As an avid Amtrak user, this issue has bugged me enough to finally write about this, since this appears to be a rather consistent problem.
Let’s start off with a recent incident, and I’ll expand from there.
Coming home from Pennsylvania from Thanksgiving, I had no choice but to outright buy an Amtrak ticket home, since I couldn’t use points due to the Thanksgiving week being a blackout period for points redemption. One-way fares departing Trenton, NJ (the closest station to my parent’s home in PA), were running at about $190 each-way in Business Class, since coach was sold out (admittedly, I purchased rather late). Having a $60 voucher to use from a previous trip, this made the “sting” of this purchase a little less painful, so I paid around $130 for a one-way Business Class ticket on The Crescent, the train that runs from New York to New Orleans.
Business Class is supposed to include:
- Spacious seats in a car reserved for Business class
- Complimentary non-alcoholic beverages
- Complimentary access to major newspapers via AmtrakConnect® Wi-Fi as cellular data service permits along the route
- Access to Philadelphia’s Club Acela at 30th Street Station for $20 a person
Much to my surprise, as the train rolled into the station, Business Class passengers were directed into a car in the front of the train clearly labeled “Coach Class.”
It really frustrates me when this happens, because this is not the first time Amtrak has shuttled Business Class paying passengers into one of their regular coach cars. I’m not sure if there’s a lack of equipment or what, but, for what it’s worth, there are true Business Class carriages, which have additional legroom, curtains, and tables inside. This was simply the same carriage that the coach passengers were sitting in the back, so needless to say I was a bit annoyed. Sure, I purchased my Thanksgiving ticket late where the only choice I had was Business (and normally, it’s not worth the premium), but the least I’d expect would be a true Business Class carriage. Aside from this, the only thing I appeared to be getting was a newspaper that wasn’t even stocked on the train and free sodas in the cafe car.
Here the worst thing: Amtrak will literally sometimes take a Coach Class car, get some duct tape to tape over the words on the outside of the carriage, and then using a heavy duty Sharpie marker, write the words “Business Class” over it. When you see that, immediately take a picture of the wording, because you know in fact that you’re not in a true Business carriage.
It’s a matter of principle. When you fly, and you pay for a First Class ticket, you expect to be seated in First, and not in Economy. That said, Amtrak appears to pull this “switcheroo” enough times for me to notice that it’s a regular occurrence. I mainly travel on the Northeast Regional trains, so that’s where I get it the most.
I didn’t say anything onboard the train, because frankly nothing could be done then and there. After arriving in Washington DC, I called Amtrak’s Customer Relations phone number the next day and told them what happened. Fortunately, I was able to resolve the issue to my satisfaction.
What Did I Receive as Compensation
In return for the train carriage snafu, I received a full refund between the cost of Business Class and Coach Class on that train. I did end up paying what would have been the Coach Class price, which I was more than fine with, and was happy I received the difference back for the service I didn’t receive.
You’ve Been Warned
If you travel Amtrak enough, this is a consistent issue. In all honesty, I’ve probably had this happen about 10 different times over the last 5 years, and I certainly don’t travel Amtrak every day, so I can only imagine how often this really occurs.
What To Do When It Happens
First thing is take a picture. Take a picture of the wording on the outside of the train car you’re directed to sit in to prove it isn’t a Business carriage, and also take a picture of the interior, since there is a difference in layout between the Business and Coach carriages. Armed with this info, your best bet for resolution is to call Amtrak’s Customer Relations number via the normal 1800-USA-RAIL number and seek the difference in fare between Business and Coach.
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