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

Sold Out Amtrak Trains: What That Means

Are you trying to book an Amtrak train trip but running into the problem of seeing a message saying sold out Amtrak trains?

A sold-out message does not always imply what you think. Yes, you cannot buy a ticket for that train (at that time), but sometimes there is a workaround for this hiccup. On the other hand, sometimes it could mean the end of that travel idea.

This article will teach you what sold out can mean and what options you may have.

Sold Out Amtrak Trains May Not Mean What You Think

No one likes seeing a message that prevents them from adventure, 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 (photo from the Amtrak App)

The Half Disappointment

Sometimes, only part of the train gets sold out, so you can make that trip on the date you want but 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. (Below, I have a workaround suggestion.)

The Full Disappointment

The complete disappointment is when you visit Amtrak’s site or app and see a sold-out message for the coach class and rooms.

What Does Sold Out Mean?

If you see that message, you probably believe every seat or accommodation is gone on that train for the whole route. This assumption is fair, but the train is probably not sold out for the entire trip, just part of the trip.

When Amtrak says they sold out train (or accommodation), they mean they sold out a section of the route between where you want to start and where you want to end your journey. The sold-out area could be tens or hundreds of miles. Without doing a little research, you may not know.

When a section of the route sells out, Amtrak stops sales for stops before that point because there are no rooms or seats for those people. As the accommodations become available, Amtrak will offer those to passengers.

While not always likely, there are chances when trains can sell out from start to end; I saw that a few times on the Hiawatha when the Cubs played the Brewers in Milwaukee.

Do Trains Empty & Sell Out Along The Route?

Yes, it happens all the time. When looking at the app or website, Amtrak indicates how full the train is, but remember that it is for coach seating. That indicator means that at some point during your journey, that train reaches the percentage of fullness they indicate.

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.

This practice does not happen at flag stops, where trains only stop if someone has reservations at that stop.

Because of how routes work, Amtrak must run trains even when empty. Amtrak needs to move equipment for the next run. To do that, they run a train regardless of how full it is so it is ready for the next run. An empty train on one run can lead to equipment being in the right place for a packed next run.

For example, the Hiawatha route runs 14 times with two trainsets. If Amtrak were to cancel a train because no one was on it, they could not run the next train because a train set is in the wrong spot.

Another Reason For Seeing Sold Out Amtrak Trains

Amtrak may say a train is sold-out if they need to cancel a train quickly—for example, a flash flood, emergency, or unforeseen reason. I saw Amtrak do this a few times.

I am unsure if this is easier for their booking system or what, but it does happen.

Quick 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 workaround 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 thought of some of these tips already, but when booking and running into issues, you can get frustrated and forget these tips.

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

  • Pick a different date
  • See if there is another route that can work.
    • Sometimes there are different routes you can take.
    • You may need to adjust your schedule for this, but it could be worth it.
  • 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 do not always stay sold out. People change plans, so as accommodations become available, Amtrak will make them available for you to buy.
    • This tip does not work for last-minute trips.

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.

Mom and dad on Amtrak
My mom and dad riding Amtrak’s coach class aboard the California Zephyr

How To Find Out Where The Train Got Sold Out

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 wanted, take the train to Dever, spend the night, and then go on the next train if that train does have sold-out sections.

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

If You Have A 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.

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 Out Section

Amtrak Sold Out
Amtrak Sold Out

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 down.

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 that spot. You can achieve the trip with advanced booking tricks (multi-city booking).

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,


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Kev has been traveling with Amtrak since 2012, celebrating his tenth year this year. Over those years, he has been on over 700 trains covering over 200,000 miles of rail. Kev enjoys helping others achieve their travel dreams by assisting them with support and information. Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

This Post Has 2 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.

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