Amtrak refund problem: Why can’t I get a credit for a new ticket?

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By Christopher Elliott

When Amtrak cancels John deCastro’s train from Boston to Baltimore, he asks for a refund. But there’s another ticket involved — and Amtrak isn’t responding.

Question

I recently tried to change an Amtrak ticket from Boston to Baltimore. I couldn’t find a way to do it online, and Amtrak’s online chat was of no help. When I reached the call center I found out that the train was canceled.

An Amtrak agent told me that they could not change my train reservation but didn’t mention that my train had been canceled.

Now I am trying to apply all or part of my reservation to the cost of a new ticket. I bought a new ticket for $127 online. The original fare was $74.

An Amtrak agent suggested I should ask for a refund of the difference between the rail fares.

Given that Amtrak canceled the original reservation, I think I am owed a refund of $53. I asked Amtrak, and it has not responded. I escalated my request in writing to one of the executive contacts on your consumer advocacy website but have heard nothing. Can you help me? — John deCastro, San Francisco

Answer

This should have been two simple transactions. Amtrak canceled your first train from Boston to Baltimore. You should have received a full refund for that. And transaction number two? You buy a new ticket.

Instead, Amtrak combined these into one problem, turning it into a complex case that involved a cancellation and a credit. Oh boy.

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Here’s the confusing part. It’s not entirely clear if you tried to change your ticket before Amtrak canceled it or afterward. If you did it before, then cancellation penalties might apply and you could lose part or all of your ticket credit. If, however, Amtrak canceled before you did, then you should have received a full refund or Amtrak would have rebooked you on another train without you having to buy a new ticket. (Related: Why is Amtrak always so late?)

You followed all the right steps for resolving this, including keeping a paper trail and appealing to one of the executive contacts for Amtrak that I list on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. Someone from Amtrak should have responded and straightened this out. The easiest fix would have been to just refund your first ticket.

By the way, you are not the first reader who has complained about Amtrak’s site. Amtrak has a step-by-step guide on changing your reservation on its site. Next time you have to change your ticket, you might want to check it out. My inner consumer advocate says such a guide should not be necessary. It should be obvious how to change your ticket.

You reached out to my advocacy team and I contacted Amtrak on your behalf. The company refunded your $53.

About this story

We’ve seen a few more Amtrak cases through our nonprofit organization. Hopefully, this is just a little blip before the holiday travel season. Christopher Elliott researched, wrote and fact-checked this story. Dwayne Coward and Mel Smith assisted with advocacy. Andy Smith and his team edited and Dustin Elliott created the artwork.

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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 Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Los Angeles.

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