How To Avoid Common Amtrak Booking Mistakes & Errors
How To Avoid common Amtrak Booking Mistakes & Errors

How To Avoid Common Amtrak Booking Mistakes & Errors

When you book tips, mistakes happen; after over a decade of travel, I still make a few. But you can do a few things to prevent Amtrak booking mistakes caused by a few issues: going too fast, entering the wrong station, or entering bad dates. You could encounter an error message when booking, but that doesn’t always mean everything is lost. Sometimes, a little tweaking of your plans can eliminate your error message.

This article gives a few tips to avoid mistakes and deal with simple error messages.

These first two deal with technology, so if you are an all-star with tech, you might be able to skip those.

Where you can make Amtrak booking mistakes

The headline for this section is tongue-in-cheek, but if you are starting, let’s get on the same page.

You can book Amtrak tickets on your own in a few places; thus, you can make some of these mistakes or error messages. You can book tickets for this article from Amtrak.com or their app.

If you run into problems or have issues, you can always call Amtrak’s general phone number, Amtrak Guest Rewards phone number, staffed stations, ticket machines at some stations, and some travel agents.

Make Sure Your Tech Is Right

If you have problems with that app, ensure your device and the Amtrak app are current.

Occasionally, you may need to delete and reinstall the app; that fixes things, too. Why does that work? I don’t know, And it never hurts to restart your device because that fixes many first-world problems.

Regarding issues with the Amtrak website, ensure your browser is current, and you may have to clear cookies.

From running a website, I found not all issues are “our fault.” Occasionally, there are server issues or glitches that ‘just happen” and are out of the website’s owner’s control. Systems can get overloaded or are updating when you need to use them, so take a walk, get a tasty beverage, drink water, or do other self-care for a few moments, and try again.

Unfamiliar with schedules can cause Amtrak booking errors

This is one of the most common errors for new people, and I do not blame you; you only know what you know.

Not all trains run daily

Amtrak has two plus one long-distance trains (that will make sense in a minute) that run three times a week. All other Amtrak trains and most regional trains run daily.

The Cardinal and the Sunset Limited run three times a week, and the plus one is The 420/421 Texas Eagle, which runs between Chicago and LA three times a week because a few cars become part of Sunset Limited.

Weekday versus weekend schedules

Some Amtrak regional trains have weekday and weekend schedules. For example, the Hiawatha does not run an early morning train on Sundays. So, if you find a train you like on one day but not on another, that could be an issue.

A Common Amtrak Booking Mistake not entering the right station

Another Amtrak Booking mistake is entering an incorrect city or station code; this is more common than you think. A few common errors I make are typos, using an airline code instead of an Amtrak one, or being overconfident and going too fast. But there are others you could do and not realize it.

Amtrak booking FYI: the three-letter airline codes often match Amtrak station codes, but not always. For example, Amtrak uses NOL for New Orleans but MSY for airlines. However, knowing the codes can help reduce errors. You can use the codes or cities when booking.

Some Communities Have More Than One Station!

This is where knowing station codes can help.

A common mistake with new travelers is using the wrong station in a town with multiple stops. Often, not all stations offer the same services or transportation options. So, if you cannot book a trip and it gives you an error message, see if there is another station in that community and try that stop.

For example, Milwaukee, WI, has three Amtrak stations: MKE, the downtown Intermodal Stations; MKA, the airport train stop; and MKB, an Amtrak bus stop, part of Amtrak’s connecting service.

In this case, if I tried to book a trip from Milwaukee to Portland and got an error message, it could be because MKB was entered instead of MKE. Or if you are booking a trip on the Empire Builder out of Milwaukee and have a layover, I might have entered MKA instead of MKE.

If you want to leave out of Milwaukee’s downtown Intermodal Station, you should never have a layover.

Before You Leave For Your Trip, Double Check What Station You Booked

In other words, make sure you go to the right station on your day of travel! You do not want to make a mistake and go to the wrong station. I know of a traveler who only had one station in a community, and he went to the wrong stop.

Same Name, Different State

This mistake happens more than you think!

If you don’t pay attention, you can book a trip to the wrong stop, such as Charleston, WV, CHW, instead of Charleston, SC, CHS.

Sometimes, this happens because when we book, we don’t realize there is more than one city with the same name, so we ignore the state. Or because, if you are like me, go too fast, hit the wrong one.

Double-checking is always essential; maybe even have someone else verify your work.

When you book, you get a message asking you to call Amtrak.

If you get the message “We’ve experienced an unknown error. Try again later or call us at 1-800-USA-RAIL,” it can mean a few things.

