If you've always wanted to ride a train across the country, but didn't have the time to take it all the way back, United Airlines and Amtrak said Monday they've got just the deal you've been waiting for.
They unveiled a train-plane ticketing agreement that will offer passengers a cheaper fare when they fly one way and ride the rails the other way.
The setup would also allow travelers to fly into certain major gateway cities, then take trains around the region before returning to the gateway city to fly home.
"Long-distance train trips have enormous appeal among prospective Amtrak passengers, but many people lack the vacation time for a cross-country train trip both ways," said Timothy P. Gardner, Amtrak's vice president of passenger marketing. "The Amtrak Air-Rail travel plan will enable travelers to take an extended train trip and then fly home."
In the past, people who rode the train one way and flew a plane the other way got stuck paying full one-way fares, but United and Amtrak said their rates on the new tickets will be roughly equivalent to a round-trip air fare.
Amtrak initiated the deal by approaching United about three years ago, after determining that United's "route system is a better match with our route system than the other airlines," Amtrak spokeswoman Sue Martin said.
Amtrak's spokeswoman said that although cities don't have very many departure and arrival times on the national railroad, a speedy arrival is not the goal of most train travelers.
"That's very true in the west, where we only have one train a day in each direction," Martin said. "People don't take the train just to get someplace. They take the train for the experience of riding the train. People travel from Denver to Salt Lake City for the experience of traveling through the Rockies at ground level. It's an experience you don't get from the air."
To illustrate the savings that passengers could achieve through the deal, Sara Dornacker, a United spokeswoman, said the best current one-way air fare from New York to Los Angeles, combined with a one-way rail fare, would cost $664. The train-plane ticket would go for $419, for a savings of 37 percent, she said, adding that savings would be similar on other excursions.