Amtrak’s Acela Train: Should You Book Business or First Class?

If you’ve ever booked a trip on Amtrak’s Acela line, which operates between Boston and Washington, D.C., you’ve noticed that they offer only two fare classes: Business and First. And since those terms are often used interchangeably in the airline industry, you might wonder what the difference is between the Acela classes. And, more importantly, which one you should book.

I recently traveled round trip on the Acela between Washington, D.C. and New York City. I purchased a Business Class ticket for the way there, and First Class ticket for my return. Here’s what I discovered about each fare class:


When you book a Business Class ticket on the Acela, you receive the following:

  • Advance reserved seating. Use their seat map to select from a variety of seat configurations, from two-by-two to the four seat pod. Keep an eye on the direction of the train, which is marked on the seat map, in case you prefer to sit facing one direction of travel or the other. (NOTE: this is a new feature of the COVID era – it will be interesting to see if they go back to their open seating arrangement in Business in the future)
  • Comfortable seats with ample leg room and an optional foot rest. Although Business is the lowest class on the Acela, it is miles ahead of the lowest class seat on an airplane in terms of space and comfort.
A relatively tall person enjoying plenty of leg room in Acela’s Business Class / A view of the Quiet Car on the Acela train
  • The option to book a seat in the “Quiet Car,” which asks riders to keep conversations low and refrain from talking on their cell phones. I booked this car and it did, indeed, remain quiet throughout my journey.
  • Electrical plugs at each seat for all your charging needs.
  • A spacious retractable seat tray, good for staging snacks (which you can buy in the dining car or bring on board yourself) and for getting work done. It’s much less cramped than trying to use a laptop on an airplane seat tray!

Overall, I enjoyed my trip in Acela’s Business Class section. I was able to change my seat at the last minute using the Amtrak app (a must if you’re traveling with them), in order to have two side-by-side seats to myself the entire journey. I didn’t have to hassle with TSA like I do at the airport (yay for packing normal-sized liquids!), and Washington, D.C.’s Union Station is a a beautiful location from which to begin a trip.

Acela’s Business Class offers you affordable rates (especially if you book well in advance) for a very comfortable ride to New York City. Bonus – you disembark in the heart of Manhattan at Penn Station, saving you an expensive and/or slow journey from one of NYC’s airports.


When you book a First Class ticket on the Acela, you receive the following:

  • Advance reserved seating, with the extra option of booking a single seat along one side of the train. As a solo woman traveler, I love the ability to book a single seat, as it ensures I won’t have to sit next to a noisy or creepy fellow passenger.
  • Slightly more comfortable seats with slightly more leg room than you find in Business. Although the difference between the two is minimal, there is a difference.
  • Exceptional on-board service. The porter on my train very kindly stored my suitcase in the overhead compartment for me, and retrieved it right before my disembarkation in Washington.
Single row seating option in Acela’s First Class / Enjoying an on-board cocktail in First Class
  • Electrical plugs at each seat for all your charging needs.
  • A spacious retractable seat tray.
  • Access to the Amtrak’s new Metropolitan Lounge at the also-new Moynihan Train Hall. As this review duly notes, the food options leave something to be desired, but it was great to have a bird’s eye view of the bustling station and to escape that hustle and bustle for some quiet work time.
The brand new Moynihan Train Hall in NYC
  • Complimentary full-service dining on board. If you’re hungry after visiting the Metropolitan Lounge, you’ll have a number of solid menu options to choose from once you board the train. From warm towel service to a full bar to a nicely varied meal selection, the food and beverage service is a huge benefit of a First Class ticket on Acela.
A simple but lovely cheese plate meal in Acela’s First Class


After trying out both of the Amtrak Acela line’s seating options, I know I’ll always book First Class if possible. From the lounge, to the single seating, to the on-board service, it was simply a more enjoyable experience than traveling in Business Class.

That said, it’s hard to go wrong on the Acela. Even their lower class cars offer a far superior traveling experience compared to main cabin on any U.S. domestic airline. You’ll get plenty of leg room, cushy seating, and hassle-free boarding and a well-located arrival no matter which class you choose.

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