Each year, my family and I travel on the City of New Orleans, the Amtrak train that runs between Chicago and New Orleans, my husband's hometown. We like the trip because of the uninterrupted time we spend together; the train leaves Chicago at 8 p.m. and arrives in New Orleans the following afternoon. We read. We play games. We do what we do on most vacations: take time to dream about our next. What we don't do, which is different from most nights at home, is bury our respective selves in technology. There is no Wi-Fi on most Amtrak trains. This doesn't seem to be a problem for most riders. At least it hasn't slowed down Amtrak's growth. My colleague Tim Harlow reported late last week that Amtrak ridership is up again.
I read the report with interest--and then a sudden burst of panic. As a travel editor and an Amtrak rider, I know that the cost of a ticket rises as the seats fill up. None of the crazy, erratic, seemingly nonsensical price shifts you see with airlines. Amtrak's is a straightforward supply-and-demand pricing structure: the more tickets they sell, the higher the prices rise. I threw down my newspaper and got online. Fortunately, we're not traveling during the busy summer months, and prices were still relatively low. But the cost of an Amtrak bedroom between the Twin Cities and Chicago was higher than I'd ever seen (fortunately, we don't need one).
Anyone thinking of booking an Amtrak trip should do two things: 1.) Read the insightful piece about the types of people who ride Amtrak these days. It ran in Sunday's New York Times Magazine and it'll give you a good sense of who may be sitting next to you. 2.) Book as soon as you know you want to ride the rails; your pocketbook will thank you.