After a “traumatic nightmare” on Amtrak, can I get my money back?

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By Christopher Elliott

Kimberli Eicher and her daughter just experienced the worst Amtrak train ride imaginable. It was so bad that they canceled their return trip and flew home. Do they deserve a refund?

Question

I took my seven-year-old daughter on our first Amtrak trip, from Chemult, Ore., to Oklahoma City to visit her cousins this summer. 

The trip was a nightmare. Amtrak delayed our first train by seven hours. It failed to provide all the meals on our 26-hour trip. I had paid for a sleeper, but Amtrak seated us in the wrong section of the train. An employee yelled at me for “taking his seat” on a coach train where there were no assigned seats.

I canceled our return trip and paid almost $1,000 for airfare to get home. The airfare wiped out my savings. 

When I canceled our Amtrak return trip and explained why, a representative assured me that I’d receive a “full refund for my purchase.” That promise was six weeks ago, and now they’re saying I’m not eligible for a refund. 

In my view, I purchased services that were never delivered (i.e., meals and bedroom accommodations for three days), and as a result of Amtrak not providing the services promised with my purchase, they forced me to have to spend money I don’t really have in order to transport my daughter and myself back home. — Kimberli Eicher, Bend, Ore.

Answer

I’m sorry you had such a difficult trip to Oklahoma. Amtrak should have done better — no delays, putting you in the right section of the train and treating you with dignity. 

None of these issues rises to the level of qualifying for a refund. Amtrak doesn’t provide refunds for late trains. It does refund part of your ticket for an involuntary downgrade. But it does not offer your money back because of rude employees. 

Southwest Airlines is dedicated to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to providing our employees with a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

But taken together, these complaints add up. You also furnished me with a detailed trip report that you sent to your bank when you disputed the charges for your train fare. You were not exaggerating when you called it a traumatic nightmare. I would have fought for a refund, too.

Technically, Amtrak was entitled to keep your money. After all, it had provided you with transportation from Oregon to Oklahoma. But a representative had already agreed to refund half your fare, so it’s reasonable to expect Amtrak to do what it promised. Instead, Amtrak reneged and insisted on keeping your money. 

As I already mentioned, you filed a credit card dispute to recover your money after Amtrak told you it would not refund your ticket. You can file a chargeback for a service that you paid for but did not receive, so I think you had a case. You contacted me before the dispute was resolved, asking me to intervene. (Related: Why is Amtrak always so late?)

I think you may have missed a step. When a company says “no” you can always appeal to an executive. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the Amtrak executives on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. I would have tried that before disputing your charges. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problems.)

Will Amtrak refund their money?

I reached out to Amtrak for you. A representative reviewed your file and agreed that your trip did not go as it should have. Amtrak refunded your ticket and offered you a credit for a make-good trip — just in case you want to try Amtrak again.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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