On my trip home from Biloxi, Mississippi, I had the chance to experience the ClubAcela station lounge at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Unlike my outbound trek, where I took the Northeast Regional Amtrak line in business class between the train stations in Trenton and Philadelphia, on my return adventure I was fortunate enough to be ticketed in first class on the evening Amtrak Acela Express train. Among the many benefits of traveling in first class on the Acela Express is access to station lounges along your route. There are also other ways to gain access to the station lounges, and much like airport lounges, they can be a nice, quiet reprieve where you can work, relax and unwind, and even look out upon the main terminal of the station (at least at the 30th Street Station club in Philadelphia).
Although I had visited many airport lounges over the past seven years due to my extensive travel schedule for work, I had never had the chance to experience a true train station lounge before. In fact, I purposely took such a late flight back home so that I would be able to access the ClubAcela lounge along the way before boarding the final Acela Express train heading to New York and Boston that night. If nothing else, I figured that it would be something to say that I had done in life and, as someone who loves to explore the world, I am always looking to do new things.
Thus, at 7:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening in May, I found myself at the ClubAcela entrance at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.
ClubAcela Access Policies (May 2016)
- Passengers ticketed in the first class cabin of an Acela Express train receive complimentary access to ClubAcela lounges.
- Sleeping car passengers on Amtrak trains receive complimentary access to ClubAcela lounges.
- Private Amtrak car owners receive complimentary access to ClubAcela lounges.
- Select Plus and Select Executive Amtrak Guest Rewards members receive complimentary access to ClubAcela lounges.
- Business class passengers on Amtrak trains can access the ClubAcela lounge at a given station for a nominal fee (currently $20).
- Amtrak Guest Rewards members can purchase a five-pack of single-day ClubAcela passes for 5,000 Amtrak Rewards Points (five passes for 5,000 points).
- UnitedClub members receive complimentary access and reciprocal lounge benefits at ClubAcela lounges (as of May 2016 – always subject to change).
The ClubAcela at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia is located down a long corridor behind the Track 1 loading queue and escalator. To get to the club, passengers must travel past the Amtrak bag check desk and walk through a series of doors until reaching the staircase that leads to the club entrance. There is also an elevator available for those who cannot use stairs. One thing that I noticed immediately was that the lounge at this particular station is elevated above the main terminal building, which helps reduce the noise coming from the area below it.
As I rang the bell to be buzzed into the club, I realized that the place must have been quite empty at this time of night. Rush hour for the day was over and there was only one remaining Acela train scheduled to pass through the area. In fact, the person stationed at the desk seemed surprised to see any passenger at all walk through the doors.
“The next train doesn’t leave for an hour?” he asked me, blinking as few times as I pulled out my phone to show him my ticket.
“I know. My flight got into Philadelphia early tonight and I wanted to check out the lounge and take some photos,” I replied with a chuckle.
“Oh, okay,” he nodded, now understanding why I was there so early. “Well in that case, let me just look at your ticket and you can go.”
After showing the station attendant my ticket, he waved me through and welcomed me to the lounge.
Stepping further into the welcome area, I noted that the layout of this ClubAcela was very long and narrow. The club runs parallel to the station itself, a design that proved to be quite convenient. This is because the design of the club allows for an elevator to run directly from the club to the lower tracks of the 30th Street Station where Amtrak trains load an unload passengers.
Thus, passengers can be taken via private elevator directly from ClubAcela to the tracks where their trains will arrive.
Thus, I would be able to take a private elevator from the club that evening and arrive mere footsteps away from where my train would be stopping at the station.
This also means that all passengers who have access to ClubAcela can board their train without ever having to exit the club or queue up at the escalators in the main terminal of the 30th Street Station (note that not all ClubAcelas have this feature), a process which can save someone ten minutes or longer depending on how long the normal loading queues become as trains arrive. This also allows these passengers to board the train first, secure storage for all their luggage and find the perfect seat(s) in their cabin*.
*Passengers can also use the Red Cap service that Amtrak offers at many of its stations to board the train early.
When you utilize this service, an Amtrak employee in a “red cap” (hence the name) will help you and your party board the train before the rest of the train boards while also assisting you with all of your luggage.
Red Cap service is not available at all stations that Amtrak services.
Be sure to tip the Amtrak Red Cap service provider who assists you in your journey!
This was quite cool and reminded me of the pre-boarding benefit afforded to United’s MileagePlus Global Services® members. I do enjoy it when companies go out of their way to reward loyal customers or those who are willing to pay extra for a premium service. Even when those benefits may seem small in the grand scheme of life, the little things do count. Planning for and implementing these little “basics” is something that can go a long way in earning loyalty, and priority boarding (even on a train) can make and all difference in the world.
Besides, who doesn’t like to take an elevator that leads right to the front door of their cabin on the train?
The amenities of the club are very basic, although I felt the lounge itself was comfortable and clean. Some of my more detailed observations can be summed up in the following points:
- The Internet functioned well during my visit, and even supported online streaming and video game services.
- There are power strips located below the desk areas of the lounge. There are also power outlets located near the center sitting areas as well.
- There are various desks located around the facility in addition to sitting areas and couches for those who are traveling in larger parties.
- There is a small conference room near the front of the club that could probably accommodate six or eight people comfortably.
- There is also a television area located at the far end of the lounge where people can watch the news or turn on the game.
- Pretzels snacks comprised the food offerings at that hour.
- There is a self-serve soda machine and also hot water and coffee maker for those who wish to make coffee or have a hot cup of tea.
As previously stated in this report, one of the cool features of this ClubAcela is that fact that there are windows that face the center of the main terminal building of the 30th Street Station. Since the club itself is elevated from the main concourse of the terminal, the views are quite nice. The 30th Street Station is a beautiful building, and the interior always reminds me of a time when travel was glamorous and such architecture was to be expected at major transit hubs in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago or Los Angeles.
Even if you are simply content to people watch or have no business to attend to on your phone or computer, the comfortable seating areas and windows are enough to captivate your attention.
Overall, my impression of the ClubAcela location at the 30th Street Station at Philadelphia was overwhelmingly positive. Access to fast Internet, power outlets, and a quiet space are all very important to me as a business traveler. While domestic airport lounges offer more in terms of dedicated cubicles, hot food offerings, bar service, and even showers (sometimes), for a travel lounge, ClubAcela really provides what most business travelers are looking for while they await their train. The private elevator that allows lounge passengers to board their train first is also a nice touch and something that I am sure I would appreciate even more had my train been completely full, if I was in a hurry to stow luggage, or if I was traveling during a really busy time of day.
I should note again that I did not actually have to pay for my ticket on either the departure or return segments of my journey and I do not know if the price increase between a business class and first class ticket on the Acela would be something I could justify if paying with my own money. Depending on the route and day/time, the base fare of a one-way Acela ticket in business class can be hundreds of dollars (and the premium for first class can be even higher).
However, for those looking for an alternative to flying between Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. or for those traveling on their company’s dime, the perk of having ClubAcela access is definitely nice. Again, the little things do add up for the frequent business traveler.
As I often state on this blog, getting the basics done right is the most important thing lounges, hotels, and airlines can do. Without that, none of the other frills, bells, whistles, and amenities matter.
Internet, power outlets, a work area, some form of water or coffee, peace and quiet, and the added touch of private priority boarding.
Basics done right.
Basics covered at ClubAcela.
Be sure to check out my previous reports from this trip!
Be sure to check out my review of the Amtrak Acela Express in first class later this week!