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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