Amtrak Advice for Sleeper Car Passengers Plus Etiquette Tips

Amtrak Advice for Sleeper Car Passengers

Please wait to be seated when you enter the dining car.

Helpful hints for Amtrak sleeper car passengers.

If what I’ve read is accurate, there isn’t much etiquette to be found when it comes to flying. Since I haven’t been on a plane in over 25 years, I tend to believe most of what comes down the pike.

Amtrak, America’s passenger railroad, is unique. When it’s time to board, I’ve seen people form proper queues or at least they’re not pushing and shoving to get on their train. I can’t say the same for the popular European trains, though.  Everyone shoves their way to be the first to board, suitcases are tossed onboard like misguided Frisbees even though the passengers have reserved seats.

Let’s start with my favorite way to travel on Amtrak; in a sleeper compartment.  Here is my Amtrak advice for sleeper car passengers that I’ve learned over the years.

Your Car Attendant.

Our car attendant gave everyone a local newspaper at our first stop in the morning aboard the Southwest Chief.

Our car attendant gave everyone a local newspaper at our first stop in the morning aboard the Southwest Chief.

While not required, a gratuity is the norm, usually about $10 per person. If you and a companion are in the deluxe bedroom, then $10 per person ($20 total) is okay. Sometimes I’ll hand the attendant a $20 at the beginning of a two-night journey, especially if it’s a sold-out sleeper. Things can get pretty busy for one attendant to handle and it’s a nice gesture.

Be thoughtful.

Your room attendant sleeps in small bites of time. If you suspect he or she is getting a much-needed nap and your request isn’t urgent, wait a few minutes until either the next train stop or if you see or hear your attendant in the corridor.

Don’t overcrowd your space.

If you're not sharing the roomette, the upper bunk in is a great spot to put extra baggage.

If you’re not sharing the roomette, the upper bunk in is a great spot to put extra baggage.

If you’re traveling solo in a roomette, you can bring your carry-on luggage in the room with you. To clear up space, stow your smaller bags and carry-ons “upstairs,” (on the upper bunk) or shelf. You can ask your room attendant to place them up there.  However, if you’re traveling with huge pieces of luggage, you’ll want to check them through baggage. If you opt for the larger deluxe bedroom, there’s room for a few pieces of luggage.

About checked luggage.

If you decide to check your bags at the station, make sure the tag that’s put on your bags have the proper code for your destination (WPK is Winter Park, Florida and very close in the tag bin to WPB for West Palm Beach.) Maximum weight for checked baggage is 50 lbs. And it’s free!

Extra pillows.

Available from the upper bunk, they can be used for sleeping, but also to cover the adjustable air vent along the window.  Ask for an extra blanket if you tend to get cold during the night. I’ve used my coat over my blanket when I forgot to ask.

Using the “facility” in a roomette.

Here's the roomette with the en suite "facility." Don't worry, it at the foot-end of the bed.

Here’s the roomette with the en suite “facility.” Don’t worry, it at the foot-end of the bed when it’s made up at night.

Whether you have bashful kidneys or just want to block a draft in winter, here’s a solution. Take one of the hand towels from your sink, roll it lengthwise and set it along the gap under your door.

What’s included with a roomette or bedroom?

Help yourself to coffee, tea, bottled water or juice, located in every sleeping car.

Help yourself to coffee, tea, bottled water or juice, located in every sleeping car.

All meals, bottled water and juice are included for those in roomettes and deluxe bedrooms. Alcohol is additional.

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After a long trip, if I don't feel like socializing in the dining car, I'll order room service for dinner.

After a long trip, if I don’t feel like socializing in the dining car, I’ll order room service for dinner.

Every sleeper car has a shower room. The attendant has even made a pretty flower with the wash cloth. Aw.

Every sleeper car has a shower room. The attendant has even made a pretty flower with the wash cloth. Aw.

Dining car procedures.

Amtrak Southwest Chief dining car. I was traveling between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Amtrak Southwest Chief dining car. I was traveling between Chicago and Los Angeles.

It’s community seating, four passengers per table. If you’re in a sleeper, walk towards the front of the train. Enter the dining car and wait to be seated.

My Amtrak dinner reservation slip.

My Amtrak dinner reservation slip.

To avoid congestion at peak dining times, the dining car attendant will walk through the sleeping cars and offer you three dining times to choose; usually around 5pm, 6:30pm and 8pm.  Like buying a Groupon restaurant coupon, it’s courteous to leave a gratuity for your dining car server based on 15%-20% of the cost of the meal. Guidelines: $2 per person Breakfast; $2-3 Lunch, Dinner $5 or so.

