Sold Out Amtrak Train: What That Means
Sold Out Amtrak Train: What That Means

Sold Out Amtrak Trains: Insider thoughts on the topic.

Planning trips and seeing a sold out Amtrak train message is frustrating, but sometimes, there are workarounds to sold out Amtrak trains. Yes, you probably could not buy a ticket for that train (at that time), but this article will give you some ideas of things you can try if you are willing to put in some extra effort.

Sold Out Amtrak Trains May Not Mean What You Think

No one likes seeing a message that prevents them from an adventure when they want, regardless of the transport provider. This trend is happening more as we return to traveling and the travel industry gets back on its feet.

Amtrak Sold Out
Amtrak Sold Out

The Half Disappointment

Sometimes, only part of the train gets sold out. In this case, you can make that trip on your desired date, but maybe not at a price or in the accommodations you want.

That is why I call it a half disappointment; you can do it, but not the way we might want.

But this option may have a possible workaround suggestion for long-distance trains.

The Full Disappointment

The complete disappointment is when you visit Amtrak’s site or app and see a sold-out message for all accommodations. If you do not have flexibility, this could be the end of your research.

Does Sold Out Mean the train will be packed the whole route?

No, there is a good chance that the train will be packed the whole route or every room will be occupied.

When you see that it is sold out, you probably believe every seat or accommodation is taken for the whole route. This assumption is fair, but that is perhaps not the case.

When Amtrak says they sold out train (or a particular accommodation), they mean somewhere between where you want to board and get off the train, a section is sold out. That section could be for tens miles or hundreds of miles. Without doing some research, you may not know.

When a section of the route sells out, Amtrak stops sales for stops of that accommodation before the sold out section, unless you are getting off before that point.

Do trains empty and fill up along the route?

Yes, it happens all the time. When looking at the app or website, Amtrak indicates how full the train is (or it did), but remember that it is for seats and not rooms. That indicator means that at some point during your journey, that train reaches the percentage of fullness it indicates.

Sold out trains still stop even if no one gets on or off

California Zephyr
The California Zephyr

At most stations, Amtrak will still stop the train even if no one is getting on or off to maintain the schedule except for receive/depart and flag stops.

Because of how routes work, Amtrak must run trains even when empty. Amtrak needs to move equipment for the next run.

A train could be sold out for part of the route and run empty till the end.

So, an Acela train could be sold out from NYP to Philadelphia but empty from Philadelphia to DC. If you want to take that train from Trenton, NJ, to DC, it will say it is sold out.

Another reason you messages for Sold Out Amtrak Trains

Amtrak may claim a train is sold out if they need to cancel it quickly—for example, a flash flood, emergency, mechanical issues that prevent a train from running, or other unforeseen reasons. This has happened to me a few times with the Hiawatha, and most of the time, it was not Amtrak’s fault.

I am unsure if this method is more straightforward for the Amtrak booking system for last-minute issues.

Booking Hacks For Sold Out Amtrak Trains

Sometimes, you can do nothing, but occasionally, there are ways to get around “sold-out trains.” I have a few ideas, but I am not saying any of these options are easy, cheap, or possible for everyone.

Amtrak Sold Out Trains
Amtrak Sold Out Trains (From Amtrak’s Website)

You may have already thought of some of these tips, but when booking and running into issues, you can get frustrated and forget them.

Here are a few ways you might get around a sold-out message.

Pick another date to increase your chances of availability. Keep in mind that prices fluctuate.

Check if alternative trains or routes are available. Sometimes, multiple trains run on a particular route, or there are different routes that you can take to reach your destination. Although it may require some adjustments to your schedule, exploring alternate routes could be worth the effort.

If you are traveling for fun, it may make sense to pick a different destination.

Keep trying to see if things open up. Sold-out trains sometimes stay sold out because people change their plans. As accommodations become available, Amtrak will make them available for you to upgrade or purchase. However, this tip might only work for last-minute trips with a last-minute opening and only sometimes cheap. 

For using the Acela example in the last section, you could take a different train from Trenton to Philadelphia and switch to the Acela there.

Advanced Booking Hacks For Sold Out Amtrak Trains

If you have some time or like a challenge, these tips may help you. The first step for all of these is to find out where the train became sold out.

