1. Look for Amtrak's Promotional Deals
Amtrak is the U.S. government-owned passenger rail service. It offers those age 62 or older a 15 percent discount on most train trips (on those operated by Amtrak/VIA Rail Canada, passengers 60 and over receive a 10 percent discount). Although you can't combine discounts and deals, you should still visit the "Deals" tab on the Amtrak website, says spokesperson Marc Magliari. "That should be the first stop for anyone trying to save money," he advises. Scan "Latest Promotions" for offers that knock off more than 15 percent. There are typically promotions available that reduce regular fares by as much as 20 to 30 percent when you purchase tickets by a certain date.
2. Shop for Last-Minute SmartFares
You'll also see a "SmartFares" link under the "Deals" tab on the Amtrak website. "These are short-term, last-minute kinds of deals," says Magliari. If you book your tickets from a week to three weeks in advance online between Tuesday and Friday, you can save 25 percent on select routes. There are some restrictions (for instance, you can't travel on a Friday or a Sunday), and SmartFares routes change each week, so you'll want to check for deals every Tuesday and have a flexible travel schedule. In Canada, check out VIA Rail Canada's limited-time Express Deals, topping out at 75 percent off regular fares.
3. Consider an Amtrak Vacations Package
Amtrak Vacations offers a variety of Rail Journey and Rail Getaway packages, which, unlike SmartFares, are available year-round and include more than just train fare. Plus, you can get early-booking discounts of up to $600 per person.
The 10-day West Coast Spectacular by Rail, starting at $1,859 per person, includes everything from dinner in Seattle's iconic Space Needle to a tour of California wine country to a guided glimpse at the stars on Hollywood Boulevard. It also includes eight nights in hotels, numerous meals and tickets to several attractions. Other Rail Journey itineraries take you from Washington, D.C., to St. Augustine, Fla., say, or through eastern Canada or the national parks of the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada.
Rail Getaways packages focus on one city. A four-day, three-night trip to New York starts at $859 per person and includes tickets to a Broadway show, three nights of accommodations, and other perks; a similar three-night, two-day visit to Denver starts at $285 per person.