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New Refund Policy, Effective March 1st, 2014


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#1 Blackwolf

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 10:58 AM

Just received an email from Amtrak, detailing brand-new refund policy changes.  This will affect both brand-new and existing reservations.

 

 

For all reserved Coach class and Acela® Express Business class reservations, you must cancel your reservation at least 24 hours prior to the train's scheduled departure in order to be eligible for a full refund. If the reservation is canceled within 24 hours of the scheduled departure, a refund fee will apply (Value fare tickets only; Saver fare tickets are not refundable). If the reservation is not canceled prior to the scheduled departure ("no show"), the entire amount paid for the reservation will be forfeited (Value and Saver fare tickets); the ticket value will not be stored in an eVoucher and cannot be applied toward future travel. Flexible fare tickets will remain fully refundable.

The new policy will affect both existing reservations and all new reservations for travel beginning on March 1, 2014. If you require more flexibility in your travel plans, please book a fully refundable fare which may be refunded without fee at any time within a year from purchase. To book a fully refundable fare, look for "Flexible" fares on Amtrak.com. If you are making your reservation through one of our contact center or station agents, please request a fully refundable fare.

To see the full refund policy, visit Amtrak.com/refund.

 

 


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#2 RyanS

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 10:59 AM

That doesn't sound wildly unreasonable.
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#3 jebr

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 11:10 AM

That doesn't sound wildly unreasonable.

No, but it does make Amtrak's refund policy (slightly) less of a selling point. I can understand why they're doing it, but hopefully there's a "flat tire rule" of some sort. (I assume they're keeping the existing waiver for those where the train is 2+ hours late.)

 

Also, disappointing that Amtrak's also applying it to existing reservations. It was purchased under the old rules, and it doesn't seem to be much of a liability to let those particular passengers (those who have already booked tickets between 3/1 and 11/16, the latest someone could book a ticket under the old policy) be grandfathered in.



#4 PRR 60

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 11:14 AM

The change here is the 100% forfeiture of saver and value fares if reservations are not cancelled prior to the scheduled departure of the train.  That seems reasonable, but should be clarified with some caveats.

 

There should be some accommodation for someone who simply misses a train for reasons outside their control.  It could be traffic issues, car issues, a broken-down commuter train, whatever.  Within some reasonable timeframe after the scheduled departure, Amtrak should permit someone showing up to be re-accommodated on an available train.  Most airlines have this policy (the "flat tire" rule).  If Amtrak does not, they should.



#5 Guest_Guest- monthly rider_*

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 11:42 AM

This is a huge change for business travelers on the Northeast corridor and does hit a main selling point versus the airlines.  Amtrak offered tremendous flexibility- I understand this change from their side and it is entirely rational, but it will does force me and a lot of other NEC travelers to rethink the ticket-buying strategy.  Right now, I can book a return from NYP to PHL pretty aggressively, and if I miss it, no big deal.  Under the new rules, I should either buy a higher fare bucket or a later train.  Again, from Amtrak's side, those are both reasonable outcomes; I'm just noting that it forces a rethinking of buyer behavior in some pretty common situations.



#6 jis

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 11:44 AM

I wonder if this was a result of a study of the number of no-show driven empty seats that are running around the system, or it was something else that drove this change. Either way it makes sense.

#7 Guest_Noticketoride_*

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 11:52 AM

Perhaps they are simply making it official? I purchased a "fully refundable" ticket on the CZ last March for travel in October. When that route was disrupted by floods in September, my travel plan was completely disrupted and rather than face two 9-hour bustitutions I elected to cancel my reservation. Amtrak generously withheld a $100 cancellation fee from the refund amount on their fully refundable fare and their customer service rep refused to budge on the fee when I complained. Made me feel extra special.

#8 jis

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 11:59 AM

No. For NEC this is a definite change in policy. This change is only for the NEC policy which was more flexible than the policy that applied to the rest of the system, mostly because of the intense competition with airlines on the NEC.

#9 TVRM610

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 12:04 PM

I will echo other thoughts... 

 

Just this past week I was waiting for a Keystone train at Harrisburg... the 1:00 Pennsylvanian came in on time and the 12:00 Keystone wasn't even boarding yet so I simply canceled one ticket, and bought the other on my iphone and down the platform I went. Not only did we depart ahead of the Keystone, I got to sit in a comfy Amfleet II and enjoy a snack from the cafe' car.  Under the new rules.. I would be at the mercy of the ticket agent who would most likely not want to bother. 


