What a frustrating day! Among other mishaps yesterday, I tried to book an Amtrak trip using points, but failed miserably. I’ll explain the details in a moment, but first you should know that, according to Amtrak, they didn’t cause me any frustration — I did that to myself. Really Amtrak? Really?
I’ve booked Amtrak rewards before, and usually it’s a painless process. My routine begins with a search on Amtrak.com to see the price I would be charged if I paid for the ticket. Then, I select the “Redeem points” tab and repeat the search to make sure award seats are available. When I select one I like, I generally get a message saying I don’t have enough points. Like this:
That’s fine and expected. My next step is to log into my Chase Ultimate Rewards account and transfer the right number of points to my Amtrak account. I usually get a very respectable 4 or 5 cents per point value from these redemptions. I’ll admit that figuring out the needed number of points is difficult, but once you know the amount, transferring points from Chase is a breeze.
I then go back to Amtrak and book the ticket without a problem. Or, at least that’s what usually happens. This time, I got a second message:
Uh oh. I tried again. Same message. I reduced the number of passengers. Same message. I closed my browser and started all over. Same message.
What was going on?
I called Amtrak. After a long wait I finally talked to someone who immediately transferred me to Guest Rewards. After some more waiting, I told a rep my story.
“That date is a blackout date, sir,” I was told. “No awards can be redeemed on blackout dates.”
“But I transferred points over when the website said I didn’t have enough points. It didn’t say anything about a blackout date!” I whined. “Can you make an exception and override the blackout?”
“Normally I could, sir, but in this case the blackout dates are clearly listed on the Amtrak Guest Rewards website in the Terms & Conditions.”
Ugh. I asked to talk to a supervisor. While I waited, I sought out the Terms and Conditions. They were not on the website I was using (Amtrak.com), but on another website (amtrakguestrewards.com). Do you see the Terms & Conditions link at the bottom? I added a yellow arrow to help you find it. How could I have missed that?
Meanwhile, the supervisor finally came on the line. No, there’s nothing they can do, he said. Could he make an exception? No sir. The blackout dates are clearly displayed, he said. Could they return the points to my Chase account, I asked? I knew they couldn’t, but I wanted to make him work for this one. He said he would ask around and call me back.
Many hours later, he called back:
“Sorry sir, but there’s no way to return the points. You will just need to find a different day to travel.”
“Can you give me something to compensate for the frustration?” I asked?
“Do you mean, can I give you points for the frustration?”
“Yes,” I said.
“I could, but we didn’t have any frustration.”
“I know YOU didn’t have any frustration,” I said, “BUT I DID!”
“We didn’t cause your frustration. You caused it yourself by trying to book a blackout date.”
Once I calmed down, I took a look at those Terms & Conditions. Nothing about blackout dates on the first screen:
I paged down. Nothing about blackout dates on the second screen:
Nothing about blackout dates on the third screen:
Oh, there it is! Section E, item 4! How in the world did I miss that!? Any idiot would have seen and memorized these blackout dates…
I need to stop causing myself so much frustration…