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2018 Discount Fares and Refund/Cancellation Fee Changes

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Following up on the above, since I'm on my phone...

 

I'm trying to remember when the change from 10 to 20% happened. Wasn't that just back in August? I really don't appreciate having to deal with Schrodinger's change/cancel policy.

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Following up on the above, since I'm on my phone...

 

I'm trying to remember when the change from 10 to 20% happened. Wasn't that just back in August? I really don't appreciate having to deal with Schrodinger's change/cancel policy.

 

Last year - August 15, 2016.

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Or, perhaps, tie a full eVoucher refund to having an active AGR account and limiting it to, say, 2-4/year for a full eVoucher amount? That would seem a lot more difficult to work around for pre-booking (can you even do a name change without a cancellation for Amtrak?) and encourage enrollment in AGR.

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There are still travel agents? Seriously, I can't imagine that's the problem, first, there are so few left anyway, second, it's not like they could front the money to book that many rooms for even one day, much less multiple days, that far in the future. It was a low margin business and I can't imagine too many of them had the available free cash flow to do that.

 

Really, it's not a bad deal-certainly better than you get on an airline for the most part, and it makes sense. If the train is booked when I'm shopping to travel, I'm going to book a plane. If that room later opens up near train time, it's likely it may go empty, and they've either given your money back, or ended up taking another paid revenue space off a future train. I'm ok with it,

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There are still travel agents? Seriously, I can't imagine that's the problem, first, there are so few left anyway, second, it's not like they could front the money to book that many rooms for even one day, much less multiple days, that far in the future. It was a low margin business and I can't imagine too many of them had the available free cash flow to do that.

 

Not the old-fashioned travel agencies, but the newfangled "packaging" companies. You want to book the CZ from San Francisco to Denver in August? Aww, Amtrak's all booked up, but if you call us, we can sell you a special all-inclusive package...for seven thousand dollars.

 

ETA: Think ticket scalpers for train travel. But if a scalper at the stadium doesn't sell his seat, he loses his money. If these guys don't sell, they cancel their booking and get a voucher for next year. No downside...unless you're just a regular Joe looking to book a trip for your family at a regular price.

Sent from my STV100-1 using Amtrak Forum mobile app

Edited by ehbowen

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Yes, there are still travel agencies around. In fact, you may have heard of one:

 

Amtrak Vacations

They are a totally separate company (a travel agency) that is under contract with Amtrak to provide packages. If you have a gift certificate from Amtrak Vacations, it can not be used directly to purchase train travel from Amtrak. You must use it at Amtrak Vacations!

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Travel agents still exist but these days the fees are paid directly to the agency by the person traveling rather than being received as a sort of kickback from airlines and hotels. Many of us enjoy researching our travel options and looking for deals but some people just want to pickup the phone and give broad instructions that are turned into a personalized vacation behind the scenes. If you make good money but your job and family life is very hectic I suppose I could see the appeal. All you have to do is show up and enjoy the vacation. The minutia of making sure everything lines up smoothly is somebody else's problem and if things go horribly wrong you have someone else to blame. This is distinct from a prepackaged holiday where everyone travels in a group and receives roughly the same experience.

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Travel agencies may be way less commonly used for individuals, but for companies and organizations they perform very useful services. I am a member of an organization that has hundreds of volunteer members at its annual congress and mid winter meeting. Anyone attending calls the agent handling it and makes their booking. The organization gets one bill, and accurate records, and has established rules for bookings, someone is available 24/7 in case of problems, and hundreds of reimbursement requests don't have to get processed, with the headaches that accompany that. (sent in late, filled out wrong, lost in the mail, never got my check you made arrangements outside of the rules we gave you).

 

Larger companies also use them for business travel, many of them are mostly online, with human backup. Company sets booking guidelines, system lets you book within what is allowed. Levels of mgt override for special situations.