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#10 jebr

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 01:23 PM

Perhaps they are simply making it official? I purchased a "fully refundable" ticket on the CZ last March for travel in October. When that route was disrupted by floods in September, my travel plan was completely disrupted and rather than face two 9-hour bustitutions I elected to cancel my reservation. Amtrak generously withheld a $100 cancellation fee from the refund amount on their fully refundable fare and their customer service rep refused to budge on the fee when I complained. Made me feel extra special.

No, different change here. Only change is on coach travel, which has a different policy from the sleepers.

 

This is the current sleeper policy, which was changed earlier this year, I believe (emphasis mine:)
 

Sleeper Travel: If canceled 15 or more days before the scheduled departure from the origin, sleeping accommodation charges and associated rail fares are refundable less a 10% refund fee.

 

That being said, you could contact Customer Relations (call the normal Amtrak number and when you get a representative, specifically ask for Customer Relations) and see if they can refund that after-the-fact (since the trip is done now.)


Edited by jebr, 16 December 2013 - 01:24 PM.


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Posted 16 December 2013 - 01:26 PM

Remember that "Flexible fare tickets will remain fully refundable." Just stick to buying those.

I know for work trips, we (my employer actually) buys only refundable airline tickets, because business trip plans do change frequently. Those on the NEC would simply need to do the same for Amtrak train tickets.

#12 calwatch

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 02:25 PM

Of course, the flexible fare tickets are high bucket tickets, which in some instances can be near the cost of airline tickets. This mirrors what Southwest Airlines recently did, with "no shows" no longer eligible to get fare credit once the time of the originally scheduled flight has past. For someone like TVRM610, you now will have to play a guessing game, because you won't be able to hold two tickets simultaneously anymore.



#13 B&Ofan

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 02:48 PM

I have to admit I am not happy with this change. While it may be more in line with what the airlines are doing, I don't think that is a good model to follow. If it were up to me I would return to the good / bad (depending on your point of view) old days when most of the NEC trains were unreserved and you just bought a ticket and got on board. I realize that the problem with this is you can get some very crowded trains and that can reflect poorly.

 

I like what they do in Japan on the Shinkansen, most of the train is reserved seating (with seats specified) and the first few cars (usually 3-5) are unreserved. If you have an unreserved ticket you know you have a chance of standing (or possibly waiting for the next train). Then again the Shinkansen runs with a frequency of 11-12 trains an hour most of them being the extra fare express Nazomi.

 

I think the real issue here is they need more capacity on the NEC but are unable to provide it, so to reduce demand to a level they can provide they are using revenue maximizing techniques.
 



#14 Anderson

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 02:54 PM

(1) While I understand the shift in policy to some extent, altering grandfathered reservations is a slap in everyone's collective face IMHO.

(2) A question that seems relevant is this: Does the "no show" point attach at the scheduled departure time?  Or when the train actually shows up?  In keeping with the above, when Metro-North screws the pooch again or an engine dies in Penn Station...I love Amtrak, but if it's the former I kind of hope a horde of angry passengers keeps security busy for the rest of the evening, 'cause they will have earned the negative reinforcement.

(3) In the "notickettoride" scenario...that's a flaw in Amtrak's policy IMHO.  Granted, my response would be to get a voucher that I could burn with no trouble in the space of a year, but there's something to be said about there being a material difference between a train with a dining car serving decent food and a lounge/observation/cafe car and a bus, and not everyone spends as much time on the train as I do.  If I pay $X for a ticket on Amtrak (not a Thruway) from, say, Denver to Salt Lake City, I am paying for the bloody train with the amenities listed in the timetable, not for a stand-in bus that may or may not even make timely meal stops, will almost assuredly have no OBS, and likely won't even match the train in terms of seat comfort.  Amtrak really needs to tweak their policy on "alternate transportation provided" scenarios that cause a major shift for a large portion of one's trip.

(3a) Customer relations is not customer service.  There's a difference.


Edited by Anderson, 16 December 2013 - 03:22 PM.

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#15 saxman

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 04:25 PM

So, pretty much, the only thing that changes is that if you no-show, you'll forfeit the money you spent on the ticket. It will no longer go to an eVoucher automatically. I can see how this can be problematic for some. Perhaps you want to get on a station downline or can't get a hold of Amtrak at the last minute due to extenuating circumstances.