There’s On Time and then there’s Amtrak Time.

Amtrak Southwest Chief made it through an overnight ice storm without delay in Kansas.

Southwest Chief made it through an overnight ice storm without delay in Kansas.

Being “on time” on Amtrak means to allow a little bit of leeway. For me, anytime within 60 or so minutes is as good as on time. More times than not, though, we arrived on time.

Except for parts within the Acela network and the northeast corridor, Amtrak doesn’t own or maintain the tracks.  Amtrak trains are at the mercy of the freight trains corporations like CSX and Burlington Northern.  They own the tracks and have right-of-way privileges over passenger trains.

When a long delay happens, you have the best of both worlds. You’re relaxing in the privacy and comfort of your accommodation, there’s the observation car to pass the time and you don’t have to drive!

No reservations necessary to take a seat in the double-decker observation car. There's a snack bar on the lower level.

No reservations necessary to take a seat in the double-decker observation car. There’s a snack bar on the lower level.

Whether you are going only a short distance in coach or coast-to-coast in a deluxe sleeper, knowing the lowdown on Amtrak etiquette and how to plan will help you to arrive rested and ready to hop off when you reach your destination.

For my Amtrak Etiquette tips for riding in coach, click here.



  1. December 12, 2014 / 4:47 pm

    I just wonder how you get to Europe to take your river cruises and ocean cruises as your travel plans are limited to the number of transatlantic crossings and this would extend any trip by at least 12 days!

  2. Sherry Laskin Kennedy
    February 9, 2015 / 9:08 am

    Hi Muriel,
    It just takes a lot of planning and learning the schedules. Somehow it all fits together. And yes, it does take an extended period of time.


  3. April 4, 2015 / 10:43 am

    Great overview Sherry. Good to cover tipping too, as it can be a bit of a grey area, esp for us Europeans!

    Wish I thought to tip when boarding rather than after, may have got somewhat better service on some of our journeys! And yes, those roomette ‘facilities’ def take a little getting used to!

  4. Sherry Laskin Kennedy
    April 4, 2015 / 11:46 am

    Hi Jools,
    Thanks for reading the article. Tipping on Amtrak seems to be a grey area for Americans, too! On your next Amtrak trip, if you try tipping right after you board the train, please let me know how it goes.

  5. April 26, 2015 / 8:46 pm

    Hi! Thanks for the informative article. Just booked my first train trip. Traveling solo and I’ll be in a sleeper car. Amtrak doesn’t double up solo travelers in their sleeper cars do they? I hope not!

  6. Sherry Laskin Kennedy
    April 27, 2015 / 2:16 pm

    Hi – Absolutely not. It’s your own room. You can even order room service! Have fun!

  7. Claire
    June 17, 2015 / 8:30 pm

    Hi! I’m traveling Amtrak with a 6 month old in a few weeks. I really appreciate your info about tipping! Thank you for this article.
    Do you Sherry–or anyone else– know if the Superliner (Empire Builder) Bedrooms have 23″X32″ between the bottom bed and the wall with the “chair” when the bed is up/sofa position? (I’m having a heck of a time finding definitive info about the floor space when the bed is in sofa position. (Even the Amtrak phone folks couldn’t tell me). ANY help is appreciated!

  8. Sherry Kennedy
    June 19, 2015 / 10:43 am

    Hi Claire,
    I’m not quite sure what it is that you need the exact space dimensions. Is it for a portable crib? There are more Amtrak photos on my site that might give you a better idea of space in the deluxe bedrooms. I’ll check around to see if I can get more details. Thank you for your comment.

  9. Tom McCormack
    November 22, 2015 / 12:52 am

    We traveled from Chicago on the Southwest Chief to LA in early November. We paid $1800.00 for a bedroom for my wife and me. We did not get a morning paper, there was no ice in the sleeping car and our second night out we were unable to find our sleeping car attendant to set up our beds. We ended up doing it ourselves.

  10. keith parsons
    March 25, 2016 / 6:15 am

    It was an enjoyable ride. definitely recommend a roomette for the longer trips. My kid enjoyed the top bunk! check out the room here:

  11. PDXJenni
    March 26, 2016 / 12:30 pm

    Thanks for the tips. I’m taking my first extended train trip (Empire Builder, SW Chief, and Coast Starlight) shortly and was unsure of the etiquette, especially with regard to tipping. I was unaware that my roomette included facilities. I thought I’d be sharing, so that is pretty awesome!

