Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Select Plus

This past week I achieved a status I never expected to reach: Select Plus with Amtrak.

What does this signify? For one thing, it means I've ridden the train a lot this year.

Here's how it works. For every dollar you spend on Amtrak travel you earn one Tier Qualifying Point (TQP). If you spend as much as $5000 on train tickets in a calendar year you will reach Select status for the following year. (Note: this is good only for yourself; money spent buying tickets for others does not accrue TQPs for you.)

As a consultant and community networker who prefers traveling by rail, I've been able to reach Select status a number of times. In addition to earning some coupons that way (good for upgrades, passes to first class lounges, and discounts on tickets) people who have Select status get a 25% bonus on all train travel expenditures. Thus, for every $400 spent on Amtrak travel, I earn 500 TQPs as a Select member.

To get to Select Plus status, however, you have to earn 10,000 TQPs in a calendar year, which seemed beyond the pale. I was able to grab the brass ring this time only by virtue of taking advantage of a relatively new credit card option.

Let me explain. For many years Amtrak has offered a credit card that earns train miles—much as other credit cards earn airline miles. To be clear, "train miles" are not TQPs. Train miles are merely "points" and can be traded in for tickets or upgrades, but that's a separate reckoning from TQPs. However, about three years ago Amtrak switched from Chase to Bank of America as the bank through which their credit card was offered and they created a new option: you could either get a no-fee credit card where every dollar run through it earned a point, or, for a $79 annual fee, you could get three points for every dollar spent on train travel, plus 1000 TQPs for every $5000 you ran through the card.

I paid the $79, and that was the key to reaching Select Plus.

Why is that big deal? Here are the highlights. During 2018 I'll get to enjoy:

• four one-class upgrades (from coach to business class)
• unlimited access to first class lounges
• access to United Club lounges at major airports
• 50% point bonus on Amtrak travel

While all of that is helpful, the thing I have my eye on most is access to first class lounges. As a mere Select traveler I got a couple passes a year, now I'll get it in every major city where I board or change trains—Chicago, Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Portland, Los Angeles, St Paul, New Orleans, Raleigh, and St Louis.

That means comfortable seats, wi-fi access, complimentary beverages, and free bag storage—all very appreciated by the weary traveler.

Further, it's relevant that I earn regular points at an accelerated rate. I've been stockpiling these against the day when Susan retires as church lady for St Paul's Episcopal in Duluth and she can occasionally travel with me. If I use my points for sleeper car accommodations she can ride with me in a roomette for no additional charge. Yippee! That's worth saving for.

All in all, it has been definitely worth the $79 per year.

P.S. My remaining train fantasy is to own my own private train car, replete with kitchen, bar/lounge, desk, and sleeping compartment. Hah! I should live so long.

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