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#16 PRR 60

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 04:39 PM

Note that with this new policy, a no-show for the first segment results in the cancellation and forfeiture of funds of the entire reservation.

 

For example, say a couple has a reservation from BWI to LAX via WAS and CHI with coach on the Regional and bedrooms on #29 and #3.  The cost of that trip would be about $2000, depending on buckets.  Now, lets say they are running a little late and decide to skip the Regional (with a three hour layover in WAS) and take a later MARC from BWI to WAS.  If they do that and do not call Amtrak to modify the reservation, when they go to board the Capitol Limited, they will not only find their ongoing reservation was cancelled all the way to LAX, but they will also find the entire $2000 fare they paid is gone with no refund and no voucher.  They could be standing at WAS waiting to board and find their trip and money are gone because they were a no-show for a $15 segment on a mid-day Regional that was probably half empty.  That is a pretty nasty penalty.

 

Now, would Amtrak actually do that?  It's anybody's guess.  Considering how anal Amtrak is about rules and regulations, I bet they would give it a shot.



#17 VentureForth

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 04:56 PM

The more Amtrak behaves like an airline, the more I see its diminishing role in my life... :(

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#18 Guest_boston mike_*

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 04:57 PM

 

There should be some accommodation for someone who simply misses a train for reasons outside their control.  It could be traffic issues, car issues, a broken-down commuter train, whatever.  Within some reasonable timeframe after the scheduled departure, Amtrak should permit someone showing up to be re-accommodated on an available train.  Most airlines have this policy (the "flat tire" rule).  If Amtrak does not, they should.

What airline does that??  I can assure you none do, maybe years ago they did, but for this to work today the ticket agents in the terminal need to have the freedom to make a decision about waiving a fee and they do not have that freedom.  With kiosk based check in you would be trying to argue with an ATM machine.  

 

Example: I arrived at Logan Airport in Boston at 8:35 for a 9:00 am flight.   I had missed the check in cut off for my 9:00 am flight by five minutes.   Was delayed due to traffic as a tunnel was closed - the agents know that as they all live in Boston too but they cannot do anything to make up for it. Solution, I pay the $50 fee to be put on standby for the 10:00 flight so I could get a boarding pass to go through security with, went through security, and boarded the 9:00 anyway as it hadn't left yet. 

 

There isn't a flat tire rule, I am certain of that. 

 

Mike



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Posted 16 December 2013 - 05:07 PM

Clearly an item it is addressing is the habit on the NEC for businesspeople to book multiple reservations early.  In other words, they know they need to go from NYP to BOS Thursday after next, but haven't lined up every meeting.  To get the best fare they'll book seats on, say, the 4:00, and 5:00 a few weeks early.  If its coming to 3:00 and things are running long they'll cancel the 4:00 and take the 5:00.  If they make the 4:00 they'll cancel the 5:00, but maybe not until 4:30.  Amtrak is left with an empty seat on the 5:00 then as it is doubtable they'll sell it in the next 30 minutes. 

 

Oddly, taking the Acela home last Thursday I was thinking about doing exactly this for my January trip....just book now and then sort it out later.  It was a loophole that always seemed too good to last, though.

 

Mike

 

 



#20 gmushial

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 05:12 PM

This sounds like a balancing act: a tradeoff btwn passenger flexibility and not dragging around empty seats that could have been sold but weren't because they were thought to have already been sold.

 

I always travel coach, always at low bucket, but because I buy through AAA I get 10% off, which I used to buy cancellation insurance - meaning that I travel at low bucket prices, but if I have to cancel I get my money back.

 

But the problem I see is: if Amtrak is going to break even, they have to charge net net the passengers on a train, the cost of moving that train from A to B. If people cancel at the last minute, then Amtrak can't resell that seat, and in fact they probably don't know it'll be an empty seat until they leave, or shortly before. So: the new policy seems almost fair in that - if you buy a seat and don't use it, if they can't sell it, then it's yours, if your butt is in it or not. Otherwise, those of us that actually do go from A to B, end up having to subsidize the no-shows.  No?

 

This seems to be a replay of the hospital situation: where us with insurance get to pay the bills for all those that show up, are treated by law, but can't pay. My understanding in that case is that approx. 1/3rd of my bill is in fact somebody else's.

 

Bottom line: maybe those that want flexibility, they buy cancellation insurance, and quite asking the rest of us to foot their bills. ...  or, am I misinterpreting the situation?





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