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A handy example is that when I was traveling for a trip for William and Mary, I had to book via their travel agent. On the bright side, the TA literally didn't know an Acela from a Regional and I had an upgrade card to burn...

Edit: To be clear, there are situations where it is advantageous to use a TA, but that's generally (at least IMO) limited to either situations where they'll also be handling stuff like visa support letters and the like or trips where there's a lot of complexity that needs to be navigated.

Edited by Anderson

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One interesting "quirk" in the chart above: If for some reason a saver fare is on offer within the last seven days before departure (uncommon but I've seen a few of them only require three-day advance purchase), technically the saver fare now has the more flexible cancellation conditions (24 hrs vs. 1 hr). Bear in mind that as far as I've generally been concerned, a voucher might as well be cash (I'll use it within a few months).

 

FWIW, this has probably cost Amtrak at least one LD trip (when I showed him this change, I believe that Charlie Hamilton promptly took an axe to his planned LD train trip to the NARP meeting this spring) and there's a decent chance it costs them a second one (I was planning to take the train to Worldcon in San Jose. Now? I'm probably at least cutting that trip back from WAS-CHI-LAX-SJC to just LAX-SJC).

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I was lazy and didn't type 75% eVoucher over and over and over. Whatever it says "XX% refund or eVoucher" means XX% refund or same XX% to an eVoucher. There is no more full credit to an eVoucher unless it says Full refund or eVoucher.

 

If you typed all that by hand, thank you for your extraordinary effort to let the community know about the change.

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If you have a paper voucher and go to an agent in a station, is that affected? Is there a charge either for cancelling a trip and asking the station agent for a paper voucher? Or for redeeming a paper voucher and keeping part of it? Please forgive me if this was answered above, but I didn't see it if so.

Edited by Mystic River Dragon

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The penalty would be the same as an eVoucher.

 

Sent from my Moto G (4) using Tapatalk

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I wonder how much this fare flexibility has cost Amtrak over the years. I remember not that long ago people booking multiple trips and cancelling the alternates because of the so called flexibility.

 

I wonder how much new business it has attracted and how much existing business was not lost because of the flexibility.

 

This issue is not quite the same as what I call the easy cost accounting syndrome; i.e. include the easy to count costs, but exclude the difficult to count ones and the ones that will be incurred in the future. But it's close.

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It wouldn't surprise me to find out that the sleeper cancelation policy is driven by the practice of travel agencies booking every available room on the train for resale, and then canceling the unsold ones at the last minute for a voucher which they can use to do the same thing next season.

 

Sent from my STV100-1 using Amtrak Forum mobile app

 

I'm sure Amtrak could handle the travel agencys without stiffing its regular customers.

 

Sent from my big, bad desktop

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It wouldn't surprise me to find out that the sleeper cancelation policy is driven by the practice of travel agencies booking every available room on the train for resale, and then canceling the unsold ones at the last minute for a voucher which they can use to do the same thing next season.

I'm sure Amtrak could handle the travel agencys without stiffing its regular customers.

 

I have to agree with @ehbowen.

 

I am sure if there was another way to deal with these travel agencies, Amtrak would have tried it years ago. I hope this new policy works, and as a customer, I would consider it to be a very small inconvenience, for a big pay back. I base that on the fact that I make train reservations far, far more often than I ever cancel them. I mean, for more than a couple of decades of train travel, I have only ever had to cancel a trip once.

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I wonder how much this fare flexibility has cost Amtrak over the years. I remember not that long ago people booking multiple trips and cancelling the alternates because of the so called flexibility.

 

I wonder how much new business it has attracted and how much existing business was not lost because of the flexibility.

 

This issue is not quite the same as what I call the easy cost accounting syndrome; i.e. include the easy to count costs, but exclude the difficult to count ones and the ones that will be incurred in the future. But it's close.