How To Find Out Where The Train Got Sold Out

Boarding the Silver Star in New York
Boarding the Silver Star in New York

With a bit of digging, you can discover the sold-out point.

This task takes time but can be worth it. All you need to do is enter stops in the app or website until it no longer says sold out.

If you are traveling on a long-distance train, you can find the schedules, thus the stops on the route here.

Split The Trip Up

If the sold-out section is between Denver and Salt Lake, you could leave Chicago on the day you want, take the train to Dever, spend the night, and then go on the next train if that train has sold-out sections.

While this tip could break up your trip, it does take more time and could cost you more.

Connecting Train

If you have a connecting train, and that train is the issue, you could spend the night in the layover community if that train is free the next day.

Kankakee stations
The former Illinois Central Stations in Kankakee, IL, is now used by Amtrak passengers.

Can You Leave From A Different Station?

Check and see if you can leave from another stop.

Driving further (maybe a lot or a little) than you want may be worth your time and money. While there could be a price difference, going to a different station could get you around the sold-out section.

Sometimes, this option is cheaper, although the savings could go into the gas tank. You never know until you run the numbers.

Another Way To Get Past The Sold Section

You can see if a bus or other transportation, like regional trains, can take you to stations past the sold-out point.

If I want to travel to take the Cardinal to Philadelphia from my home station of Sturtevant on a Cubs day, I might get a sold-out message for the Hiawatha. In this case, I could take the Metra to Chicago or take a bus.

You may need to take an early regional train or bus and wait.

Advanced Booking For Sold Out Amtrak Trains

Let’s say you want Amtrak accommodation, but the app or website says they sold out from where you want. You can achieve the trip with advanced booking tricks (multi-city booking).

Amtrak Sold Out
Amtrak Sold Out

If you can find where a room opens up, you can book a coach seat until that point and then secure the room accommodation from that point on.

You will have to get off the train and walk to the sleepers.

You can do something similar if you are on a train with multiple route numbers. For example, on the Empire Builder, you may want to go to Portland, but the 27 sleepers get sold out; leaving Chicago, you could book a Seattle sleeper and change to a Portland sleeper booked later.

This option can work in reverse: book a room until after the sold-out area and then downgrade to coach class.

This tip may not be the cheapest, and do this at your own risk.

If you have a room and your friend wants to come along, but the train says sold out, you may be able to add them to your reservation. This option means they would be in your room and cost something. If you want this, you must call or go to a station.

Sold Out Amtrak Trains Wrap-Up

A sold-out Amtrak train does not mean it is a packed train for the whole route, but at least once between where you want to start and end. Sometimes, one accommodation sells out before another. A fully sold-out train is when coach and sleeper accommodations or coach and business class have reservations for every space.

If you encounter a sold-out message when booking, you have a few options, although they are not always cheap or convenient. Some of my suggestions may not work for you, but sometimes there is nothing you can do. Learning how to use the multi-city ticket option can be very helpful.

I hope you do not let a sold-out message discourage you from traveling,

Safe Travels,


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.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Steve

    We tried to get a ticket on a sold-out trip. At the last minute, we found availability due to cancelation. On the entire trip there were MANY seats open that never took on passengers (reiterate: the entire trip). Yet Amtrak charged a premium for their last tickets.
    Is there some transportation law that they have to retain a percentage of unused seats? Do they have to retain seats for walk-ons?

    1. Kev

      A few things could contribute to open seats on “sold-out train.” Many no-shows or a large group may have canceled a trip last minute. Another reason is a train that was supposed to connect with that train was late, so people could not connect and put on another train. There is also a possibility that a car was added to the train but not to the reservation system. All of which could be last-minute reasons why a train says sold out but wasn’t when you traveled. Or the train could be sold out, but it doesn’t seem like it because people are in the Sightseer lounge or cafe car instead of their seats. Amtrak does not have to retain seats for walk-ons.

  2. Brian S

    I have noticed a disruption kind of sold out recently. There was a massive snow storm that covered a large chunk of the US and on top of that, severe cold was occurring, so the Southwest Chief shut down for 3 out of 4 days and travel was disrupted in New Mexico. That caused backups, and now all trains on this route are listed as full for at least a week.

    1. Kevin Monteith

      Yeah, sady it will take a few days to week to get everything worked out.

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