03 April 2012

Amtrak Service and Fares - # 16 - Fares, sleeping accommodations

How Amtrak prices sleeping accommodations is similar in one respect to how it prices business class and first class: it involves a supplemental charge above the coach fare, also called the rail fare.  But beyond that, it is substantially different.  Not particularly complicated - in fact, in some ways simpler - but different.

What you learned about pricing for premium seats (business class, first class) is that that the price and inventory of the premium seat is directly tied to the availability of the corresponding inventory (or "bucket") of coach seat.  For example, for the lowest priced business class seat (JD) between Seattle and Portland to be available on a given train, a YD seat would also need to be available.  If there were only full fare (Y) coach seats available (or no coach seats available whatsoever), any available business class seats would have to be sold at the highest level: JY.

For sleeping accommodations it is simpler.  When a passenger occupies a sleeping accommodation, the underlying rail (coach) fare is always charged at the lowest possible level regardless of whether the lowest priced coach inventory is available or not.

Getting more detailed, the lowest rail fare is normally booked in the YD inventory with a fare basis usually of DOF1.  But it doesn't matter whether YD seats are available or not when any kind of sleeping accommodation is booked; Amtrak's Arrow system automatically applies the lowest rail fare and then adds on the additional accommodation charge for the room.  (If these references to YD and DOF1 don't make sense, then you did not read or don't remember chapter 12 about fares for reserved coach.)

To draw the starkest example, a train could be completely sold out of all coach seats, yet if a sleeping accommodation were booked on the same train, then the coach rail fare applied to the reservation would be at the lowest DOF1 level.

Lest you think this is too easy, what Amtrak does do with sleeping accommodations is similar to what they do with reserved coach fare inventory: they have five different levels that are yield-managed based on historic and forecasted demand.  That means that the cost of the add-on accommodation charge for the room could be at any one of five prices, depending on availability.

Let's take a look at a fare display from Santa Barbara (SBA) to Seattle (SEA) for 3 May to see the five different levels of accommodation charges for each of the four different types of rooms, as well as the coach rail fares.  Note that sleeping car accommodations charges are not seasonal.  The same rates that apply in May would apply in September, December, and so on, however the availability of the lower prices may be scarce or nonexistent in high demand periods.

Starting from the top of the display, on each horizontal line is the range of accommodation charges for each type of room.

The first line shows ES/EA/EB/EC/ED.  These are the five levels - highest to lowest - for the roomette accommodation.

The second line shows DS/DA/DB/DC/DD.  These are for the bedroom acccommodation.

The third line shows HS/HA/HB/HC/HD. These are for the accessible bedroom.

The fourth line shows FS/FA/FB/FC/FD.  These are for the family bedroom.

Here's a long side note about the codes and the names for the rooms.  Up until a few years ago, the roomette was called an economy room (E), the bedroom was called a deluxe room (D) and the accessible room was called a handicapped room (H).  The nomenclature changed, but the codes for the rooms remained the same.  The family room name remained the same, so the code starting with an "F" still makes sense.

Roomette and bedroom are terms that long predate Amtrak as names for Pullman accommodations roughly of the same type as these on Amtrak. When Amtrak introduced Superliner sleepers in the late 1970s, it used "economy bedroom" and "deluxe bedroom" to differentiate them from the roomettes and bedrooms that were still in use on the hand-me-down sleeping cars that Amtrak received at its creation from the railroads. This equipment has all been retired, so Amtrak can go back to using the original terms of roomette and bedroom since confusion is no longer possible.

OK, lets look at the hierarchy of five price levels for the roomette starting with the lowest priced level of "ED".  The application is the same for all of the four different room types.

ED - $227
EC - $295
EB - $362
EA - $430
ES - $497

Remember that the lowest available inventory for the room - in this case a roomette - is added on to the lowest rail (coach) fare, regardless if the lowest coach fare is available.

Look back at the fare display and you'll see the lowest rail (coach) fare is the DOF1 at $106.  If you booked a sleeper from Santa Barbara to Seattle, you would never pay more than $106 for the rail fare.  However the additional amount you would pay for the room, is subject to the lowest available inventory for the sleeping accommodation you desire.

Just for example then, if you wanted to travel in a roomette accommodation you would pay anywhere from $227 (ED) up to $497 (ES) on top of the lowest coach rail fare of $106.  The latter amount does not change; you would always pay the lowest coach rail fare regardless of whether the applicable coach seats are available.  (If that is confusing then just think of it this way: customers pay a handsome supplement to occupy a sleeping accommodation, so Amtrak gives them a break by always giving them the lowest coach rail fare.)

OK, let's turn our attention to the availability, because that will determine what you will actually pay.

