The site for bidding is www.stores.ebay.com/amtrakauctions.
Among early postings was a round trip between Washington and Pittsburgh (or any cities in between) from mid-December through February, with two weeks of blacked-out dates around the holidays. A check of Amtrak's regular reservation site showed the fare for such a trip in late January at $89 round trip. With a few hours left in the bidding, the high bid was $42, about half price.
More than 30 other pairs of cities were offered, including Philadelphia-Chicago, Memphis-New Orleans, Seattle-Vancouver, Albuquerque-Los Angeles, and a 30-day Chicago-Milwaukee rail pass.
"We hope to persuade travelers who may not be regular Amtrak riders to give the train a try," marketing vice president Barbara Richardson said in a news release.
Experienced or not, bidders should begin their eBay efforts by going to www.amtrak.com or calling Amtrak at 1-800-872-7245 to check the regular price for the route they want to take, taking into account any discounts such as AAA or AARP they are eligible for, as well as any online specials or seasonal specials already being offered by Amtrak.
As with any auction site, users risk paying more than the standard rate if they have not done any research. The eBay listing offers a "range" of regular fares for each trip, but it often is broad ($94 to $172 is posted for the Washington-Chicago ticket) and may not reflect specials or discounts.
Winning bidders are charged a $4.95 service fee that includes first-class mail delivery; overnight delivery costs $9 more. Check with Amtrak for restrictions.
NYC deals. New York's hotels and restaurants are not as starved for business as a year ago, but the city's annual Paint the Town discount program - which offers price breaks on hotel, shopping, theater and other visitor packages in the lean months of January through March - again includes the month of December. This year's program is more complex than in the past. It has two tiers:
Paint the Town Travel Packages that combine a hotel stay with a Broadway show, dining, cultural and sightseeing options and parking discount.
And the Paint the Town "do it yourself" discounts, which can be used to put together your own package or expand upon one of the standard travel packages.
The travel packages include one, two or four nights of lodging at more than 75 hotels of various levels. The "do it yourself" program includes discounts at more than 350 locations throughout the city. For information, to book or to get the Paint the Town guide detailing "do it yourself" savings, call 1-800-692-4843 or visit www.paintnewyork.com or www.nycvisit.com. . . . More than 300 restaurants that offer discounts and early-bird specials for diners age 50 and older can be found in a 20-page guide offered by the city's Department of Consumer Affairs. Get the Senior Dining Guide by sending a self-addressed, 9-by-12-inch envelope with $1 postage to NYC Dept. of Consumer Affairs, Senior Dining Guide, Attention: Press Office, 42 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10004, or find the information online at www.nyc.gov/html/dca/html/dinenyc.html.
New magazine. A new magazine that includes travel as one of its key components has hit the stands. Intermezzo is its name, and it features articles on travel, fine food, wine, and home-related topics, all under the premise that its audience doesn't have time to read separate magazines on each of those topics so it needs a slick umbrella publication. Among the premiere issue's travel articles are "One Amazing Street in London," "Flavors of Tuscany: A Cooking School Vacation," and "South African Wine Tour." A charter subscription is $19 for six issues. For details, visit www.intermezzomagazine.com or call 781-665-7717.
Inaugural cruise delayed. Princess Cruises canceled the inaugural sailing of its ship the Coral Princess, originally scheduled for yesterday, because of delays at the Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard in France. A Dec. 24 sailing, a 10-day round-trip Panama Canal cruise starting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., will become its first voyage. The line plans to christen the ship on Jan. 17 at the canal's Gatun Locks, with Mireya Moscoso, the president of Panama, doing the honors. The cruise line said passengers scheduled for the canceled cruise would receive a full refund and a $500-per-cabin credit for a future trip. The 88,000-ton ship can carry 1,970 passengers; after a winter in southern waters it will start Alaska cruises in May, based in Vancouver.