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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Amtrak Roundtrip from Grand Rapids (GRR), Michigan to Chicago (CHI)

December 2014, Friday - Saturday

We have ridden the Amtrak along this route several times. Two previous reviews can be found at the following links: January 2014 and January 2012.

Friday morning departure from Grand Rapids, Michigan on Pere Marquette #371

Our departure from Grand Rapids was uneventful other than the trouble we had getting to the train station. Fortunately, we had left for the train station early. I did not research the GRR train station before our trip since we have been to it several times. The station address was not printed on our boarding passes, and there was no information on the website during the reservation process that said that the train station had moved to 440 Century Avenue SW. 

When we got off the expressway at the Wealthy exit, the Amtrak sign still pointed toward the old station location on the corner of Wealthy and Market. We were surprised to see that the parking lot was empty when we arrived there. We walked up to the building and found a paper taped on the window with the new address on Century Avenue. It was a bit of a trick to get to the new station even though it was only a mile away because we could not turn right onto Century Avenue from Wealthy Street.

When we finally arrived at the Vernon J. Ehlers Station on Century Avenue, we parked the car, entered the building, and boarded the train less than five minutes later. There is plenty of parking at this station, and a bit more seating than at the old station. We found out later that this new station had opened about six weeks before our trip. I was surprised that the restroom facilities only consisted of one single stall for Women and one for Men.

The ride to Chicago took a little over four hours. We left on time and arrived about 10 to 15 minutes late because we got delayed slightly when we had to stop for the water bridge just south of Union Station.

Saturday evening departure from Chicago Union Station on Pere Marquette #370

Although the waiting area by our boarding gate in Union Station was not as full as I have seen it for some of our return trips, it was still somewhat unorganized. A roped line led up to the door where we would enter the track; however, there were no signs or instructions to inform passengers, so some passengers entered the line and some walked right up the center after the roped line became full. Pre-boarding was called for senior citizens, military personnel, and priority ticket holders. After that, everyone else boarded together.

We did not have any trouble finding three seats together, and it did not appear as though anyone else did either. The train was not as full as it usually is when we have taken it in January. Our return trip was uneventful, and we arrived in Grand Rapids a few minutes early.

Ticket prices

Every time we have been on the Amtrak, we left GRR on Friday morning, and returned from CHI Saturday evening. Our ticket cost was reasonable even though we booked at the last minute because we redeemed points for three one-way tickets from GRR, and then purchased the return trip, which was partially covered with a credit we had from Amtrak. Every time we have traveled, the cost of the return trip from CHI has always cost less than the trip from GRR.

We did not initially have enough points to redeem for three tickets, so I transferred points over from one of my membership programs. The best value I found was to transfer 5,000 American Express membership reward points to Starwood, and then transfer the 5,000 points to Amtrak. There was no charge from any of the programs to do this.

Amtrak discounts can be found on the Amtrak page for AAA, students, senior citizens, hot deals, and smart fares. Discounts are often posted on Facebook by Amtrak and RailServe.