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Anna Papachristos | April 24, 2013

When Inconsistency Leads to Inconvenience

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Amtrak train.jpgNo matter where you choose to sit on a train, there will be a time when each seat goes backward or forward. But, just because every car's situated in this fashion does not mean that the rail line's policies and practices should be, too. When it comes to Amtrak's ticketing procedures, some methods have taken off with great speed and determination, while others have stalled out at the station.

As a frequent Amtrak traveler, I have become a fan of the new e-ticketing option, as the necessary documentation comes right to my inbox. Instead of having to rush and print my tickets before boarding, I can immediately head to the platform because, with this email, I can quickly access my e-ticket on my smartphone. The conductor simply pulls out his portable device, scans the QR code in the attachment, and confirms my reservation. Voila!

However, when preparing for my most recent trip with Amtrak, I ran into a slight problem. You see, a couple of months before, I made a reservation that I inevitably needed to cancel. Upon cancellation, my money was not returned to my card as expected, but as an e-voucher, at which point I discovered that e-vouchers can only be redeemed at an actual Amtrak ticket desk. There weren't any special codes to enter online. My only option was to take care of things the old-school way by going to the train station to purchase my tickets. Luckily, this experience also helped me realize that the e-gift certificate I received for Christmas would also have to be redeemed the same way. (I had already spent much time sifting through the site's Help Center to no avail prior to this adventure.) In both scenarios, I was unable to purchase my tickets via the channel of my choice.

When I visited the ticket desk, I went with the hope of using up the voucher and paying for the remainder with my e-gift certificate. However, the Amtrak representative behind the computer would not allow me to redeem things in the order I wished, telling me I had to save the voucher for next time. I explained to him how I wanted to pay, but he simply said that, if I did so, I would have to forfeit the balance of my e-gift certificate (which would've been a hefty chunk of change). This made absolutely no sense, but I just nodded and allowed him to proceed to spare myself the headache considering his blatant reluctance to serve me.

Though I was able to purchase my tickets and solve the overarching issue myself, the runaround was extremely inconvenient, and I still cannot comprehend why Amtrak insists on making redemption such a hassle. I find it very misleading to call these documents e-vouchers and e-gift certificates when the 'e' only reflects the method of purchase. The voucher does site safety precautions, stating that only the person named can redeem it, but considering the Amtrak rep didn't ask for my ID once, I cannot even commend them for having the customer's best interest at heart.

The funniest part of the experience happened when on my trip home when the conductor came by to collect my ticket. Instead of the typical QR code, I handed him an old-fashioned paper ticket, which he could not seem to scan despite its barcode. When he finally realized the reason behind his struggle, he said he hadn't needed to punch a ticket in forever. I explained my ordeal and even he recognized how old this method was. If he can comprehend how antiquated this practice is, why can't Amtrak?

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