Weekend in Chicago: Getting there

8

Mrs. Miler, Tyler Miler, and I visited Chicago last weekend.  I don’t usually write trip reports, but I learned a few cool things that I want to share.  To keep it light, I’ll break up the trip report into four parts: 1) getting there; 2) lodging; 3) eating; and 4) stuff to do.

Chicago Photos
This photo of Chicago is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Amtrak

Amtrak runs the Wolverine line which travels between Michigan and Chicago.  The Amtrak station is conveniently close to my house, so it’s a great option.  Driving would be faster, but I really don’t enjoy navigating Chicago’s streets or paying steep parking rates.

Prior to our trip, I came close to buying Amtrak tickets for the three of us for $100 each, round trip.  Then I remembered that Amtrak is an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner.  So, I investigated the Amtrak Guest Rewards program.  I found that the Wolverine line was considered a “special route” and would cost only 1,000 points each way.

With that information in hand, I transferred 6000 points from Ultimate Rewards to Amtrak.  The transfer was free and instantaneous.  I then used the points online to buy the tickets we wanted.  It was all completely painless.  Even, better, I saved $300 by spending 6,000 points!  That’s a redemption rate of 5 cents per point.  I’ll take it!

Special Routes

In case you’re interested, here are the “special” routes:

Blue Water®, Wolverine®, Cascades®, Pacific Surfliner®, Capitol Corridor®, San Joaquin®, Hiawatha®, Downeaster®, The Lincoln Service®, Illini Service®, The Carl Sandburg®, Missouri River Runner, The Illinois Zephyr®, The Saluki®, The Hoosier State®, The Pere Marquette®, The Piedmont®, and The Heartland Flyer®.

While the Wolverine line is fine, its worth mentioning that I’ve ridden the Cascades line in the past from Seattle to Vancouver.  That was awesome!  It runs along the ocean much of the way, and the conductor even pointed out bald eagles a few times.

Devaluation

Coincidentally, the same day that we rode the train to Chicago, I received an email from Amtrak Guest Rewards with an update about their program.  As of April 1, point requirements are going up:

Click learn more to view adjusted redemption items.

Wow, that’s a shame!  I had just discovered the amazing value here and it was already being devalued!  Actually, it’s not that bad.  Even with the cost of the special routes increasing by 50%, they still deliver 3.33 cents per point value when compared to $100 round trip tickets.

However, if you want to take advantage of the current prices, you can book as much as 11 months out.  So, book now before the rates change!

Other Cheap Travel Options

For completeness, here are a few other options we could have used to get there cheaply:

  • MegaBus: $87 per person, round trip
  • American Airlines via British Airways Miles: If low level awards were available, we could have spent 9,000 British Airways miles (Avios) per person for round trip flights.
  • Spirit Airlines: $88 per person, round trip.


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