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Amtrak Acela First Class: ClubAcela Lounge at Union Station Washington, D.C.
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Amtrak Acela First Class: ClubAcela Lounge at Union Station Washington, D.C.

by jeffreyDecember 11, 2013

I took my first train trip on Amtrak’s Acela a few weeks ago from Washington, DC Union Station (WAS) to New York Penn Station (NYP). Because I had a First class ticket (Acela only has either Business Class & First Class), I was able to check out the ClubAcela lounge in Washington while I was waiting for my train.

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You’ll need to present some credentials to make it past the doors to the luxury that lies beyond. Here are the ways to get into the Lounge:

  • Access included with First Class tickets on the “high-speed” Acela train or those traveling in sleeper cars
  • Those with Select Plus/Executive status (top level Amtrak Guest Rewards status)
  • Members of United Club
  • Use a ClubAcela single day pass (you can redeem 5k points to get a 5-pack of passes)

You’ll notice that ClubAcela passes cannot be purchased. If you don’t have any of the credentials listed above, your best bet at getting in is to find a way to redeem points for the 5 pack of passes (ex: transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Amtrak).

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Front desk and entrance area

My first impression was that the lounge is very dated feeling. Apart from the 2-3 flat panel TVs that were slapped on the wall, it looks like nothing has changed in this place in the past 2 decades. In fact, I felt as if I were transported the set of a taping of Boy Meets World in the 1990s.

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Looking for the sensation of time travel? Amtrak will take you there!

Just like most airline lounges, no outside food or  drinks are allowed in because “light snacks” are provided. Those “light snacks,” you ask? It’ll be your choice of either mini-packs of Goldfish or mini-packs of pretzels.

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Amtrak seems to have a Costco membership, too

If you’re looking for the bar with complimentary drinks, you’ll be looking for a while. On par with the awesome food spread is a beverage corner that couldn’t even compete with the worst of office building break rooms. There’s a choice  of serve-yourself fountain drinks, water or coffee. The one plus is that the coffee machine made espresso drinks and wasn’t half bad. So far, that’s one point for Amtrak.

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What do you guys have on draft…?

OK, enough ranting about the horrible Amtrak lounge. The good: it’s a quiet place to sit and relax while waiting for your train. The outside terminal really is loud and full of hustle and bustle (moreso than an airport), so it’s nice to be able to retreat to a semi-private area.

But really, how can this compete with the airlines’ lounges? Amtrak makes most of its money in the Northeast corridor and specifically on the Acela routes (Washington-New York-Boston) by catering to high-margin business travelers. The competing form of travel is air travel. While there are a range of pros and cons to each form of travel (train claims to be quicker door-to-door, no pesky TSA to deal with etc…), how can Amtrak think it’s competing if its lounge, which all of its best customers have access to on every trip, is so much worse than a Delta SkyClub or United Club? I would think they could make just a few changes to the overall travel experience and have people choosing train travel over air more and more.

BOTTOM LINE: ClubAcela is kind of depressing and rather pathetic. The food and beverage options are extremely limited. While it’s a decent place to wait for your train in peace and quiet, there’s a reason it’s empty–it’s not a place you’d want to hang out for too long.

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  • Dave

    Disagree. The lounge is clean and comfortable, the staff helpful, the lighting good, the restrooms uncrowded, and the snacks adequate. Whenever I’ve been there it has been quite popular. They store my luggage while I am waiting or while I visit shops in the main station! It’s so much better than sitting for a couple of hours in the main waiting area.

    • You’ve got a valid point there. I agree that it is a good place to get out of the hustle and bustle of Union Station and wasn’t aware of the luggage storing benefits. My biggest point is that for those, like me, who have never been to a train’s “First Class lounge” and can only compare it to an airline’s first class lounge–you’re in for a disappointment.

      The Acela First Class hard/soft product (which is coming in a future post) is really top notch, though. It’s just a shame that the lounge isn’t up to the same quality.

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