn Station. Once commonplace in every major city, this was the final United ticketing office in the United States outside an airport.
I visited the office in 2017, which I thought was such a cool link to the past:
But during my trip to New York last month, I noticed it is now closed:
Why The End Of the Amtrak – United Partnership Is Sad News
This is sad news for me, even though I no longer live in Philadelphia, because I booked the Amtrak codeshare all the time. Many booked train segments as a “hidden city” ticket to take advance of cheaper fares originating or ending Newark (adding the extra train segment often halved the fare). Because Amtrak and United were utilizing totally different segments, you could usually (not always) skip the train segment and the rest of your itinerary would not be cancelled.
I never skipped the Amtrak segments…they were highly valuable to me considering my apartment was a five-minute walk from Philadelphia 30th Street Station (ZFV). In fact, most of my United trips my final year of law school started or ended at ZFV.
Beyond my own personal history, encouraging train travel is good for the environment and actually very convenient in most cases. Perhaps one reason so few people took advantage of this partnership is because it was so badly advertised. But flying into Newark and taking a train to Philadelphia or New Haven or Wilmington (Hi Joe) was really quite easy and a valuable benefit of staying loyal to United.
I hope that as Amtrak invests in its next generation of Acela trains, like the car pictured above, it will again partner with United or another airline. Encouraging more train travel is a sensible alternative, at least in the Northeast Corridor, to shorthaul flights.
United and Amtrak will end reciprocal mileage earning on December 24, 2020 and reciprocal lounge access on February 4, 2021. This marks the end of a long partnership. Hopefully one day it will return in some form.
top image: Alstom