Amtrak March 2018 refund policy changes

The March 20, 2018 Amtrak refund policy changes increased the penalty severity from the January 2018 changes, including:

  • Refund fees: increased to 25%
  • Refund fee maximum: increased to $250
  • Full value eVouchers as before for modification
  • 25% eVouchers trip cancel penalty
  • AGR Points penalties (cancel, modify) are as before

Ticket bucket pricing

AmSnag, helps grab low-bucket ticket prices for flexible travel dates. This is something airlines build into their own websites, and something that Amtrak should do as well. Amtrak has 5-bucket pricing for each seat, that perhaps triples in price from low to high bucket.

Refund rule abuse

If someone felt they had somewhat of a chance of traveling, grab the low bucket fare. Decide not to go? Just cancel a few minutes before the train departs, and perhaps a $1200 bedroom goes unsold. Meanwhile the user keeps 100% of their value in an eVoucher good for a year. They can extend the eVoucher indefinitely by rebooking a dummy trip, and then canceling ad infinitum.

This makes Amtrak suffer from low utilization (empty seats) while frustrating potential riders who saw sold out trains, or only highest bucket tickets until 24-48 hours before travel when “bankers” took their 100% eVoucher. Another factor is that vacation companies would reserve blocs of seats and rooms, releasing a few weeks before travel what they didn’t sell. Amtrak policy changes in 2016 helped curtail that practice as well, of vacation companies holding on to too many unsold seats.

Competitive refund policies

  • Greyhound refund policy is more harsh, as the $20 exchange fee is more than 25% on many Greyhound fares where Amtrak doesn’t compete (no equivalent Amtrak route).
  • Airlines of course are much more harsh on refunds, and the Amtrak CEO coming from an airline, it seemed inevitable this sort of change was coming.