If you are traveling along the Northeastern Seaboard, the Acela train from Amtrak offers a wide range of amenities that you might find appealing. What is the difference between business class and first class on Acela? There are a few noteworthy differences that could mean the difference between an enjoyable trip and a not-so-enjoyable one.
What is the Acela Train?
The Acela train runs is specific to the Northeastern Corridor (NEC) and features seven destinations – Boston, New Haven, New York, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Washington, DC – with 13 intermediate stops altogether. It is Amtrak’s flagship high-speed train service, and while it is the fastest train in the Americas, it only reaches its top speed of 150 miles per hour for a total of 33.9 miles over its 457-mile-long route.
Amtrak had plans to deploy new Acela trains in 2022 – a fleet of 28 Avelia Liberty trains – to replace its original set of 20 trains that debuted in 2000. Unfortunately, this effort has been delayed until 2023. The company says it is employing rigorous testing to ensure the safety and efficacy of the new technology the trains will utilize. These new trains will seat up to 386 passengers each, which is a 25% capacity increase over their existing fleet. The trains will also feature new amenities, such as USB ports, personal outlets, and adjustable reading lights at each seat.
Current Acela Amenities Available to All
The Amtrak Acela trains offer a wide range of amenities. These include reserved seating, faster trips between specific locations along the NEC (with fewer stops), shorter wait times at stations between departures, strategically placed electrical outlets and conference tables, adjustable lighting, and large tray tables. Many of these amenities are exclusive to Acela trains, which serve mainly business people and VIPs, including politicians, traveling along the East Coast.
As of July 2022, facial covering requirements are still in place for Acela trains as a safety precaution. Furthermore, Amtrak notes that it is going above and beyond to sanitize all of its trains and stations, and it is also sometimes limiting the number of passengers onboard in order to promote personal safety.
The Amtrak App provides passengers with even more benefits. It gives passengers access to e-tickets, which are an improvement over physical tickets that can be lost or damaged. Furthermore, passengers can check the status of any train – including Acela trains – instantly and in real time. The app also provides a comprehensive nationwide list of station hours and addresses and provides gate and track boarding information for select stations, too. Above all, the app makes it easier for passengers to purchase tickets, and in the new Acela trains coming in 2023, the app can be utilized for self-checkout in cafe cars.
What is the Difference Between Business Class and First Class on Acela?
Unlike other Amtrak routes, the Acela trains only offer Business and First Classes – there is no coach class. Both business and first class offer advanced seating, comfortable and roomy seats, access to a Quiet Car, personal electrical outlets, and large seat trays. Only first class provides access to single-seat booking, in-seat service, full-service dining, and access to the Metropolitan Lounge at the Moynihan Train Hall.
Business Class Features and Amenities
Whereas business class is considered a “premium and enhanced” experience on traditional Amtrak routes, it is the default class for the Acela trains. When you book a business class ticket, you can expect the following:
- Advanced Seating Reservations: Via the app or website, you can choose from numerous seat configurations, whether you are traveling on your own or with a group. There are two-by-two and four seat “pods” available. This feature was added in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it may not be available forever. Prior to the pandemic, advanced seating reservations were available, but there was also a simple open seating configuration, as well.
- Comfortable and Roomy Seats: The seats on the Acela trains mimic those found in Business Class sections of other Amtrak trains. The seats are soft and comfortable, yet firm enough to provide support for the longer Acela journeys. The seats even offer optional footrests, which can reduce fatigue. The seats are wide enough to provide ample “personal space” and there is enough legroom to stretch out a bit.
- Quiet Car Access: Acela trains come with the optio to book seats in Quiet Cars, which have an atmosphere similar to a hospital chapel or public library. Conversations are to be kept to a minimum (or very quiet), and cell phone conversations are frowned upon. These cars are intended to provide individuals with an area where they can focus or simply get a quick power nap.
- Electrical Outlets: Each seat has access to its own electrical outlet, which is fantastic for quickly charging up a laptop or cellphone while between business meetings – or if you simply forgot to plug it in overnight.
- Large Seat Trays: Each seat also comes with a roomy tray that retracts into the seat in front of it. It’s large enough to hold snacks or a meal, and it’s even big enough for your laptop and a drink. It’s at least double the size of the traditional airplane seat tray.
First Class Features and Amenities
First class offers all of the same features and amenities as business class, but with a few helpful and luxurious additions. These include:
- Single-Seat Advanced Seating Reservations: While you can still reserve a two-by-two or four seat “pod”, first class travelers can choose a single seat along one of the sides of the train. This is ideal for solo travelers who prefer to sit alone.
- Slightly More Seat & Leg Room: While first class tickets do give you a little more room in your seat and for your legs, the difference is minimal. Passengers say it is noticeable, but not usually meaningful.
- First-Class Customer Service: The real bonus for those who choose to travel first class is the outstanding in-seat service you will receive throughout your trip. As an example, porters will stow your suitcase before embarking and will retrieve it for you right before you exit the train.
