A Tale of 2 Amtrak Upgrades: The Food Is So Bad, But The NYC Lounge Is Impressive

Business travelers living in the Northeast realize the convenience of Amtrak Acela service between Boston and New Yorkas well as between New York and Washington DC.

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, appear at Penn Station vs LaGuardia Airport (LGA), John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) or Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) can save you hours that you would otherwise have to spend in traffic jams and security lines at the airport at certain times of the day.


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

Also, Acela trains have provided first class carriages for as long as I can recall. As a business traveler who has used Amtrak countless times to travel between New York and Washington, DC, I often wonder if the upgrade to first class is worth it. However, the price difference between a standard Acela seat (so-called business class) and a first class seat is always much higher than I’m willing to spend.

Fortunately, on a recent trip, the price difference between the two services was shorter than I could remember before. That was enough incentive for me to try upgrading to Acela’s first class, and I booked two trains for meetings in two days. One is from Boston to New York’s Beautiful new Moynihan Hall at Penn station. The second leg is from Penn Station to Union Station of Washington, DC, after a stop in New York.

Fares are an extra $70 for an upgrade to first class departing from Boston and about $90 for an upgrade from Penn Station to Washington, DC. It’s really a story of two very different experiences.

Boston to New York in first class Amtrak Acela


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, although the Amtrak website doesn’t list the station’s lounge there.

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

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When I arrived at South Station, I walked around for a few minutes before I saw a small waiting area for Amtrak customers. Nearly every seat in the cramped room was packed.


To the left of the seating area, I found a set of glass doors leading to the stairs. A sign on the door says the station concourse is above the stairs. After ringing the doorbell and talking to an Amtrak employee, I was invited in and went upstairs to the lounge.

An Amtrak employee quickly checked me in and showed me a small self-service snack area. Staff also noted that there was a slightly larger hot drinks menu that club staff could prepare for me upon request. However, the services in the club are quite limited.

There is seating for several dozen people in the club which also shares space with a satellite police station. Although the space shows some age, there is actually a large number of electrical outlets. The lounge also has a dedicated bathroom. In short, it’s a quiet place to wait with a free bag of peanut M&Ms.

When I boarded the train, I saw first class for the first time. It’s been three years since I’ve sat in the Acela, but the first class seats look familiar.

I walked over to check out the adjoining business class car. Seating and spacing appear to be identical, with only a slight difference in color compared to first class.

That means I’ve paid an extra $70 for a seat and a bag of M&Ms so far. I obviously didn’t win. However, I still have meal service to bail me out.

An Amtrak employee handed me a small bottle of Fiji water. Everything has begun to look. The flight attendant then handed me the menu and asked if I wanted anything to drink (I politely declined).

The waiter returned shortly after we left Boston to ask for my lunch selection. Something tells me to avoid the souffle, and lamb doesn’t seem like something Amtrak will have much success with. I asked if it was possible to get both buffalo chicken salad, cheese and fruit platter – but I was told I could only have one option.

In a word, the salad was terrible. Chicken is still partially frozen or overcooked (or both). The carb lover in me thinks I can find solace in the accompanying chocolate chip cookie. Turns out, the cookie had a lemon blueberry flavor. We’ll call it “interesting.”

Thankfully, a while later the waiter brought me a plate of cheese and fruit instead. I love cheese and fruit, but skipped the second lemon blueberry cookie.

(I should note here that I don’t usually pay much attention to plane or train food. However, since the rest of the upgrade experience is of questionable value, it seems appropriate to offer that. a bit more detail on the quality and value of the meal.)

Thankfully, I still have another Acela first-place chance to redeem myself.

Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge at Penn Station Moynihan sảnh


After a few days of business meetings, I was ready to go home via Amtrak. One of the reasons I like Amtrak is the flexible options for bringing luggage on board.

I packed a small, collapsible bag for my trip so I could pick up my valuables in New York City. After stopping at Murray’s Bagels and La Bella Ferrara, my side bag was full – with three dozen bagels and two pounds of Italian biscuits – when I made my way to Penn Station.


If you’re familiar with Penn Station, the new departure point for Amtrak trains is at Moynihan Hall. You’ll find the entrance one block west of Penn Station, in the old Postal Service building.


