Amtrak's "Night Owl" Fares: Tickets Starting at $5?
The early bird gets the worm...or the train. 🚆
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Substack’s analytics tell me that 40 percent of my subscribers are based in New York or D.C./Maryland/Virginia, so this news should be exciting to ya’ll.
Anyone who’s taken Amtrak’s Northeast Regional route between D.C. and New York knows how expensive tickets can be. It’s not unheard of to pay $180 for a ticket on the Northeast Regional during peak hours. And, in some cases, taking the train can be as expensive as flying.
But taking the late-night or early-morning train can save you a lot of money. That’s because Amtrak just launched a “Night Owl” fare, where trips between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. (on select trains) can cost as low as $5 one-way.
The ultra-low-fares are along the Northeast Corridor route between Washington-Union Station and New York only for trips departing between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.
It’s a little surprising that Amtrak isn’t including destinations north of New York, including the NEC terminus of Boston, in the Night Owl fare. Unsurprisingly, the Night Owl fares only include coach-class tickets, so the often-pricey Acela (an all-business-and-first-class train) isn’t included.
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What’s clear is that Amtrak seems to be targeting travelers who might otherwise consider flying between Northeast Corridor destinations, particularly those traveling around 5 a.m. or 7 p.m. hours who want to get to work or home quickly.
Three groups of people should find the Night Owl fares intriguing: travelers who want to save money, travelers hoping to avoid delays, or travelers looking for another option to get to the airport. Let’s take a look at each.
I mentioned above how expensive Amtrak tickets can be, especially for last-minute trips. Now, there are some excellent fares if you don’t mind traveling late at night or early in the morning.
Below are two Amtrak Northeast Regional coach tickets from New York to Washington for the same evening: one departs at 6:25 p.m., while the other leaves at 7:40 p.m.
The 6:25 p.m. ticket will cost you $62 one-way. You’ll pay more with this ticket as it’s not covered under the Night Owl fares, which begin at 7 p.m.
But if you don’t mind leaving an hour and fifteen minutes later — you can get a ticket on the same route for just $20 under the Night Owl fare — a $42 savings.
Amtrak says other Night Owl sample fares include Philadelphia to Baltimore/BWI ($5), New York City to Wilmington ($10), and Washington to Newark/EWR ($15).
The Night Owl fares may prove popular with travelers often burned by airline delays, particularly on late-night flights. Thus, the 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. time can be seen as a strategic move by Amtrak to target NEC travelers who might otherwise fly.
The Northeast Corridor is home to some of the U.S.’s busiest airports. But when it comes to flights departing during off-peak hours, things get a little complicated. I’ll use Newark Liberty Airport — a stop on the Northeast Corridor and a major travel hub — as an example.
EWR had one of the best on-time departures for early morning flights on the Northeast Corridor in December, according to the Air Travel Consumer Report, a monthly report compiled by the Department of Transportation's Office of Aviation Consumer Protection.
EWR’s on-time departures in December remained steady through mid-morning before seeing a decrease in the afternoon, which is on par with other airports along the NEC. But after 7 p.m., EWR’s on-time rate dropped to 54% — and travelers flying between 10 p.m. and 10:59 p.m. could expect significant delays, as EWR’s on-time departure rate fell to a dismal 27.5%. Late-night delays, of course, aren’t specific to Newark — as the day goes on, more flights are delayed due to various factors such as staffing and weather.
Still, travelers who don’t want to be bothered with late-night flight delays may instead choose Amtrak, particularly if they’re traveling to a city along the Northeast Corridor.
Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor lines have historically performed the best out of its vast network: 80% of Northeast Regional trains were on-time during December. (However, Amtrak’s report doesn’t extrapolate the departure times like the DOT airlines report.)
More options for commuter rail and intercity bus travelers
Finally, travelers who take commuter trains or intercity buses to and from the airport may find these cheap tickets the most useful.
Many travelers utilize public transit, commuter rails, or intercity buses to connect to an airport. For instance, D.C. travelers can hop on the MARC train from Washington-Union Station to Baltimore’s BWI Airport, while New Yorkers can connect to Newark via the New Jersey Transit.
The $5 tickets, the cheapest, are going to be found on routes like D.C.-Baltimore/BWI and New York-Newark/EWR, which makes a lot of sense if you’re connecting to or from the airport in either city and want a (usually) non-stop option.
The Final Point
This is a pretty cool initiative, and you can’t beat tickets as low as $5. Even the most expensive tickets under the Night Owl fare — $20 one-way — are for some of the most traveled (and costly) routes on the Northeast Corridor.
This fare will not work for everyone — some of the cheapest tickets depart as early as 3:40 a.m. But it might be worth setting the alarm to save money on your Amtrak tickets.
(Featured image by Prashanth Paravastu on Unsplash)
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