Here's an availability display for 3 May from Santa Barbara to Seattle just for sleeping accommodations.  (Note: that the accessible bedroom accommodations HS/HA/HB/HC/HD are not visible - these can only be booked over the phone with an Amtrak call center agent or in person at an Amtrak ticket counter.)

Because you want a roomette we're looking at the availability of the E-type of inventory codes.  Remember that the hierarchy, high to low, is ES-EA-EB-EC-ED.

ED, the lowest cost accommodation add-on for the roomette at $227 shows "ED0", meaning that it's sold out.  However the next lowest inventory, the EC at $295, reads as "EC2", meaning that there are 2 available.  Higher priced inventories - EB, EA, and ES - all show even more rooms available.

We go ahead and sell one EC.  For the heck of it, since Mitt Romney (and most other Republican politicians) professes hatred toward Amtrak, we're going to put Mitt's name on the reservation.  Seems like a nice train ride couldn't make his sour disposition any worse than it already is.

Here's what the reservation looks like in Sabre, which is almost identical to how it looks in Amtrak's Arrow system:

See how it prices? It automatically applied the DOF1 rail fare of $106, plus the EC add-on for the roomette of $295 for a total of $401.

If you're with me this far, then you may also find this aside interesting.

Amtrak instantly assigns the room and car when the room is sold.  After the arrival time and date ("845P04MAY") you see "EC014 1431".  That means Mitt is in room 14 in car 1431.  Sleeping cars are always numbered starting with 30.  The train number, in this case 14, plus the car number, so he's in car 1431.  Car 1430 is closest to the diner (or in the case of the Coast Starlight, the Pacific Parlour Lounge), car 1431 would be two cars away, and 1432 would be three cars away.

Arrow automatically assigns sleepers at the time of sale, based on a goodness factor similar to how cruise lines automatically assign cabins.  Customers using Amtrak.com and travel agents using their own industry systems do not have a way to book a specific room or car.  Amtrak call center agents and ticket agents also normally just sell the room and let Arrow assign it, but they have the ability to request a specific room in the unusual instances where a customer asks.

All rooms on Amtrak will accommodate at least two people, and one of the best things about how Amtrak prices sleeping accommodations is that a second person traveling only has to pay an additional coach rail fare.  The sleeping accommodation charge remains the same, so in essence two people traveling split the cost of the sleeper add-on.  That means that two people have their meals included in the cost of the ticket even though the add-on cost for the accommodation does not change if two people are in the room.

Since Mitt Romney has clearly become great pals with Rick Santorum over the course of the entertaining Republican primary, let's look at this same example with two people, Mitt and Rick sharing.  (Just imagine how much fun they would have spending 28 hours together in a small room.)  Notice how the rail fare doubled to $212 ($106 x 2), but the accommodation charge remained the same at $295.

One more modification of this example is called for to illustrate another point.  In Chapter 12, I touched on passenger type discounts for coach rail fares.  These also apply to the underlying rail fare when passengers are occuping sleeping accommodations.

Passenger type discounts almost never apply to the actual add-ons for sleepers.  (Once in the bluest of blue moons, there will be some kind of short-term promotion that does offer a passenger type discount on sleepers, but it is very rare.)  But passenger type discounts always apply to the coach rail fare that sleeping car passengers also pay.

As of the writing of this post, Romney is 65 and Santorum is 53.  That means that Romney is entitled to Amtrak's 15% senior discount and Santorum does not - one has to be 62 to get the discount.

Here's what the same reservation looks like priced as one senior and one regular adult.

The DOF1 rail fare of $106 less 15% for Romney is $90.10, plus the full $106 for Santorum equals $196.10, plus the one-time accommodations charge of $295 for the roomette (not discounted by passenger type) produces a grand total of $491.10.

Let's look at one last example that consists of a family of four - 2 adults and 2 children (ages 2-15) - occupying the family bedroom.

Below you see a reservation from Portland, Ore. to Chicago on 13 August.  The FS (family bedroom, full undiscounted inventory level, $1255) is occupied by the Obama family.  Barack and Michelle are each paying the full adult DOF1 fare ($159 each), plus Malia and Sacha are paying the child's half fare ($79.50 each).  The total rail fare comes to $477, plus the accommodation charge of $1255, for a grand total of $1732.

A final note about pricing sleeping accommodations.

At one time Amtrak followed the policies  originally set by the railroads requiring a minimum number of railfares in order to occupy a sleeping accommodation.  Amtrak no longer does that.  In theory one person could occupy the family bedroom and pay only one coach rail fare plus the accommodation charge, but it wouldn't make a lot of sense since a roomette would be less expensive and a bedroom would offer more amenities.

Amtrak Service and Fares - navigational links
Backward to # 15 - Fares, first class (Acela Express)
Forward to # 17 - Fares, passenger type discounts

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