Is Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Business Class Worth The Upgrade?

More legroom, a little wine and a quieter car make avoiding freeway traffic easy

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Amtrak business class is the most pleasant way to avoid traffic between San Diego and Santa Barbara. The journey on the Pacific Surfliner train takes about 5 hours. Driving usually takes about 4, depending on traffic. But, in Los Angeles, traffic can be brutal and appear when you least expect it.

Is it Amtrak business class worth the upgrade? I definitely think so, in most cases. Note that business class seating varies by train and that this post specifically covers the Pacific Surfliner.

Business Class Seats Are Guaranteed

I didn’t know this until recently but coach passengers on Amtrak trains are not guaranteed a seat. This means that standing during a journey in coach is a possibility, especially if traveling during peak hours.

Amtrak sells exactly the number of business class seats as there are passengers in this class of service. This is why you’ll see some trains sell out in business class but not in coach.

Amtrak Business Class Seats Are Larger

Business class seats do have more legroom than coach seats but aren’t necessarily wider. The Pacific Surfliner business class seats do recline and there’s a flip down foot rest as well as a tray table. I’ve experienced two different seat types but they are more or less the same in style.

Seats in Amtrak business class on the Pacific Surfliner from San Diego to Santa Barbara.

Seats in Amtrak business class on the Pacific Surfliner train.

On one of my trips, the conductor announced on the PA system that they were receiving “quality of life complaints” from passengers putting their feet on the seats in front of them, playing their devices on volumes way too high, and general disruption. I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this happening in business class.

The business class train car is much quieter than coach unless you are sitting next to a chatty tour group from overseas as I was on my last trip. Part of the reason is because it receives less foot traffic from people passing through, as it’s at the end of the train.

Free WiFi in All Classes

The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trains, like other Amtrak trains, has free WiFi in business class and coach. This makes a huge difference to me, so that I can work along the way. Standard AC electrical outlets line the train’s exterior wall. This means that if you’re not sitting at a window seat, you’ll need to reach your plug over your neighbor in order to plug into the outlets. And, they are oddly spaced so that not every seat has them, even in business class.

The WiFi is decent but does cut out on occasion, but it’s better than not having it at all. You will not be able to watch videos or download huge files while on it.

Amtrak Business Class Perks: Food And Drinks

At any time, you can walk over to the snack and drink area to grab a complimentary coffee or juice. In the morning, when I’m usually traveling by train, there are prepackaged muffins and pastries, too.

Complimentary muffins, juice and coffee on the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner in business class.

But, this partially paid for the business class upgrade. I would likely have bought this myself and it’s the best Amtrak business class perk on offer if you ask me. I seem to get the wine and snacks at various times and haven’t been able to sort out a pattern. Regardless, I love it!

Wine and a snack pack given out in Amtrak business class on the Pacific Surfliner train.

And, our train was delayed due to an accident on my most recent trip home from Santa Barbara so guests were treated to two rounds of snacks and wine, which I was very grateful for. On the flip side, I took an early train once which arrived in Santa Barbara before noon and no snacks or wine were passed out.

The eco-friendly cup is made from plant materials which I appreciate.

There is a cafe car  usually next door to the business class car. Here, Amtrak sells sandwiches and salads (average price is around $6.50). I had an artisan-style turkey sandwich on one journey and a cobb salad on the other. Both were just O.K. The salad was really fresh, but the sandwich had mayonnaise on it, which I dislike. I might bring my own lunch next time. There are tables in the cafe car where passengers can sit and eat.

Amtrak Guest Rewards Bonus

Members of Amtrak Guest Rewards will receive a 25% bonus points for riding in business class. Points can be redeemed for train travel and even exchanged to other loyalty programs via Points.com.

The View Might Be The Best Part

The lower level is reserved for those who can’t get their bags up the stairs. It is definitely worth sitting upstairs in any class of service. Between San Diego and Santa Barbara (excluding some parts of Los Angeles), there is plenty of this.
A review of Amtrak business class on the Pacific Surfliner train between San Diego and Santa Barbara.

What to Do with Luggage in Amtrak Business Class

I always recommend sitting on the top floor of the train because the views are stunning along the California coast. On the Pacific Surfliner, you have the option of leaving luggage on the bottom floor luggage racks or carrying it upstairs. There is a rack for larger bags near the stairs. You can put smaller, carry-on sized bags on racks above your seat. Note that it is likely to be out of your sight on a luggage rack but so far this hasn’t been an issue for me.

