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Amtrak has just announced that they will be changing their refund policy for reservation cancellations. As of March 1, 2014, if you book a Coach class or Acela Express Business class reservation, you must cancel it at least 24 hours prior to the train’s scheduled departure in order to be eligible for a full refund.
This means that if you cancel it within 24 hours, you will have to pay a refund fee (this only applies to Value fare tickets as Saver fare tickets are not refundable). If you can’t make the reservation at all, be sure to cancel because if you are a “no show” then you will lose the whole fare, whether it is a Value or a Saver ticket.
The ticket value will not be stored in an eVoucher and cannot be applied toward future travel, however flexible fare tickets will remain fully refundable. Most tickets bought online can also be cancelled online, by clicking here.
The prior policy on “no shows” was that you were charged the 10% penalty fee but the rest of the rail fare was refundable. If you canceled within 6 hours after the departure time then credit would be issued to the credit card used for payment (-10%), or if you didn’t cancel at all then an eVoucher was e-mailed as refund. Now however, the policy is much stricter.
The refund fee is generally 10% of the total amount refunded, with a minimum amount of $5 and a maximum amount of $100 per refund transaction. Unless stated otherwise, if a ticket is refundable, the passenger may avoid any refund fee by accepting the full refund value of the ticket as an eVoucher or other exchange credit, as long as you use it within one year.
The changes are bad news for many Amtrak passengers who are likely to change their train-related travel plans more often than airline passengers, especially for shorter distance commuter journeys.
I have previously canceled reservations the morning of my trip, such as last April from Philadelphia to New York City when I decided to get an earlier train, and still got the full refund back. However, if you were a total no-show and didn’t ever contact Amtrak then you still sacrificed the fare.
The new restrictions by Amtrak follow similar changes at Southwest Airlines, which launched its “no show” policy in September for Wanna Get Away and DING fares, meaning they are no longer as lenient about passengers who simply do not show up for their flights.
Passengers now holding non-refundable Wanna Get Away or DING tickets booked after May 10, 2013, will lose the value of their round-trip ticket if they don’t cancel or change their flight at least 10 minutes before the scheduled departure. Southwest had formerly been known as one of the most lenient and flexible attitudes towards anyone who wanted to change their travel plans last minute, letting them get the entire value of their flight repaid back in credit or Rapid Rewards points (depending on how they paid) if they didn’t show up – without even having to call to request it. That meant that you could oversleep or simply change your mind, and you would not be penalized.
For more information on the other major airlines’ cancellation policies, see my post here. See the posts below for more details on maximizing your travel with Amtrak too, and remember to cancel if you can’t make your train!