Amtrak dives deeper into revenue management, adjusts refund rules

Want to cancel or change your Amtrak ticket? Starting in March 2014 you’ll need to plan ahead on some routes. Amtrak is implementing a 24-hour cutoff for all reserved Coach class and AcelaExpress Business class reservations. Tickets canceled inside the 24-hour window will incur a 10% refund fee unless purchased as a fully flexible fare. No-show passengers will, in many cases, forfeit their fare paid rather than being able to refund or transfer into a credit for future travel.


Here’s how Amtrak describes the change:

For all reserved Coach class and Acela Express Business class reservations, you must cancel your reservation at least 24 hours prior to the train’s scheduled departure in order to be eligible for a full refund. If the reservation is canceled within 24 hours of the scheduled departure, a refund fee will apply (Value fare tickets only; Saver fare tickets are not refundable). If the reservation is not canceled prior to the scheduled departure (“no show”), the entire amount paid for the reservation will be forfeited (Value and Saver fare tickets); the ticket value will not be stored in an eVoucher and cannot be applied toward future travel. Flexible fare tickets will remain fully refundable.

The new policy will affect both existing reservations and all new reservations for travel beginning on or after March 1, 2014.

The good news is that most Amtrak tickets remain incredibly flexible, even when purchased as a “Value” or “Saver” fare, the names Amtrak gives to their advance-purchase or discounted tickets. The bad news is that they’re not quite as flexible as they used to be and the new rules affect previously purchased tickets as well, though odds are not many passengers bought travel 90+ days out on the train.

Ultimately the move is all about revenue management. If you allow all fares to be fully refundable all the time it is much harder to maximize the yield of any given trip. Not being able to sell a last-minute, walk-up fare on the Acela service because someone decided to no-show a discounted, advance purchase fare hurts Amtrak’s books in more ways than one. Moves like this should help them quite a bit, though (obviously) at the expense of some customers.

This won’t really affect me too much personally. Most of my Amtrak travel is booked relatively last minute and doesn’t change. Also, most of it is booked as Amtrak Guest Rewards trips, trading in my Chase Ultimate Rewards points to AGR and redeeming for seats I otherwise probably wouldn’t pay for.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. As an avid Amtrak rider and rail advocate, I fully support this plan. I saw it as an extremely generous perk that you could buy a $35 ticket two weeks in advance and then just cancel it 10 minutes before riding to get a refund. Then, after they changed the rules, you could cancel it to get a $35 evoucher. Imagine if you could buy a $200 round trip ticket from JFK to LAX as a speculative purhase and then just decide to not go and get your money back no questions asked.

    With all the pressure being put on Amtrak by congress to reign in costs and make it a profitable or at least revenue neutral enterprise, the refund policy had to be adjusted to more closely resemble private transportation policies. It would be nice to extend the old policy to elite members (Elite members of Amtrak don’t have too many sweet benefits).

    I fully expect the loyalty program to be adjusted, too. With more people riding that NYC to WAS route, the 3,000 (now 4,000) points was a bargain! I’ll just take advantage of it while I can!

    1. Its better than NYC to WAS its actually WAS to Brunswick, ME if you can make the connection in BOS stick for 4000 points (if thats your jam)

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