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Business Class Fares

At the time of this writing, a Pacific Surfliner ticket from Solana Beach Station to Santa Barbara Station costs $40 plus an extra $20 for Amtrak business class, each way. That’s $120 for an adult round-trip business class ticket. A ticket for my 10-year-old would cost $80 round-trip.

Children ages 2 – 12 receive a 50% discount on coach seats but they pay the same upgrade fare as adults do. Note that Amtrak also offers AAA and military discounts.

Cost might prohibit frequent business class travel on the train as, for our family, a trip to Santa Barbara is $320. However, considering that you’re not paying hotel parking fees (which in Santa Barbara can be quite pricey) or for gas, the additional cost for a long weekend trip becomes less. Plus, I also value my time.

Amtrak business class on the Pacific Surfliner train is worth the upgrade, with a few caveats. See why.

Various Amtrak Tips

Over the years, I’ve become a huge fan of train travel in Southern California.

Amtrak Allows Travelers to Go Carless

It’s recently dawned on me that the Pacific Surfliner train stops at popular points of interest along the California coast, which really does enable people go carless. The train stops near Mission San Juan Capistrano (close to the beaches, too), Angel’s stadium, Disneyland, downtown Los Angeles, Burbank (near Universal Studios) and in the heart of Santa Barbara for starters. This means that you can sightsee without a car or more peacefully pop up to LA for the day.

See also: One Block from the Beach in Santa Barbara

The Santa Barbara train station make the beach city a good weekend getaway from San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles.

Switch in Los Angeles to the Coast Starlight Train

The Coast Starlight train is the talk of the town for its cool sleeping accommodations and Sightseer Lounge Car. San Diegans can take the Pacific Surfliner to Los Angeles and switch to board the Coast Starlight all the way up to Seattle. You could take advantage of the lounge at the Los Angeles train station with a long layover, only if traveling in business class.

Solana Beach Train Station Tips

Solana Beach train station parking is FREE for up to 14 days. The trouble is that you may not be able to find a space. If you’ve parked overnight at Solana Beach Station, please leave a comment based on your experience. I usually take an Uber.

Also, if the weather is cold outside, the station will be cold inside since it’s mostly windows. Do make sure that you’re on the right side of the tracks when your train comes, otherwise you’ll miss it.

Where to Sit in Any Class

When heading north from San Diego, sit on the left side of the train to enjoy the ocean views which disappear around San Clemente and reappear in Ventura. The train, however, will change direction in Los Angeles so if you were forward-facing on the left side of the train (like you would be in the driver’s seat of a car), you’ll be rear-facing on the right side of the train. Change sides to enjoy the view.

Will I Travel By Amtrak Train Again?

Of course I will. I actually always look forward to my Amtrak train journeys to Santa Barbara. They are by far the easiest way to bypass traffic and I believe the upgrade to business class is worth the peace and quiet. The only time we don’t take the train is when we’re going to be heavily reliant on a car while there and can manage to drive during off-peak hours.

See also: Weekend Getaway to Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara

Do you travel in Amtrak business class?

Amtrak business class on the Pacific Surfliner train is worth the upgrade, with a few caveats. See why.
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17 Comments

  1. Richard Heilman
    September 3, 2017 at 12:01 pm — Reply

    Thanks for this review – it is very helpful. Have never taken the train from Santa Barbara to San Diego, but will be doing so in about a week for, unfortunately, a friend’s wake. I was uncertain about the extra percs for Business Class but will definitely be booking that now.

  2. Melanie
    April 11, 2016 at 3:30 pm — Reply

    Thank you! This was very helpful.

  3. Michael Krupa
    November 10, 2015 at 12:43 pm — Reply

    Hello ! I did read your article and i like it very much. I am taking my first Amtrak Business Coach ride from Washington D.C. to New Haven Ct this Sunday. I can hardly to go . It has been several years since i have been up North.

  4. Colin
    June 29, 2015 at 12:44 pm — Reply

    Thanks a lot for this, I’m touring the states for my (belated) summer vacation from Saudi Arabia this year and was undecided about spending 4 1/2 days in LA or splitting it up with a day in San Diego (helps that the Padres have a long homestand during the period I want to go). After reading your post above you’ve definitely made my mind up for me and I will be taking in the sights and sounds of SD (along with a cheeky business class journey on the Amtrak of course).

    On that note, as I won’t have a great amount of time is there anything you would recommend that I see/do whilst I’m in SD?