  1. The Amtrak booking system is down.
    • Try later; if you need to book, call Amtrak at 1-800-USA-Rail
  2. Another reason is that the connection you want does not exist how you want it to.
    • In most cases, Amtrak will not let you book a reservation with an overnight or lengthy layover.
  3. Or the station may not have service at the time of booking.
    • This happens if a station is still on the books but no longer used.

If you want to take Amtrak for this trip, see if you can break up the trip and spend the night somewhere.

In this case, you may have to book a multi-city ticket, which could be easier for some to do over the phone or at a staffed station.

Another option is to see if you can leave from another station. For example, if you try booking a trip from Milwaukee and use station code MKB (an Amtrak bus stop), you will get an issue, but if you use MKA, the Hiawatha station, you should be fine.

Don’t Try To Outsmart The System. It Could Be On Of The Bad Amtrak Booking Mistakes!

This could be an Amtrak booking mistake you won’t notice until your trip.

One of the Amtrak booking mistakes made by new Amtrakers, unsure if that is a word, is thinking they can outsmart the system by creating layovers not allowed within the Amtrak system, such as booking tight connections. Sometimes, this may work, but sometimes it may backfire.

If you use the connections suggested by Amtrak and book the tickets together as on the screen, Amtrak will guarantee your tickets. If you book them independently, and something happens, Amtrak is not obligated to “make things right” because of how YOU booked.

Sometimes, booking segments separately does make sense, and you can get things to work toward your advantage, but it needs to be done with caution and experience.

If You Need To Check Bags, Pay Attention To The Stations!

Outside of the equipment, train travel is a little different regarding luggage, in good and bad ways.

One nice thing about Amtrak is that it has the most generous carry-on policy in the industry. However, the downside is you cannot check bags at every station.

In most cases, you cannot check bags on regional trains. You cannot check bags with long-distance or regional trains unless your first and last station accepts checked bags. For example, traveling from Naperville, IL, to Omaha, NE, you cannot check bags. Omaha allows you to check your luggage, but Naperville does not.

There is a hack if you have the time. You must usually check your bags 45-60 minutes before your train departs, so if you have a layover at a station with a check bag server, you can check them mid-trip. For example, if you are going from Sturtevant to New Orleans, you will carry your luggage onto the Hiawatha, and then when you arrive in Chicago, you can check your bags to New Orleans.

Tips To Avoid Amtrak Booking Mistakes And Catching Errors

Here is a list of ways you can avoid some Amtrak booking mistakes. You cannot always get to where you want how you want, but with experience and talking with others, you might find out how to make trips work for you!

  1. Slow down! Take your time when you book. This is my biggest problem when I am booking.
    • Sometimes, this can be a costly mistake.
  2. Make sure you have the correct dates for your trip!
  3. Double-check your stations and write them down for quick reference.
    • Having a second pair of eyes on this never hurts.
  4. If one station does not work, see if others do.
    • Sometimes, driving a little further can save you money and be more convenient in the long run.
  5. If you cannot book the trip you want, you may need to split it and overnight somewhere along the journey to make train connections. 
  6. You may get an Amtrak Connecting Service, such as a bus, taxi, ferry, or other non-Amtrak services.
    • Amtrak indicates this when you book if you pay attention. When booking, look for “mixed service.” This shows that you have a connection, and that connection is not another Amtrak train.
  7. Check ALL of the options; sometimes, they appear out of order.

Bonus Tip: Check both the app and the website because sometimes, they give you different choices. While it is easy to think that websites and apps are the same systems, they aren’t always. They accomplish the same goal, but sometimes they may offer different options.

Amtrak Booking Mistakes & Error Wrap-Up

Making mistakes is common whenever you start something new, so don’t worry about it.

Making a few Amtrak booking mistakes is how you learn and grow, but you should know even the “pros” make mistakes.

My biggest mistake is going too fast. After over a decade of travel and booking, I still have this problem, which sometimes costs me. That is how we learn; in theory, applying what we know is a different story.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself because that can cause mistakes. Also, you do not need that stress. You are learning. If you are new and have a friend who has booked before, maybe have them walk you through. The other option is to call Amtrak and book over the phone to help troubleshoot your problems or go to a staffed station.

Writing down the stations to help double-check, especially if it is a new destination.

You can do this! Booking can be intimidating if you have never done it before; after you book a few trips, you’ll be a pro in no time!

Happy Planning and Safe Travels!

Kev


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Kevin Monteith

Kev Monteith has been traveling on Amtrak since 2012. With over a decade of experience, he has been on over 800 trains, covering over 200k miles of rail. Kev enjoys helping others achieve their travel dreams by providing support and information. Outside of travel, Kev enjoys making music as an organist and outings with family.

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