Train travel can be a wonderful way of seeing countryside you can’t get a glimpse of by car or air travel, especially if you consider the travel itself a pleasurable part of your trip.
Before you shout “all aboard!” though, it’s important to know what to expect from Amtrak should something go awry during your travels. Can you get a refund if you have to cancel your trip? What if your train is significantly delayed? What if you miss a connection? (These are all good questions to ask your travel insurance agent, in addition to reading the rules of the track below.)
While the American airline industry has a passenger “bill of rights” that outlines how they must respond when your travel plans are mucked up, Amtrak doesn’t have such mandated rules.
That’s not to say you’re going to be left holding your travel bags should something go wrong — it’s just less clear what the outcome may be in some circumstances.
“Any customer who has had an experience at a variance with any Amtrak policy should contact our Customer Relations Office, so the case can be investigated and proper action taken,” an Amtrak spokesperson said when asked about customer complaints and company procedures. “Cases can be opened by calling 800-USA-RAIL or by using the “Contact Us” function on Amtrak.com.”
Beyond that, though, the “rules” around how travel issues are handled are very narrow, with only cancellations and refunds directly addressed on Amtrak’s website. That leaves issues like missed connections, uncomfortable accommodations and other common occurrences open to interpretation on a case-by-case basis.
Here’s what you need to know about how Amtrak handles troubles you may face when traveling with them.
If you cancel your trip, you can get a refund, either as an eVoucher or direct refund. But the type of ticket you’ve purchased and the timeframe of your cancellation are both important in determining how much your refund will be.
Saver Fare: You’re eligible for a full refund if you cancel within 24 hours of purchase.
Value Fare: You're eligible for a full refund as long as you cancel eight days or more before departure.
Business & Premium Fares: You're eligible for a full refund if you cancel before departure.
Flexible Fare: You're eligible for a full refund even after departure, as long as you don’t take the trip.
From there it gets even more specific. If you’ve booked a multi-leg journey with multiple tiers of service (say you travel coach from Washington, D.C., to New York, then book sleeper car service from New York to Chicago), your refund will vary. You may be able to get a full refund for the sleeper car leg of the trip, but only partial or no refund at all for the coach leg of the journey.
There’s no set policy for missed connections, but many Amtrak users report receiving overnight accommodation and rebookings when unforeseen or unavoidable circumstances cause a missed connection.
Unlike on airplanes, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever be “bumped” because the train is overbooked. You may end up standing, though, especially in coach on lines that have a lot of commuter passengers with monthly passes. You can complain, but you probably won’t get even a partial refund.
Let’s say your train experiences a mechanical failure, such as the air conditioning not working or the bathroom plumbing being out of order. If there’s something about your trip that makes you uncomfortablethat the train staff can’t fix, you should contact Amtrak right away to see about getting a partial or full refund.
If you have any other concerns or questions, it’s a good idea to contact Amtrak prior to booking your trip to be certain you’re clear on the rules and your rights and obligations as a passenger.