I believe in rail travel. It’s the best way to go from point to point along the East Coast. It happens on a human scale, as compared to the slots into which you are plugged in airplanes. And while the atrophy rail service of the 1960s and 70s left many towns amputated from any sort of travel options besides automobile, the train still goes to towns that airlines now struggle to serve. Besides, the view is interesting, you can get up and go for a walk, and it’s a great place to read, write, and relax. And whereas airlines won’t say hello for less than $150 if you need to change your ticket, Amtrak remained flexible. You could get refunds for purchased travel and if you wanted to switch your ticket, all you needed to do was pay extra if your new ticket cost more.
No longer. All of a sudden, every change seems to result in an “e-voucher.” This basically means that Amtrak will retain your fare in a voucher, which you can apply to future travel. This would be fine, except that there is hilariously very little “e” about it. You cannot use the e-voucher to purchase travel online or over the phone. You need to go to a train station, wait in line, and speak to an agent, who is busy trying to sell tickets to people who want to get on trains right away. You need to retain each number (the agent can’t look that up for you, so it’s even less “e”) and dictate each number through bullet-proof glass (imagine this in the din of New York Penn Station). I had an agent tell me how frustrated they all were because of the added work load and the lack of clarity about how the funds may be applied.
The e-voucher is supposed to be for a new class of non-refundable fares, but I appear to get issued e-vouchers for any sort of ticket now. Amazingly, if I buy a ticket for my husband, refund it, and get an e-voucher, I can only use that money to buy another ticket for my husband – even though I paid for it. I could be cancelling a trip online, the website could tell me I’m getting a full refund to my credit card, and I still will be issued an e-voucher.
I can understand that perhaps Amtrak can no longer afford to be as flexible as it has been in the past – indeed, I found Amtrak to be very flexible in the past, and it was one of their best qualities. But the e-voucher is just stupid. If they really just don’t want to give me my money back, then they should just say “no refunds.” Or get their act together to make e-vouchers truly “e.”