After a ‘traumatic nightmare’ on Amtrak, can I get a refund?

DEAR TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER: I took my 7-year-old daughter on our first Amtrak trip, from Chemult, Oregon, to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to visit her cousins this summer.

Christopher Elliott, the Travel Troubleshooter 

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.

So 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 spend money I don’t really have in order to transport my daughter and myself back home.

— Kimberli Eicher, Bend, Oregon

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.

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.

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