  12. Sherry Kennedy
    March 26, 2016 / 11:41 pm

    Hi Jenni,
    Thank you for reading the article. Unfortunately, roomettes on your trains do not have an en suite bathroom. There is one or sometimes there are two on the upper level. The main level has 3 or 4 plus a shower room. My suggestion is to pack a little ditty bag (that’s what we called it at overnight camp!) with your toothbrush, etc. to bring everything with you to the bathroom. There is a hook on the door so it’s really helpful to have a bag with a loop to hang it up. Have a great “circle” trip!

  13. Sherry Kennedy
    March 26, 2016 / 11:44 pm

    Hi Keith,
    Glad you and your son had a good train trip. Your video is cute!

  14. Dave
    March 29, 2016 / 10:02 pm

    Great article, lots of great information….however, I have a little problem with tipping the dining room staff at the normal 15 to 20%. My son is a waiter and I waited tables and bartended through my early years so I am a chronic over-tipper. That said, my son currently makes $7.50 per hour waiting tables (before his tips) and that is considered high for a lot of restaurants. I believe the Amtrak union employees in the dining car make $25-$35 per hour (before tips). If I’m correct on their wage, then I intend to leave more like 10% per meal.

  15. Hilde
    April 1, 2016 / 4:43 pm

    Do you happen to know what the charges are for beer / a glass of wine.
    Can you bring your own?

  16. Sherry Kennedy
    April 2, 2016 / 6:00 pm

    You can bring your own if you have a sleeping compartment. According to Amtrak’s online cafe car menu, beer can range from $4.50 to $7.00 depending upon what you choose. Thank you for your email.

  17. Ellen
    June 5, 2016 / 12:47 pm

    Hi can you tell me if we tip the National Park Docents who are riding the Empire Builder with us right now? They are phenomenal!

  18. Sherry Kennedy
    June 5, 2016 / 6:22 pm

    Hi Ellen, sorry I couldn’t get back to you sooner. So glad you enjoyed the narration by the docent. By now it’s too late. I took the Empire Builder twice last year and never noticed anyone giving a tip. If you have a chance, please let me know the outcome. Thanks! Sherry

  19. Lii Hammond
    January 10, 2017 / 10:50 am

    I am giving up on air travel. After reading over 500 consumer complaints regarding Amtrak, it was refreshing to read your columns.
    Traveling in a sleeper car is a prerequisite for an enjoyable cross country journey for me. I realize delays are sometimes unavoidable and being able to retreat to the privacy of your compartment would alleviate some discomfort. However, have you not typically encountered rude service, bad food, etc.?

  20. Sherry Kennedy
    January 10, 2017 / 11:45 am

    Hi Lii, Glad to hear you’re moving to Amtrak. In my years of traveling Amtrak and even before (I was very little!) I have never encountered a rude sleeping car attendant. Occasionally, one of the wait staff in the dining car is sullen but when I realize how overworked they are, I understand. Usually the entire car becomes like one big family dining event! I always leave a tip even though our meals are included with the accommodations fare. Bad food? It’s come a long way…and mostly downhill. However, eggs are still cooked fresh in the morning and having a hot meal in the dining car is compensation enough for me. Enjoy your travels!

  21. Lyndon Evans
    January 12, 2017 / 9:16 pm

    Some things to clarify regarding the “comforts” of sleepers.

    Superliner cars such as you show the full size bedrooms have a shower/commode area. Roomettes on Superliners DO NOT have toilets in the room. Toilets for those guests are on the lower level as is a shower room.

    Viewliner sleepers has the following “comfort” accomadations .. ALL Roomettes have a commode (that is the photo you show with the two seats). Fullsize bedrooms have a combo toliet/shower/sink “room”.

    In both types of sleeping cars “access available” bedrooms have combo toilet/shower/sink however while the Viewliner is a seperate “room” on the Superliner the area is seperated by a “curtain”.

    You can look at the link from Amtrak (as of 1/2017) for layout of the rooms for both Superliner and Viewliner cars.

    I thought it necessary to write this as we wouldn’t want anyone to be disappointed in rail travel nor Amtrak.

    I like Sherry tend to take dinner in my room .. but breakfast and lunch in the diner. And if you have a sleeper get out and about the train depending which added cars are available such as a cafe/lounge car and/or “observation” car. And be considerate of other travelers and don’t “hog” a seat. Stay a reasonable time and then “move on” so others can enjoy the car too.

    One extra bonus for sleeper car passengers you’re considered First Class. As such in NYC-Chicago-LA you can use The Metropolitan Lounge (in Boston for the Lake Shore Limited – The Acela Lounge). These lounges have comp non-alcoholic beverages, TV to watch, Wi-Fi and comfortable chairs to relax while waiting for boarding or a catnap for extended wait hours for same day connections in Chicago.

    All Aboard and enjoy your land cruise across the US on Amtrak.

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