Amtrak says “We didn’t cause your frustration”

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:

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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:

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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?

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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.”

“AGH!!!!!”

Once I calmed down, I took a look at those Terms & Conditions.  Nothing about blackout dates on the first screen:

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I paged down.  Nothing about blackout dates on the second screen:

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Nothing about blackout dates on the third screen:

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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…

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I need to stop causing myself so much frustration…

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. Sounds like something I might do, too.
    What I would like would be for train travel to post promptly to ARG. ARG wants you to wait 3 weeks before even requesting them to look into missing travel.

  2. Very poor system design, the blackout date message should have higher priority than the not enough points message, gives false hope you can do something to make the booking. The customer support just sound arrogant.

  3. What a coincidence – I ran into a lot of frustration on the Amtrak sight myself yesterday booking a trip for the whole family. Between signing everyone up for this and that it took over an hour and it kept timing out. I will remember the blackout dates when I get enough points to use them!

  4. Whether or not it was your fault, that’s some bad customer service and I def am more wary of traveling with Amtrak. What they can’t give even 500 or even 25 amtrak points…instead they have an unhappy customer with a huge and influential social network…not smart on their end and that’s why they continue to rely on tons of govt money to survive.

  5. Youre essentially…a moron. The blackout dates have always been very clear on the Amtrak Rewards Website, definitely dont need to go to T&C for it. It comes up based on the type of award ticket, in a pop-out box.. Quit whining and learn to read.

  6. Definitely poor system design. You should not have been able to search award availability for a day on which it is not possible, under any scenario, to obtain an award ticket. You should never have seen the message stating that you needed more points to book the ticket, which strongly implies that, if you obtain the points, you will be able to book the ticket.
    .
    Not sure whether you have any legal, or even moral, recourse because the blackout dates were published elsewhere. You can rest assured, however, that I, for one, will keep the lesson in mind when writing applications (and no, I don’t work for Amtrak!).

  7. Sounds like they could have used a better process in their website design, or tested it more thorough perhaps. I actually had something similar happen to me for some Christmas time travel, but called cust service at AGR first before transferring to confirm the blackout dates would prohibit a full round trip award redemption.

  8. Ah well it appears Frank has found a new home to make ridiculous comments after being banned from another blog. If only we were so “Lucky” to be relieved of his presence here as well….

  9. Well FM I guess you now know how widely you are read when you get your first inappropriate post that calls you a moron. Thanks for the reminder to check out blackout dates. As always, easier to provide good customer service than to lose a customer. Amtrak needs to work on that to survive.

  10. Ouch, my condolences. Unfortunately, we don’t always win when trying to use points. Thanks for sharing this, hopefully someone benefits from your oversight (I have a hard time even calling it that, let alone a mistake).

  11. I’m all for trying for compensatory points in a situation like this. Despite the “rules being rules” I figure it never hurts to ask..

    That said, I don’t agree with painting yourself as aggrieved just because you have a blog platform to do it. They were in the right. The news would have been if they DID give you some extra points, not when they pointed out the rules.

  12. Heh, how many UR points are we talking? I’m guessing you’ll find another use for those Amtrak points in the future. Just got back from a 5* resort in Cancun. Their “spa” blessed my companion with a massage treatment that led to so much pain we needed to delay our flights and extend 1 night until she was mobile enough to travel. Their “doctor” claimed her back pain could not have been caused by the spa treatment and was the result of coughing from allergies – no conflict of interest in his diagnosis whatsoever, lol. They charged us $640 for the extra night plus another $160 to cover their on call doctor + meds.

  13. Amtrak has one of the best redemption options compared to the airlines. If there is a revenue ticket available then up to last minute you can use your AGR points to get award travel. None of the airlines can match that…and there are a handful of blackout days throughout the year (S+ members can even get award travel on blackout dates for higher point costs). Obviously you had no status on Amtrak and your expectations were high. If I tried to book award travel on an airline I was kettle on, by transferring miles, I would due my due diligence on their restrictions. I bet you tried to book Amtrak travel for Memorial Day weekend and were expecting a steal without having done any rail travel in the past!
    Sorry…

  14. Give the guy a break: jp, frank lee, beep beep beep, colleen He is just telling his readers his experience. Why do you have to be jerks? go find another blog to write your crap.

  15. Tough one. I sort of have to side with Amtrak on this one, but I do sympathize. I suspect we’ve all been bit by these little gotchas when playing the points game at a level beyond the basic “acquire and redeem” mode.

    You might consider taking it up with Chase since it is the flexibilty of UR points that really created the scenario which allowed the problem. Maybe they would be able to make an exception and pull the points back.

    I think that rationally it can’t be up to Amtrak to create a website that handles any type of potential situation, even when they really can’t know who might be thinking about transferring points in. These relationships would not happen if they had to ensure that nothing with ever go wrong. That said, it does seem like the black out message should take priority over the points-level error.

  16. Admittedly, I haven’t been on an Amtrak train in years, but do they not still do that thing where you call CS at the end of your trip and complain (legitimately complain about any one of the 30 things that probably went wrong) and they automatically give you a free RT? In college, this is how I got back and forth between school and home frequently.

    • All: Thanks for helping me put this in perspective (especially HikerT). No, the points are no big deal. UR points seem to grow on trees around the FM Lab. Yes, I’ve booked Amtrak awards before, but never with any problems. Yes, I probably saw the blackout date T&C at some time in the long ago past. I stand by my opinion that the Amtrak web site needs some work for these situations, but I wholeheartedly agree that it is way better than many alternatives (Delta, are you listening?). Mostly, I was peeved about what I perceived to be very poor customer service. Right or wrong, that was my perception.

      Now to the important part…

      Please continue to disagree with me.
      Please do not insult each other (but feel free to insult me if it is warranted. Just keep it PG.)

  17. I have found Amtrak booking site to be quite confusing, amateurish, incomplete. Thank you FM for sharing your frustration. It helped me for sure. I will be more aware of black out dates. This particular “BLOG post” is more useful than @colleen wants to give credit.

    Amtrak CS could have handled this a little more professionally imo. I think we are all spoilt by fantastic customer service by Chase and Amex. When did “credit card companies” exceed “travel/hospitality” firms in Customer service????!!

  18. I agree with vrtrav, Amtrak’s site in general is crap. I guess its the best our tax dollars could buy.

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