    Thanks…

  5. Steve R.
    January 12, 2015 at 4:27 pm — Reply

    Is this train all the way ? I was looking at the schedule, and some places (cities/stops) it says “Bus” – like in Buellton – what’s up with that ?

    • January 12, 2015 at 6:36 pm — Reply

      I’ve never taken it north of Goleta, but there are trains that definitely go north of Goleta. I think it sticks along the coast whereas Buellton is inland so I could see taking a bus to Buellton from Goleta. The run the buses after hours, too. I had to take one to Santa Barbara from LA because I was on a late train once.

  6. AE
    January 13, 2014 at 3:11 am — Reply

    I recently got an offer to work in La Jolla UTC, however, my gf wants to keep her job in downtown LA for about 6 more months before she finds work in the SD area.

    Can you recommend good apartment living close to the train station? I’ve looked at the Solana amtrak station but not the Oceanside one.

    We looked at Torrey Pines and Carlsbad areas. Either way she could drive a short distance to one of the stations, park, and ride to DT LA. Any advice on this would be GREATLY appreciated!

    We are used to LA/OC traffic but not sure how bad it gets in SD and in which directions.

    • January 14, 2014 at 9:39 am — Reply

      Gosh, I regret that I don’t have any apartments to recommend. Solana Beach has free parking at the Amtrak station but not really apartments nearby. UTC though is full of nice apartments actually and is a great, centrally-located place to live. A friend of mine lived in Renaissance apartments there and they are nice though I think maybe on the pricier side for the area. Sorry, I’m not very helpful! If she doesn’t mind the drive to Solana Beach, I’d probably recommend UTC or Del Mar/Carmel Valley area. Lots of apartments in Carmel Valley too, but the commute might be tough with traffic to/from UTC on the freeway depending on where you are.

  7. Britt
    October 23, 2013 at 4:46 pm — Reply

    This. was. exactly. what. I. needed.

    Business trip in Burbank through tomorrow, then a girls’ weekend in San Diego. Wasn’t sure which ticket to book but now I’m certainly going with business class … and will drag my carry-on bag upstairs for those views.

    Thank you so much!

  8. Lynn
    October 22, 2012 at 3:51 am — Reply

    Thanks for this review! Can I ask is it possible to get on and off stops between L.A and San Diego? Would like to do some cycling along the coast?

    • October 22, 2012 at 6:49 am — Reply

      Yes! It stops several places and I do see people get on the train with bikes. I know it stops in Oceanside, San Juan Capistrano and I think San Clemente.

  9. MyThy as in "Mighty"
    September 16, 2012 at 4:21 pm — Reply

    Thanks for the review! I wish there were photos of coach to compare it to. Besides leg room, I think seating isn’t guaranteed which is why I would pay for Business. Also, are there taxi’s waiting at the station in case one is needed to get to a hotel? I know there’s trolley’s available but I was wondering if there were taxi’s.

  10. Jeffrey
    April 16, 2012 at 6:10 pm — Reply

    Thanks for this! I upgraded to Business Class because of this review. One question: are the snacks unlimited? I read somewhere that you can only get one snack & drink for the whole trip.

    • April 16, 2012 at 6:14 pm — Reply

      On both legs of my trip, they basically left the pastries, tea and coffee out for the entire journey and people went back to grab them as they pleased. They passed out a heartier snack pack (dried fruit, chips, some kind of cereal bar) along with soda or wine just once during my journey from Solana Beach to Goleta. Enjoy!

  11. Business Class
    February 6, 2012 at 2:16 pm — Reply

    Whenever i travel i also upgrade to Business Class just because it makes for such a far better experience and i enjoy my trip a lot more.

  12. January 18, 2012 at 11:33 am — Reply

    Glad you enjoyed your Amtrak trip to Santa Barbara. Did you know that by showing your train ticket, you can get discounts on hotels, activities and dining throught the Santa Barbara Car Free Project’s 2012 Cool Car Free Discounts offer? AND if you book your train ticket in advance through the website http://www.santabarbaracarfree.org, you will save 20% off regular Amtrak fares! Save some green the next time you travel to Santa Barbara. For all the details, just visit http://www.santabarbaracarfree.org

  13. January 17, 2012 at 5:17 pm — Reply

    My son and I took the Amtrak from San Diego to Carlsbad one summer day to visit a friend. It was so relaxing to not be dealing with the traffic. My son was young enough to appreciate the experience too.
    I love reading your product and service reviews.

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