- Access to the Metropolitan Lounge at the Moynihan Train Hall: The Moynihan Train Hall is a new addition that provides access to dining and drinks; only first class customers can enter the lounge area.
- Full-Service On-Board Dining: The dining service includes a full bar, varied meal selection, warm towel service, and more – and most reviewers agree that the food is surprisingly good for mass transportation.
Which Option Should You Choose?
Reviewers note that when it comes to the Acela trains, both business and first class services feel luxurious, so choosing one will depend on your own personal preferences. If you are riding the Acela train while on vacation along the NEC, it will be wise to opt for first class since it is a one-of-a-kind luxury experience that you won’t soon forget. Similarly, if you use the Acela train to travel between meetings, first class may be the best option if you want some additional assistance from porters or if you want to grab a quick meal between destinations. If you travel the Acela daily as a commuter, then business class will be the best and most affordable choice for you. Most people will find that the business class amenities are more than enough to keep them comfortable during the ride to and from the office.
Tips for Making the Most of Your Acela Journey
Whether you’ll only ride the Acela once or twice on a trip to the NEC or you’re planning to use the Acela line daily to commute to and from work, there are some tips and tricks to keep in mind to improve your journey and provide yourself with some peace of mind.
- Look for the Red Caps: If boarding looks crowded and you’re willing to part with a few bucks, Acela frequents recommend handing a porter (the ones in the red caps) a few dollars and asking them for their help. The early boarding is worth it if you aren’t a fan of crowds.
- Understand How the Seating Works: Some seats are better than others no matter which train you ride or which class you choose. The seats against the wall between the windows might leave you feeling a little claustrophobic, and if you’re riding the Acela just once for fun, you won’t see much. Pay attention to seats when booking and choose one that will give you the view you want.
- The Quiet Car Has Its Perks: People on the Acela take the Quiet Car very seriously, so unless you plan to be silent, it’s best to stay in the traditional cars. Frequent riders claim they aren’t very loud to start with, and the Quiet Car is almost always interrupted by a shrill ring or someone forgetting not to answer the phone.
- Don’t Shy Away from the Cafe: The Acela Cafe is unlike most other cafes you’ll find as part of mass transportation. They offer a wide range of good-for-you options that are worth the price. There are at least a couple vegan options, and they even offer craft beer and good wine.
- Business Class is Fine: Unless you really want to feel privileged and you don’t mind spending another $75-$100, business class is probably all you’ll need. First class does come with a few more amenities, but frequent riders claim that after the novelty wears off, they’re just not necessary – unless onboard dining is a must-have, of course.
- Don’t Wait for a Train with Equipment Issues: The Acela lines compete with regional trains, and while Acela is known to have a much better uptime, it isn’t perfect. If your Acela is down for technical issues, it’s almost always better to get on the regional train.
- Amtrak WILL Compensate for Delays: If you’re significantly delayed by the Acela trains through no fault of your own, Amtrak will compensate you – but you have to ask them. You won’t get a refund, but you will get a travel voucher, and if you’re someone who travels frequently, these are just as valuable.
- The Wi-Fi Can be Spotty: All of the Acela trains come with onboard Wi-Fi, but frequent users say that it isn’t always the greatest, and they block certain high-bandwidth sites like Netflix, too. Bring your own mobile hotspot for more reliable coverage without the throttled bandwidth.
- Use the Rewards System: Amtrak’s Guest Rewards program isn’t the greatest travel rewards system out there, but if you ride Acela often, it’s free, so you might as well use it. You’ll need to rack up quite a bit of points for a free ride, but you can get things like free upgrades to first class, discounts on car rentals, and more with fewer points.
Acela vs. Regional Trains
If you live along the Northeastern Corridor, then you probably know that Acela trains aren’t the only trains available to you. In fact, most of the major metros the Acela travels through are part of other regional railways. What’s the difference between Acela and these regional trains? It depends on the train, really, but here are some considerations.
- Acela costs more. This is because Acela’s default seating is business class, and because Acela’s experience is simply more luxurious in every way. However, a significant number of travelers feel that the Acela experience is simply not good enough to justify the increased cost. Many stick to regional trains to save money – especially the commuters.
- Acela is faster with fewer stops. If you commute to work and you want to get an extra half-hour or hour of sleep in the morning, the Acela is the way to go. It’ll shave quite a bit of time off your commute depending on where your starting and ending destinations are.
- Acela is more comfortable. The cars are much newer (and will be even more so in 2023), and riders find that they are noticeably roomier and more comfortable. For longer rides through the NEC, the Acela may just be worth the extra cost.
- Acela is more reliable. Acela trains experience fewer mechanical problems and delays than regional systems, which are notably older. While Acela trains have an on-time rate of roughly 90% (which is slowly climbing upward), regional trains have an on-time rate of around 78%, which rarely fluctuates.
If you are considering Acela trains for your next trip down the Northeast Corridor, both business class and first class offer excellent amenities that far surpass those found on regional trains. Whether the Acela trains are worth the extra cost is a personal decision, and it depends on your reason for travel, budget, and more.