Amtrak offered an $834 voucher after a “service disruption.” Can it do that? 

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By Christopher Elliott

Cynthia Donahue and her husband had tickets on Amtrak’s Auto Train. Then the rail carrier cancels and offers them a ticket credit that expires within two years. Is that how it’s supposed to work? And can this couple ever get their money back?

Question

My husband and I were scheduled to take the Amtrak Auto Train from Sanford, Fla., to Washington, D.C., two years ago. We received a surprising text message at noon the day before departure that our train was canceled because of a “service disruption” and that there was no other transportation available. The message advised me to call Amtrak right away to reschedule. When I called, a representative told me the next available train was three days later.

We could not wait three days. It was a confusing time. People across the country were scared because of the pandemic. Hotels and restaurants were closing and the governor of Florida was telling visitors to go home. We decided to follow the governor’s instructions, and we drove 1,500 miles to Massachusetts.

When we got home, I called Amtrak and requested a refund. An Amtrak representative told me I could not have a cash credit, but offered a voucher for travel within two years. Amtrak then sent me the travel credit, also identified on the paper as a voucher code and voucher value.  

I am elderly and have health concerns, so a travel credit or voucher is of no help. I am requesting a refund. Is there anything you can do to get a $834 refund for us? — Cynthia Donahue, Bedford, Mass.

Answer

I think Amtrak may have overlooked something with your ticket. According to the rail carrier, if it cancels your train, your fare is refundable. That’s an industry-wide practice by the way — even airlines offer full refunds when they cancel flights. You should have had an option to receive either a voucher or a refund. 

But as you said, it was a confusing time. Two years ago, we were at the beginning of the pandemic. Travel companies were desperately trying to save cash. It wasn’t unusual to find airlines or hotels trying to force customers into accepting a nonrefundable, voucher with a defined expiration date. I wasn’t there when Amtrak canceled your train and I don’t know the exact circumstances, but it looks like that might have been what happened to you and your husband. (Related: Help, my Amtrak tickets were accidentally canceled.)

By the way, you seem to have done everything right. The Auto Train is a terrific way to save time and do something good for the environment. You also followed the directions of local authorities and returned home at the outset of the pandemic instead of staying in Florida a moment longer. 

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If you didn’t like the way Amtrak handled your ticket credit, you could have reached out to one of the Amtrak executives I list on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. Another option: File a dispute on your credit card under the Fair Credit Billing Act. But you have to act fast. You have 60 days to dispute the charges, so at this point, that option is off the table. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problem.)

I contacted Amtrak on your behalf. It offered you a full refund for your tickets, which you gratefully accepted.

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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