While planning her recent trip to Europe, Orah Goldman purchased train tickets through Voyages-SNCF for travel from Austria to France. She thought she could pick up her tickets at the train station in Austria. But she was wrong.
Her story underscores the need for travelers to make sure that they understand all the terms and conditions of the tickets they buy — including using the correct website to make reservations, choosing the appropriate method of delivery, directing complaints to the right party, and requesting refunds while the indicated window of time is still open. Otherwise, as Goldman found out the hard way, they may not be going anywhere.
And their money may not be refundable.
Goldman paid 197 euros ($211) for a ticket on ÖBB (Austrian Federal Railroads) from Vienna to Lorraine, France via Frankfurt, Germany, purchased on Voyages-SNCF’s website. She received a confirmation email from SNCF that stated: “You are invited to withdraw this article in a SNCF shop or in a railway station” which she interpreted to mean that she could pick up her tickets in paper form at the railroad station in Vienna.
But when Goldman arrived at Wien Hauptbahnhof, she found that ÖBB would not issue her a paper ticket.
In order to complete her trip, claims Goldman, she “was forced” to pay an additional 161 euros ($181) for new tickets to Frankfurt and Gare de Lorraine TGV.
She then wrote to SNCF’s customer service department requesting a refund for the ticket she had purchased online. When she received no response from SNCF’s customer service, she followed up with a letter to SNCF’s headquarters, including a copy of the previous letter and all her documentation of the ticket purchases. But SNCF did not reply to this letter either.
Then Goldman asked our advocates for assistance.
Our advocate noted that Goldman didn’t use the right website to purchase her ticket. The website has a button in the upper right-hand corner that allows users to customize the site based on their location. Goldman clicked on the option for residents of Europe, rather than the one labeled “Rest of the World,” which includes residents of the U.S.
The website Goldman used contains the following ticket delivery options:
- Free home delivery
- Retrieval at a French station
- Retrieval in Rail Boutique Europe (for Milan, Madrid, Cologne and Geneva)
These delivery options are also listed in Voyages-SNCF’s terms and conditions, which do not include an option for picking up tickets in Austria.
We also noted that Goldman contacted SNCF directly for a refund instead of using the refund request procedure on Voyages-SNCF’s website at https://en.voyages-sncf.com/en/help-en/cancel-train-ticket:
Lastly you made your refund request directly with SNCF instead from voyages-sncf.com. It does not appear that this website is owned or operated by SNCF, but just an authorized ticket provider. Normally refund requests need to be made through the agency from which the tickets were purchased.
The website indicates that refund requests must be made within 60 days of the departure date.
We also advised Goldman that the terms in her booking confirmation suggested that she might be able to obtain a refund of 50 percent of the cost of her original ticket. Our advocate suggested that she request such a refund using the instructions on SNCF’s website. Alternatively, Goldman could send a polite, concise letter to SNCF at firstname.lastname@example.org or use SNCF’s contact form at https://en.voyages-sncf.com/en/help-en/contact or social media to explain her confusion and request a refund.
We contacted Voyages-SNCF on Goldman’s behalf, and learned that because the 60-day window for requesting a refund had expired, Voyages-SNCF will not issue Goldman a refund.
Lesson learned, to the tune of 197 euros.