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Oh, Amtrak

Amtrak has many problems, but its web site is particularly frustrating because it is so close to being good. It does a great job at pulling up the train you want to take, allowing you to reserve and make changes online, and such. But then every once in awhile it fails spectacularly.

Like today, when after putting tickets in my cart for an upcoming trip to Lake Tahoe, the site asked me if I wanted to get an Amtrak Guest Rewards World Master Card, put today’s purchase on it, and get a 20,000 point bonus after spending $1,000 in 90 days.

Well of course I wanted to!

I clicked through to a Bank of America credit application, which I filled out most of until it caused Chrome to crash. But I was able to restore the browser session and get right back on track — only to be told that BofA needed to review my application. By then, my Amtrak session had expired. Other web sites might hold the trip you were booking in your cart for you, but not Amtrak. It’s not a big deal, but it’s annoying that when I finally get back to the site, like after BofA gets back to me about the credit card, I’ll have to start the booking over. And now I wish I’d never agreed to apply for the card, because I just wasted 15 minutes and came away without being able to check that to-do item off my list.

By the way, though, if you’re into Amtrak, that credit card seems like a good one to have. You get 3x points on Amtrak purchases, and 2x points on other travel purchases, plus one free companion coupon every year. Depending on the value of that coupon — they don’t make it clear if this is something you could use for a cross-country trip, for example — that could make it worth renewing at the end of the year and paying the $79 annual fee.

Oh, and by the way, AAA gives you a 10% discount on Amtrak. It’s the reason we originally became AAA members — the discount for a trip from Chicago to Oakland on the Southwest Chief and Coast Starlight was well over the annual membership fee.