Amtrak’s AutoTrain Economics – An Update

Several years ago I wrote an article comparing the costs of a typical road trip up the east coast from Central Florida to NYC versus taking the Amtrak AutoTrain back from Virginia to Florida.  The link to that article is here.  Overall the economics are pretty much the same from the drive versus AutoTrain standpoint but there have been some changes since the article was written.  The cost of taking the AutoTrain has gone up a little bit and the cost of gas has gone down a little bit (about 20 cents a gallon depending on where you live).  I plan on taking the AutoTrain up to the Washington DC area in a few weeks and thought I’d compare the costs.  The reason for taking the train isn’t all focused on economics –  my sinuses could use a break from the up and down of flying.

So here is an update comparing the cost of taking a flight to DC and renting a car versus taking the AutoTrain up and back and not having to rent a car. 

The total cost to take the AutoTrain roundtrip is $635.  Broken down this is the roundtrip cost of a coach seat (about $268 using a AAA 10% discount rate) and the  cost of transporting the car ($367).  The coach seat is just that.  It is not a compartment.  But it is equivalent to a business class seat on a plane with outlets to plug in cell phones, laptops, etc.  Dinner and a continental breakfast are included.  What you sacrifice here is time.  Even so, I find I can get quite a bit of writing done on the train that I can’t get done sitting in the cramped quarters of an airplane seat.  I also have to take into account that the mileage to the Amtrak AutoTrain Station in Sanford, Florida from my house is less than that going to the Orlando International Airport.

So what’s the cost to fly and drive to DC from Orlando.  I could take into account that I don’t have to leave the day before the flight would leave and arrive on a different day but there are no extra hotel days involved so hotel costs are the same.  Here we are just comparing overall flight, meal, car rental and airport parking costs.

  • Flight roundtrip to Reagan National Airport – $247 on USAir.  That is the cheapest flight that will accommodate my business schedule and closest to where I’m staying in Virginia (at least according to Kayak).
  • Checked Bag Fee: $25.  The AutoTrain doesn’t charge for checked bags since your bags are in the trunk of your car.  You can bring a carryon for the overnight.
  • Rental Car Costs:  $382 including tax using Avis.  This is for an equivalent size car to mine and doesn’t include the additional gas charges but I’m also assuming I will have to fill up my car while in the DC area. 
  • Airport Parking:  $49.
  • Food at Airport: $15.  Since flights don’t offer any food this cost has to be factored in.

Total: $718

A difference of about $83 more for the flight and car rental.  That may not sound like a lot to some people but I also know that when I go to this particular trade show I end up having to ship stuff back home because I can’t take it back with me on the plane.  That can add up to significant shipping costs that I won’t have to incur if I just stow the stuff in the trunk of my car on the way back.

Just something to think about if you want to take the AutoTrain on your own and think of it as too expensive.

Priscilla (one have of the Travel2some)



2 thoughts on “Amtrak’s AutoTrain Economics – An Update

  1. Alana Mautone

    With the increases in gas prices since October, I wonder how the air vs. autotrain comparison would work now. The one big disadvantage of the Auto Train is having to sleep in those seats – not fun for someone with a bad back. Yet, I will probably use the Auto Train for my next trip to Florida – perhaps next year.

  2. travel2some

    Yes, the equation keeps fluctuating with the gas prices and the seasons (since the AutoTrain is more expensive going south in the winter than going north). I always bring an extra pillow or blanket to use as a bolster for the middle of my back and I always bring ear plugs to shut out the noise of the doors rattling or people moving around. Even business class seats on airplanes aren’t all that comfortable for sleeping if you have a bad back. Of course, I’m a very sound sleeper so I can pretty much sleep anywhere.

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