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Business travelers who live in the Northeast recognize the convenience of Amtrak Acela service between Boston and New York, as well as between New York and Washington, D.C.

The train may not always be the cheapest option. However, it has the advantage of dropping you right in the center of each city along the Acela line.

For New York City specifically, popping up at Penn Station versus LaGuardia Airport (LGA), John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) or Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) can save you hours you would otherwise spend stuck in traffic and airport security lines at certain times of the day.

EDWARD PIZZARELLO/THE POINTS GUY

The Acela trains are more comfortable than the slower Metroliner trains that roam up and down the Northeast. They also have benefits like faster, more reliable Wi-Fi.

In addition, the Acela trains have offered a first-class car for as long as I can recall. As a business traveler who has taken Amtrak countless times to get between New York and Washington, D.C., I’ve often wondered if an upgrade to first class was worth the price. However, the price difference between a standard Acela seat (referred to as business class) and a first-class seat has always been well more than I was willing to spend.

Fortuitously, on a recent trip, the price spread between the two classes of service was shorter than I can recall seeing in the past. That was enough incentive for me to try the upgrade to Acela’s first class, and I booked two train trips for two days worth of meetings. One was from Boston to New York’s beautiful new Moynihan Hall at Penn Station. The second was from Penn Station to Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, after a stop in New York.

The fare was an extra $70 to upgrade to first class departing Boston and roughly $90 to upgrade from Penn Station to Washington, D.C. It was truly a tale of two very different experiences.

Boston to New York in Amtrak Acela first class

EDWARD PIZZARELLO/THE POINTS GUY

Acela trains depart from South Station in downtown Boston, just a short walk from Faneuil Hall. Some Acela trains also stop at Back Bay Station, though the Amtrak website does not list a station lounge there.

Amtrak includes access to its station lounges with Acela first-class tickets. You can also gain access if you hold Amtrak Guest Rewards Select Plus or Select Executive elite status. Or, alternatively, Amtrak also sells daily access passes to the lounges. Access at Boston’s South Station is $35 per passenger per day and at Moynihan Hall, the fee is $50. Details for all of the lounges are on Amtrak’s website.

Upon arrival at South Station, I walked around for a few minutes before seeing a small waiting area for Amtrak customers. Pretty much every seat in the cramped room was full.

EDWARD PIZZARELLO/THE POINTS GUY

To the left of the seating area I found a set of glass doors that led to a staircase. A sign on the door indicated the station lounge was up the flight of stairs. After pressing the doorbell and speaking with an Amtrak employee, I was buzzed in and proceeded upstairs to the lounge.

An Amtrak employee quickly checked me in and pointed out a small, self-service snack area. The employee also noted that there was a slightly larger menu of hot drinks that the club staff could prepare for me upon request. The offerings in the club were quite limited, though.

There was seating for a few dozen people in the club that also shared space with a satellite police station. Even though the space showed some age, there were actually a fair number of electrical outlets. The lounge also had dedicated bathrooms. In short, it was a quiet place to wait with a free bag of peanut M&Ms.

Once aboard the train, I got my first look at first class. It had been about three years since I’d ridden Acela, but the first-class seat looked very familiar.

I walked over to check out the adjacent business-class car. The seats and spacing appeared to be exactly the same, with only a slight color difference from the first class section.

That meant so far I had paid $70 extra for a seat and a bag of M&Ms. I was clearly not winning. However, I still had the meal service to bail me out.

An Amtrak attendant gave me a mini bottle of Fiji water. Things were starting to look up. The attendant then handed me a menu and asked if I wanted a drink (I politely declined).

The attendant returned shortly after we departed Boston to ask for my lunch choice. Something told me to avoid the souffle, and the lamb didn’t seem like something Amtrak was going to have a ton of success with. I asked if it was possible to get both the buffalo chicken salad and the cheese and fruit plate — but I was informed I could only have one choice.

The salad was, in a word, bad. The chicken was still partially frozen or very overcooked (or both). The carb lover in me thought I could find solace in the accompanying chocolate chip cookie. As it turned out, the cookie was lemon blueberry flavor. We’ll dub it “interesting.”

Thankfully, a short while later the attendant brought me a cheese and fruit plate as a replacement. I enjoyed the cheese and fruit, but passed on the second lemon blueberry cookie.

(I should note here that I normally don’t pay that much attention to the food on board airplanes or trains. However, since the rest of the upgraded experience was of questionable value, it seemed appropriate to offer a bit of detail on the quality and value of the…



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A tale of 2 Amtrak upgrades: Underwhelming food, but impressive NYC lounge

2022-11-24 19:00:39

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