 

This. If anything, the issue with the "multiple bookings" was arguably a side-effect of Amtrak going all-reserved on the NEC back in 2002 or so (prior to which, if I'm not mistaken, reservations were not required on many Regionals). Reading a bit deeper into this, if that is a major problem (and ironically, you can still effectively pull that trick in Business, just not in Coach, and on top of that a Business ticket does tend to be cheaper than a Flexible Coach ticket more than a few days in advance/outside of peak travel periods) I suspect that Amtrak is in a nasty staring contest with a decent number of passengers in that area.

 

By the way, I suspect that at some point a secondary market in tickets is going to develop unless/until Amtrak actually tries to fight that...I literally cannot recall the last time I had my ID checked, so logical customer behavior on non-reserved trains, presuming that a ticket couldn't be used for insert-reason-here, would be to arrange to hand off the ticket in question for somewhere between 75-100% of face value. We're back down to those odd weaknesses of rail travel versus air travel (and I can't see aggressive ID checks at major terminals working too well). Granted, I couldn't pull this on my regular trains (there are a respectable number of OBS who would see my name, see someone else's face, and know something was off), but I can really see an impetus developing for illicit ticket-swapping since there's an increasing issue of loss prevention rather than just a profit motive of some sort.

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Amtrak now has a cancellation policy that is worse than most airlines. Specially the lack of cancellation for 100% refund within 24 hours of booking, which is required by law for airline tickets for all fare classes.

 

Additionally, there is now even less incentive to take Amtrak on medium distance trips when you can drive instead.

 

I think several of my planned trips in ‘18 just got converted to air + drive trips in the planning process.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Amtrak Forum

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I have noticed that all the Amtrak train rides I have taken in the last few years have been considerably fuller than10 years ago. I guess if trains are running near capacity, then it makes sense not to give revenue away needlessly. As a senior, it seems a bad move to raise the discount start age to 65, I would have thought folk over 62 would make up a high proportion of passengers travelling for the fun of it? I guess Amtrak know what they are doing, they have the facts and figures about cancellations and ages of passengers to refer to.

Amtrak is not run as a benefit to passengers, it is a business.

Sadly, my other favourite rail system, India, is also more business minded, bumping up fares with dynamic prices and cutting back on "perks", at least for foreign seniors!

 

Ed.

Edited by caravanman

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Additionally, there is now even less incentive to take Amtrak on medium distance trips when you can drive instead.

 

 

 

This ^

 

Amtrak is now MUCH less competitive with driving, for trips under a few hundred miles or so, particularly for anyone who has any sort of business or personal obligations that make schedule changes common--surely a large part of Amtrak's clientele. Previously, a full-credit voucher limited the cost of changing dates of travel to any increase in the cost of the ticket (if the fare on your new travel date is in a higher bucket than when you bought your ticket for the original travel date).

 

So Amtrak's new polcy is going to cost them this: Customers with uncertain schedules will be more reluctant to book tickets, and some will simply decide from the get-go to drive instead.

 

I don't have any way to quantify what Amtrak will be gaining from the change, but I'm doubtful it's going to be a net gain for them in revenue. It's certainly a net loss in good will.

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Depends on your definition of medium distance, and on the available service. To me, San Jose to Sacramento is medium distance -- reliable three hour Capitol Corridor ride versus 2.5 to god knows how many hours in the car. San Jose to LA is long distance and worth getting on a plane. The Starlight takes all day, and a bit of the night, and can't be relied on to run on time (and leaves me stranded in downtown LA, arriving, as it does, after most of the local service has ended). Southwest gets me to my choice of southern California locations in less than an hour (flight time), usually on schedule. San Jose to San Francisco is short distance – reliable one hour Caltrain ride versus, occasionally, three hours in the car.

 

The new CEO seems to be focused on corridor service, which serves many high traffic, medium distance city pair routes. Because states are involved, those are also the routes least affected by the fare policy changes. Long distance trains do a poor job of serving medium distance routes already. I don't think the new fare policy will cost Amtrak more money in lost business than it gains.

Edited by TiBike

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