By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 9/16/2011 1:57:18 PM ET 2011-09-16T17:57:18
travel troubleshooter

Q: I've been trying to resolve a problem with Amtrak, and have spent hours on "hold." I need your help.

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I recently purchased Amtrak tickets to Reno, Nev., on my American Express card. I paid $156 for the round-trip ticket and in return, I received 11,000 rewards points, which allowed me to buy another round-trip ticket.

There was a misunderstanding when I booked the second ticket, and my first ticket was somehow canceled.

I didn't find out about the cancellation until I went to the train station in Emeryville to get my tickets. An Amtrak agent said I would have to spend another $236 for a ticket.

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Since then, I've spent countless hours on the phone, including a three-way call between Amex, Amtrak and myself, to try to get this sorted out. They've asked me to mail proof of payment and proof that I've taken the trip, which I have done.

I just received a message from Amtrak that they will not refund the ticket. I have disputed the charge with American Express. Now what?
Mel Jung, San Rafael, Calif.

A: When the erroneous cancellation was discovered, Amtrak should have found a way to reinstate them at the same price. That would have fixed the problem and prevented you from having to spend half an eternity on the phone to chase down a refund (your time is more valuable than that).

In reviewing your case, it's difficult to know exactly where the fault lies. I contacted Amtrak on your behalf, but it didn't respond to me. It did, however, address your case. I'll get to that in a moment. It could have also been a problem with American Express, or with you.

I have a few thoughts on how this might have been avoided, though. It appears that the reason one reservation got canceled is that you made two bookings at once. That may have confused the agent with whom you spoke. Maybe making one reservation per call would have solved that.

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Then again — and I think this is far more likely — an agent might have just hit the wrong button and wiped out one of your reservations.

When a ticket is canceled, you should receive some kind of confirmation in the form of an email or letter. I'm surprised that no one sent you a confirmation. Clearly, something went very wrong here.

I'm less concerned with this error than the way it was addressed by all of the parties. Mistakes happen, after all. They're what make us human, and they can be instructive. From what I can tell, Amtrak wasn't eager to fix this mistake or learn from it. American Express didn't exactly come to your rescue, either. Instead, you spent more time than you should have on the phone.

After I contracted Amtrak, you received a note from American Express saying that you'd received a refund for the ticket.

© 2011 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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