The entrance to the station concourse (known as the Metropolitan Concourse) is located closest to the southeast corner of the building at 8th Avenue and 31st Street. The concourse, which opens in early 2021, is located on the main lobby one floor. There is a small seating area outside the entrance to the lounge, which is one of the only public seating areas in the hall. While it’s not obvious, you’ll need to check in with an Amtrak employee sitting at the counter at the top of the escalator.

The station concourse at Moynihan Hall is quite large, with four separate seating areas. At the entrance, there are lockers for luggage (apparently incapable of actually locking them). Behind the lockers is a small seating area with a TV. Further in the lounge there are more comfortable seats and some where you can work on your laptop. There is also a large dining area with various sized tables.

However, the most appealing area of ​​the lounge for me was the balcony area overlooking the Moynihan Hall. I think it’s actually a bit peaceful to sit on the balcony watching everyone rush to their train. The seats are quite far apart and the high ceiling in the hall has very good noise reduction.


At the far end of the lounge are several food and drink options. The bar area remained closed during my morning departure. The rest of the food and drink options are a mix of self-service and something prepared by the lounge staff.

I’m no coffee connoisseur but the combination of self-serve drip coffee and barista-made specialty coffee will please many caffeine addicts. Also, the breakfast items on offer are really the ones that people want to eat. Yogurt parfait, fresh fruit and breakfast bread all look delicious. Take-away items like prepackaged salads and avocado toast seem like great things to bring on board.

To obtain these items, staff assistance is required and it is not clear if there is any limit to how much you can request. My request for a breakfast baguette and some bagel was happily accommodated.

Wi-Fi in the lounge is fast and stable. I didn’t run a speed test but was able to work without problems for over an hour including music streaming and file downloads. There is also a small business area if you need to use the computer or print documents.


The lounge’s only flaw involved boarding my train to Washington, DC

Near the scheduled boarding time, I went to the front desk to inquire about the status of my train. The staff told me it was a bit slow and they would make an announcement once it was assigned a track.

Unfortunately, by the time they did so the general boarding was already called in the main lobby.

One of the few downsides of Moynihan Hall is that it doesn’t really add more train capacity to Penn Station. It just expands (and greatly improves) the waiting area. At the former Penn Station, there are stairs for most platforms. That is not the case when boarding the train at Moynihan Hall. There is no dedicated entrance from the lounge to the tracks, you have to fight in the crowd like everyone else.

New York to Washington in first class Amtrak Acela

Not surprisingly, the first class cabin on my trip to Washington, DC, was identical to the one on my train from Boston earlier this week.

On this occasion, I was not given a bottle of Fiji when I boarded the plane. I asked for one when our train left the station and a staff member brought it to me after giving the menu.

I chose eggs for breakfast from several seemingly unappealing options, thinking that would be the safest bet. Unfortunately, the eggs are pretty bad.


Seasoned business travelers know that airlines shouldn’t be relied on for high-quality nutrition, and the same rule seems to hold true for Amtrak’s first-class cuisine. A freshly made breakfast baguette in a coffee cart might be a better option.

The rest of my journey from New York to Washington, DC was uneventful. First class cars were almost full and service mostly ended shortly after breakfast was served.

bottom line


My two first class experiences on Amtrak were a mixed bag, most of which lacked value for the extra fare I paid.

The in-flight experience is similar to buying a standard business class ticket. The seats are exactly the same except for a different leather color. The seating distance is also identical and the meal service is just too bad.

The waiting room in Boston is quiet but the space is tired. On the other hand, the lounge at Moynihan Hall is spectacular, arguably rivaling any US domestic airport lounge operated by airlines (the only exception being the AMEX Centurion lounge) .

However, there is one important difference between airport lounges and train station lounges. Security at airports requiring early arrivals and connecting flights is common. Delays can lead to extended airport time that can turn into productive time in the lounge.

The advantage of taking the train over the flight is the ability to show up at the last minute. In fact, many business travelers claim that the main advantage of the Acela line is time saving.

Instead of taking the car or subway to an airport outside of Manhattan, it’s easy to work all day and run to catch a train, arriving with just a few minutes to spare.

At least for this business traveler, arriving early to take a first-class train is not something I plan to do in the future.


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