“I think they’re being needlessly greedy”

Eurostar / Photo by 10 Italia – Flickr Creative Commons
A date on a ticket can be a small but important detail. And no place is that more true than in Europe, where dates have a way of getting reversed.

What do I mean?

Well, we in the States might write Sept. 17 as 9/17/12, right? In Europe, it’s 17-09-12.

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But what if you’re traveling on Sept. 8, and the ticket says 8/9 – or wait, is it 9/8?

Oh no! When, exactly, is that ticket for?

That’s the problem Victor Strasburger had with his bullet train tickets from London to Luxembourg. (If you think airline tickets have onerous terms, try the European train.)

“I had an invitation in July to speak at a medical conference. I booked my ticket in advance on Eurostar,” he said. “The conference organizers changed the date I was speaking. I dutifully paid a whole lot of money to buy another ticket on Eurostar — my fault, not theirs.”

But when Strasburger made the switch, he got confused. He paid $784 for tickets on July 6th, but his travel date was on the 8th.

“Eurostar’s online system is not foolproof,” he told me. “You are easily confused.”

By the way, I just tried to make a reservation via the Eurostar site. If you tell the site you’re originating in the UK, here’s the date format.

When he showed up for his train in London, he had to buy new tickets – yet again. In effect, he paid for his tickets three times.

Appeals to Eurostar were unsuccessful. The company blamed his glitch on his home computer and the way in which the tickets printed. Here’s the form letter it sent him.

Print at Home tickets are designed to clearly show the dates of travel so as to avoid confusion.

We are unfortunately not responsible for how your home printed renders these said tickets. If the print out was hard to read this is in no way associated with the quality of the PDF sent.

Furthermore, the non-refundable and non-exchangeable conditions associated with your tickets mean we are unable to offer a refund.

Apologies for not being in a position to assist.

Strasburger is disappointed with Eurostar’s refusal.

“I think they’re being needlessly greedy — even more so than U.S. airlines,” he said. “This was a honest mistake, and even if it weren’t, they should at least allow re-use with a penalty fee.”

I agree, this seems like a needlessly harsh response to an honest mistake. I’m not sure how to handle this case, though. On the one hand, Eurostar’s rules are unambiguous.

On the flip side, anyone could have been confused by the European vs. American date format or the confusing printout (take your pick, but my guess is that it was a date formatting issue.)

Should I ask Eurostar to review this case, or is this going to be an expensive lesson learned for Strasburger?

Update (Sept. 18): I contacted Eurostar and asked about Strasburger’s case. I admit, this was a long shot. Here’s what it said:

It seems that the issue Dr Strasburger and his wife encountered boils down to two key points – the clarity of the journey date when making a booking, and the clarity of information on our tickets. As the confusion was whether the journey was booked for the 6th or 8th of September, I don’t feel that the issue of American vs European date format is relevant, since this would imply some confusion over the month, not day.

With regard to the first key point on the clarity of the journey date when booking, I can see that Dr Strasburger’s booking was made online via our website. Our website uses a pop-up calendar when choosing dates – as you show on your blog – so picking the correct date should be fairly straightforward, regardless of the format to which the person making the booking is accustomed.

During the booking process, both prior to and after payment is made, the date is confirmed several times. An email confirmation is then sent, which again confirms the date of travel and other journey information. It is also displayed on the tickets, which customers are encouraged to check before travel.

Ultimately, the person making the booking has to take responsibility for choosing the correct date, and then communicate any necessary information (such as journey date and time) to those travelling.

Regarding the clarity of information on our tickets, I have attached an example for you. You can see that the various information given is legible, and in the case of any numbers, distinguishable from one to another. It is worth emphasising the point that communicating the correct travel date to Mrs Strasburger was not the responsibility of Eurostar. Providing clear information on our website and tickets certainly is our responsibility, but I feel that we have fulfilled this part of the bargain.

Although I have genuine sympathy for the additional cost which Dr Strasburger has incurred, I hope that the information above makes clear the reasons why we will not be able to offer anything in this case.