Amtrak takes a page from airlines, raises luggage fees

Amtrak is raising its luggage fees on Sept. 10, the national rail carrier disclosed on its website today.

The move will allow it to earn more revenues from passengers through so-called “ancillary” fees, which have allowed domestic airlines to carve out a sizable profit in past years.

Among the changes: reducing the number of checked bags included in a fare, from a maximum of three to two; upping the per-bag fee from $10 to $20; tightening its definition of oversized luggage; and several minor policy revisions that could translate into more revenue for Amtrak.

According to its websiteChecked Baggage Policy Effective Sept10 2012 PSN 0812-119 and to an internal memo sent to Amtrak employees today (PDF), here are the new policies:

Currently: Each passenger can check up to 6 bags – 3 free of charge and 3 for $10 per bag.

New: Each passenger can check up to 4 bags – 2 free of charge and 2 for $20 each.

Currently: Each bag not to exceed 50 lbs. (23 kg), 36″ x 36″ x 36″ (900 x 900 x 900 millimeters).

New: Each bag in checked baggage is limited to a size of 75 linear inches (length + width + height). Oversize baggage (76 – 100 linear inches) is accepted for $20.00/bag.

Currently: Special item rates accepted for $5, and can include tandem bikes and kayaks.

New: Special items will cost $10. Tandem bicycles and kayaks are no longer accepted.

Also new: Luggage must be checked 45 minutes prior to scheduled train departure.
Rates for storage, parcel check will increase to $4 ($5.50 at New York Penn Station) per bag for each 24 hour period.

Each passenger will still be able to carry on a total of two bags, each not to exceed 50 lbs. and 28 x 22 x 14 inches, according to Amtrak.

The changes have met with a positive reception within Amtrak, where insiders say they now more closely resemble Southwest’s policies, but are still sufficiently different from the legacy carriers, which charge passengers for the first checked bag.

“The fact that Amtrak offers the ability to take up to two carry-ons plus a personal item like a backpack, laptop or briefcase, and check two bags — all for free — means that we are a leader in the travel industry,” one Amtrak insider told me. “You can check two more bags, up to four, for only $20 each. While not all stations offer checked baggage, including most Northeast Corridor trains, the carry-on policy is still very generous and really puts us in a class of our own within the travel industry.”

I asked an Amtrak spokesman about the changes. Here’s what he had to say:

Given our ridership growth, there is not sufficient space to accommodate all the checked baggage some of our passengers are attempting to bring aboard on many of our overnight routes.

Still, our free checked baggage allowance is higher than many other carriers, with Amtrak allowing two bags per person (adult or child), plus carry-ons. Our charges for exceeding the free checked bag allowance also compare favorably with other carriers.

Amtrak denies the move was made to raise ancillary revenues and the spokesman points out that the PDF memo I linked to in this post was circulated to all stations.

What do you think of these changes?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Don Nadeau

    Note that Amtrak does not handle checked luggage at most of its stations. Do not show up at these with more than two carry ons, within the 50# limit.

  • Dale Renk

    For us Amtrak is a good alternative to the tsa detour at the airports. Two carry ons each is more than enough for us.

  • TexanPatriot1

    TSA has been operating VIPR teams at some Amtrak stations. So no relief here.

  • Edward Boston

    Just another reason to forgo Amtrak. It may be different on the east side of the country, but on the west side, Amtrak is the slowest and most expensive way to travel. The bus can go from LA to SF faster than Amtrak and I can buy two round trip tickets on an airline for the price of one round trip on Amtrak. And they wonder why people aren’t riding the train much?

  • Edward Boston

    I have heard about that. I have also heard about the management at several of the larger stations chasing the VIPR teams off the property so kudos to them for standing up to the TSA.

  • BillCCC

    I voted yes but so what. Most of the charges seem reasonable in comparison to other modes of transportation.

  • andrelot

    I think both links in the text refer to the same file.

  • Chris Johnson

    I’ve never checked a bag when riding Amtrak, I wouldn’t even know how and I usually go out of Penn Station, by far the busiest station. I do remember seeing a baggage claim at the Washington, DC station, but I hardly ever saw anyone claiming anything there. The racks above the seats as well as the luggage racks at the front of the car were always sufficient, even when the trains were full. I have no idea how they would enforce the carry-on rule, although on every train I’ve ever been on, most people don’t bring more than two bags plus a personal item (or two) anyway, given the limits of what the human body can physically carry.

  • DavidYoung2

    Was riding Amtrak from San Diego to Los Angeles a few weeks ago when TSA came on with Border Patrol. Asked for ID and looked at baggage but didn’t open anything that I saw. I DID see them haul 25-30 off the train at Oceanside, but no idea if that was TSA or Border Patrol.

  • MarkieA

    “Amtrak denies the move wasn’t made to raise ancillary revenues…”

    The double-negative is confusing, Chris. Does this mean that Amtrak admits that the move was made to raise ancillary revenues?

    On a related note: November 24, 2013 – Amtrak reveals that ridership is down 25% from this time last year. “I just don’t understand how this happened.” states a perplexed Amtrak CEO.

  • Mel65

    Perfectly reasonable. You still get TWO 50 pound bags FREE. Lord, who’s taking that many bags on a trip that they’d end up paying for it? I’ve gone sightseeing thru Europe for 4 weeks without taking 4 suitcases! I’ve actually never used Amtrak, but now I’m kinda tempted to give it a shot!

  • Christopher Elliott

    You’re right. It’s fixed. I can’t wait for my editor to get back from vacation.

  • Dick Jordan

    The bag fees seem almost academic since few Amtrak stations seem to have checked-baggage service, and because there is only enough room either at a daycoach seat or even in a sleeping compartment for one roll-aboard size bag and a one smaller carry-on bag per passenger. I can’t imagine taking 4 suitcases on an Amtrak train trip.

  • y_p_w

    Just taking this in a little late. A few observations:

    You don’t simply get two bags. You get two checked-in bags up to 50 lbs each and 72 linear inches (USPS method of adding the total height/length/width). That’s in addition to two carry-on bags up to 50 lbs each, although they have stricter requirements for dimensions because they have to fit into the overheads or side racks. Some are open, while others are airline style with latches. That’s a lot of stuff.

    Checked-in baggage service is available at nearly all of the major stations in cities also serviced by airports. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we’ve got baggage service at Emeryville (the terminus of the California Zephyr), Oakland-Jack London, and San Jose. Even some smaller stations have checked baggage, including Davis and Martinez. One can even get checked baggage service at some of Amtrak’s bus stops. If you’re doing a major route like Emeryville to Chicago or New York Penn Station to DC, baggage check-in is not going to be a problem.

  • y_p_w

    I use the Emeryville, California station quite often. It’s the starting/ending point for the California Zephyr and a major station along the Coast Starlight. I see the baggage truck there quite often, and there are some large objects sometimes being checked in.

    Outside of that, the 50 lbs limit would seem to be hard to achieve for a legal carry-on unless weighed down with lots of metal.

    I’ve also been to New York Penn Station, and while waiting there for someone I noticed the baggage checkin/claim area. There’s some seriously large baggage being handled there. It was also a convenient place to store bags while going out before heading to the airport. It was $5.50 per bag (up to 24 hours), but even a couple of 21″ upright suiters are kind of bulky when you’re trying to be a tourist.