09 December 2011

Amtrak Service and Fares - # 13 - Fares, business class (non-Acela Express)

In Chapter 10, I set forth some basic principles that apply to Amtrak fares.

Here are the ones that apply as we look at pricing for business class service on Amtrak.

  • Each person pays a rail fare which entitles him or her to a coach seat 
  • For service higher than coach (business class, first class on Acela Express, sleeping accommodations) an accommodation charge is added on top of the rail fare 
  • Accommodation charges for upgraded seats (business class, first class on Acela Express) are charged per person and therefore per seat
  • Rail fares can be discounted by passenger type (child, senior, and others)
  • Accommodation charges are almost never discounted by passenger type

Amtrak offers business class service on many though not all short-distance corridor trains.  The features vary from train to train, but they can include (though not always) larger seats or seats with more pitch (space) between them, and amenities including snacks or beverages, and newspapers.  On the Cascades service in the Pacific Northwest seats are configured on a 2-and-1 basis instead instead of 2-and-2.  Because reserved business class service is in a separate car and requires payment of an additional charge, it often can mean the difference between a crowded and sometimes noisy train and a less crowded, quieter experience.

Business class is mostly offered on trains where coach service is reserved, but in Amtrak's second busiest market, the Pacific Surfliner in southern California, it is sold on trains where the coach service is unreserved.  We'll look at how pricing works in both instances.

Business class fares on trains where coach is sold as unreserved

In Chapter 11, you saw how the coach rail fare for unreserved travel typically is one of two levels:
- a fare that applies most dates, except on blackouts over peak holiday periods
- a higher fare that applies during those blackouts

The accommodation charge for business class is simply added to the rail fare that would apply for unreserved coach on the same train.

Using the example of travel from San Diego (SAN) to Los Angeles (LAX) on the 9th of January, let's begin with a fare display.

At the top of the display under "One way accommodation charge" appears "J"  at $15.00.  "J" represents business class service.  So this means that in addition to the coach rail fare, a passenger would pay an additional $15 one-way for a business class seat.

Below that, you see coach rail fares that you saw in Chapter 11 about pricing for unreserved coach travel.  The UOB1 for $36 with some blackout dates, and the UOF1 for $45 without any blackout dates.  Because 9 January is not a blackout date, the total fare for business class travel one way would be $51: $36 for the rail fare from SAN to LAX, plus $15 for the business class accommodation.

Here's how the business class availability would look for this trip requesting trains with an afternoon departure:

JU is the inventory code used for business class on trains in which coach is sold on an unreserved basis (U).  On all of the trains above, business class is available.  JU8 means that at 8 or more seats are available to sell.  (Note that even on trains where coach travel is sold as unreserved, business class is always sold on a reserved basis.  Your seat is not preassigned, but you are guaranteed a seat.  Once the seats are sold out, the inventory will show 0, whereas the U inventory for unreserved coach will always show 8, because Amtrak does not track the number of seats sold.)

So for one person traveling one JU seat is sold.  Here's what a reservation on train 785 (the departure at 4:05 p.m.) would look like for Joseph Test:

Notice how in the fare portion it shows the breakdown as "UOB1 RAIL FARE 36.00 ACCOM 15.00" for a total of $51.00.

When I worked for Amtrak training travel agents how to book Amtrak, one of the first questions I would get is whether they also needed to sell coach seats when booking business class or sleeping accommodations.  Universally the answer is "no".  Amtrak's system automatically prices in the coach fare, also called the rail fare.

In physical terms, think of it like this.  Passengers booked in business class or sleeping accommodations do not also get a seat in coach.  Paying the accommodation charge earns them an upgraded seat or sleeping accommodation, but does not entitle them to also occupy a coach seat.

Here's how this very same thing looks on the consumer side at Amtrak.com:

Business class fares on trains where coach is sold as reserved

On trains where coach service is sold on a reserved basis (inventory codes Y/YA/YB/YD), business class fares follow the same ladder from high to low, and the availability of business class inventories is chained to the corresponding coach inventories.

We'll use an example from Portland, Ore. to Seattle on 15 December.

Let's first look at the fare display.

J at the top of the display is the additional accommodation charge one way for business class travel: $16.  It is added to any one of the coach fares below, depending on the availability of coach inventory.

It's pretty simple, really.  In Chapter 12, you learned how reserved coach has four different levels, with the lowest priced being sold in the YD inventory, and then rising up the ladder to YB and YA and finally Y, the full-fare level.

Business class service on reserved trains is also sold in four different levels, JD (the lowest), followed by JB, then JA, and finally JY for the full-fare.  The inventory of each of the four levels of business class is directly linked to its corresponding coach inventory.  For JD to be available, YD must be available, for JB to be available, YB must be available, and so on.  (The only exception to this would be JY.  If all of the full fare coach seats -Y- were sold out, but business class were still available, you would see JY as being available.)

Now take a look at a 15 December Portland-Seattle availability display for coach travel followed by availability for business class.

Coach availability - Portland to Seattle, 15 December
Business class availability - Portland to Seattle, 15 December

Look at line 1 (train 500 at 8:30 a.m.) on the upper (coach) availability.  The lowest coach inventory available is YB, because the YD inventory is sold out.  Now look at line 1 on the bottom (business class) availability; the JB inventory is available.

Glance back up at the fare display and you see that the fare for the YB inventory is the BOF1 at $39.  Add the $16 accommodation charge for business class to that and the total price should be $55, right?

Here's how it would look as a reservation for Michelle Test:

And the same thing as a consumer would see it at Amtrak.com:

Now if booked instead in JA inventory on the 12:15 pm train, the price would be $60 ($44 + $16) or in JY inventory on the 2:50 p.m. train it would be $68 ($52 + $16).

Last of all, let's consider passenger type discounts and business class.  As a rule, passenger type discounts never apply to the accommodations charges for upgraded service such as business class or sleeping accommodations.  In fact, I have only one recollection of such a discount over the years, and to my knowledge none are in effect at this time.  But the same discounts that would apply for coach travel, can be applied to the underlying coach rail fare when traveling in business class.

For consistency's sake, let's imagine two people traveling on the same train between Portland and Seattle.

Two regular adults would pay a total of $110 ($55 x 2) as below for Rebecca and Michael Test.

Now let's imagine that both passengers are 62 or older (seniors), and thus entitled to the 15% senior discount on the coach rail fare.  Rail fare of $78 less 15% = $66.30, but the accommodation charge of $32 ($16 per person) remains the same, because it is not subject to a passenger type discount.  The total price is $98.30, as you see below.

Now imagine that Rebecca Test is a senior and Michael Test is a child.  The $39 fare is discounted by 15% ($33.15) for Rebecca, and 50% ($19.50) for Michael for a total rail fare of $52.65, but the $32 in accommodation charges is, of course, the same.  The total price should be $84.65.

Below you see the same as above, from the perspective of Amtrak.com:

Amtrak pricing is actually quite sensible.  Is it making sense to you?

In our next chapter - a short one - we'll look at business class pricing on Acela Express.

Amtrak Service and Fares - navigational links
Backward to # 12 - Fares, reserved coach
Forward to # 14 - Fares, business class (Acela Express)

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