Amtrak to reduce discount eligibility, implement higher cancelation penalties

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Passengers on the platform to board the 'Carolinian,' train No. 80, at Durham, N.C., in October.
Michael S. Murray
WASHINGTON – The new year will bring a few significant changes to Amtrak’s rail fare discount and reservation cancellation policies. New policies will go into effect in late January, according to Amtrak sources who spoke to Trains News Wire on condition of anonymity as the company will not publicize the changes until early January 2018 and may modify the planned adjustments between now and then. The changes resulted from an internal review of fare policies initiated by the railroad’s new President and co-CEO Richard Anderson, a former airline executive.

When asked to comment on this story, Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods told Trains News Wire only that “Amtrak is currently evaluating our various discount programs.

“The best way ... for customers to save is to book early (at least 14 days in advance) and use Amtrak’s Saver fares,” Woods added.

Here is an overview of current policies and the planned changes:

Senior discount: A 15 percent discount off of most rail fares, regardless of time of booking, can currently be used by anyone aged 62 or over. After late January, the minimum age of eligibility for the discount will increase to 65 and the discount percentage will decrease to 10 percent off the rail fare.

Disability discount: Currently, passengers with disabilities receive a 15 percent discount off of all rail fares, regardless of time of booking, but only when reserving with an agent over the phone or in person at a staffed station. After late January, the discount percentage will decrease to 10 percent off the rail fare, but it will still apply to all rail fares.

Child discount: Up to two children between the ages of 2 and 12 are currently allowed to travel for half off the full adult rail fare, as long as they are accompanied by an adult paying full fare. After the 2018 changes take effect, only one child per accompanying adult will be entitled to the 50 percent discount. Full adult fare will be required for a second child.

Discounts no longer applicable to highest bucket fares: Currently, all passenger discounts (Senior, Child, Disability, Student, AAA member, Veteran’s Advantage member and National Association of Railroad Passengers member) apply to all fare types except Saver or E-bucket fares (all except Senior, Child and Disability require the ticket to be purchased at least three days in advance of travel). After late January, these discounts (except Disability) will also not apply to “Full Y” bucket fares, which are the highest possible rail fares and usually apply to the last few tickets sold (other than sleeping car tickets, which are always the D-bucket rail fare plus accommodation charge). “Full Y” fares are also the only ones available for purchase from the conductor on board a train.

New 25 percent cancellation penalty for sleeper and Saver fares: Currently, the entire value of any reservation canceled prior to the scheduled time of departure can be converted into an eVoucher (which can be applied to future Amtrak travel within one year of its creation) with no penalty. If a cash refund is requested, a 10 percent penalty applies to coach or Acela Business Class reservations canceled within 48 hours of scheduled departure and 15% penalties apply to sleeping car reservations canceled within seven days of departure (these penalties are waived for Business Class or Acela First Class reservations).

After the changes take effect in January, 25 percent of the value will be deducted from a canceled sleeping car ticket, or a coach or Acela Business Class ticket purchased with a Saver fare (only available at least two weeks before departure), regardless of whether the remainder is returned as cash or as an eVoucher. This penalty does not apply if the reservation is changed for a future date or otherwise modified short of cancellation. If a change results in a lower fare, the full difference can still be returned as an eVoucher.

Note that all discounts apply only to the “rail fare” portion of a ticket’s price, and not to the “accommodation charge” for sleeper, Business Class and Acela First Class tickets. These changes will not affect reservations purchased by redeeming Amtrak Guest Rewards points, which carry a separate set of change and cancellation penalties.

Contrary to an employee memo said to have been circulated by the LOSSAN Corridor Agency in California, Amtrak does not appear to be considering termination of the 10 percent discount for students or AAA members, and the changes will not take effect as early as January 9.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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