Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Amtrak’s New Refund Policy May Have a Built-in Problem.

Amtrak has always had what seemed to me to be a very liberal policy regarding refunds. Even when someone made a reservation, paid for the ticket, and then was a no-show at the time of departure, Amtrak would provide a full refund, although in some cases it would be in the form of a voucher for future travel.

In order to get a full refund after that date, reservations will have to be cancelled no less than 24 hours in advance, and if you’re a no-show, you’ll get no refund at all.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with that, but there’s a big asterisk tacked onto the new policy. It says the 24-hour cancellation requirement is based on when the train departs from its point of origin.

If Amtrak sticks to that requirement literally -- and, it does make sense when you think about it -- it’s going to be complicated in some cases and will, I’m afraid, be a problem for some Amtrak customers.
For instance, let’s say you live in Grand Junction, Colorado, and you’ve booked a roomette on January 14 for the overnight ride on the California Zephyr from there to Sacramento, California. The fare is $461 and you’ve already charged the cost of the ticket to your credit card.

To illustrate the potential problem, let’s say you fall off a ladder putting up Christmas decorations in your home and break a leg. Now you have to cancel that reservation.

According to the new policy, you must do so no later than 1:00 p.m. (Mountain Time) on January 12, because that is 24 hours before the Zephyr is scheduled to depart at 2:00 p.m. (Central Time) from its point of origin, which is Chicago.

Some people – especially infrequent Amtrak travelers – will think they can cancel 24 hours before the day and time when they would be boarding. In this hypothetical example, and taking the different time zone into account, the actual cancellation deadline would be 49 hours prior to the time the westbound Zephyr leaves Grand Junction. 

How’d you like to be working Amtrak’s Customer Service phone lines the day that policy kicks in?


ecj317 said...

You don't quite have the refund policy correct. The major change March 1, 2014 is the No Show policy. If you no show a reserved coach or an Acela business class seat that is not a Flexible Fare then you forfeit your fare and no eVoucher is issued. Flexible Fares are always fully refundable. Flexible Fares are the highest fares for a reserved coach or an Acela business class seat. If you call and cancel a Value Fare 24hrs or more prior to your train's scheduled departure time you get a full refund without any penalties. If you cancel less than 24hrs but before the train's departure time, you get a refund -10% or an eVoucher for the full amount. Saver Fares like the Northeast Corridor 14 day advance fares are always non-refundable. You can get an eVoucher for the full amount but starting March 1 you forfeit the eVoucher if you cancel after the train departs.

Reserved non-Acela Business Class and Acela First Class seats are fully refundable up until time of departure. If you cancel after the train departs (no show) you receive a refund -10%.

The Sleeper Cancellation Policy is not changing. Once payment is made you can get a refund -10% if you cancel 15 or more days prior to your departure date. You can also get an eVoucher for the full amount. If you cancel 14 days or fewer to your departure date you cannot get a refund. You are only eligible for an eVoucher for the full amount. An eVoucher is good for a full year. If you no show your train you forfeit everything. You cannot get an eVoucher or any money back.

Unreserved tickets always have a 10% refund fee.

In your California Zephyr example you had several things wrong. First, if you have a roomette the Sleeper Cancellation policy applies not the 24 hour prior to departure policy for reserved coach seats. Second, if we change your example to a reserved coach seat on California Zephyr TRN 5, you have to call and cancel 24 hours prior to it's scheduled departure time out of Grand Junction, CO which is 4:10 PM. You do not have to cancel 24 hrs prior to it's 2PM departure time out of Chicago. By Origin, the policy if referring to the origin city of your departure. Thus if you were taking the California Zephyr from Grand Junction to Sacramento CA then the San Joaquin from Sacramento to Bakersfield, CA your origin is Grand Junction. You must cancel 24 hrs or more prior to your departure time out of Grand Junction in order to get a full refund without a refund fee. If you cancel less than 24 hrs but before the train's departure time out of GJT, then you get a refund -10% or an eVoucher for the full amount. Starting March 1, 2014 if you no show then you forfeit you money and you are no longer eligible for an eVoucher.

The bottom line is never No Show.

JIM LOOMIS said...

Well, I certainly appreciate the explanation. I tried to simplify it and I guess that's not possible … and that takes me back to my basic complaint that the policy is just too complicated and is going to be the source of problems.

bartje said...

It might be a good idea for either Amtrak, or NARP as a service to their members, to develop a travel insurance against such bad luck...

ecj317 said...

I think the advent of eTickets and eVouchers have gotten most passengers in the habit of not No Showing a train. You would never consider no showing a plane or hotel reservation. However, there are still a large number of passengers who do no show. This prevents others from taking that seat and is a loss of revenue.

Amtrak Guest Reward members have been under the No Show policy for point redemption reservations since January 1, 2013. If they No Show a point redemption reservation they forfeit their points.

The policy is confusing because of the various types of tickets but the bottom line is to never no show a train. There are plenty examples of reasons why a no show can happen. However, I think "never no show a train" is pretty simple.

I love to travel by train. I'm a fan of your blog. Keep up the great work.

JIM LOOMIS said...

bartje: Interesting you suggest that. We (NARP) are working on establishing a relationship with Travel Guard, a leading firm in the travel insurance field. It would give NARP members a preferred rate on travel insurance, plus NARP would get a contribution from Travel Guard when a policy is sold through NARP to a member.

ecj317: I like that: "Never no show a train." Simplifies everything! I'm working on revisions for a 4th edition of my book and that's going in!