Travel Troubleshooter: Trainline charges a $43 change fee after train was canceled
DEAR TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER: I booked a ticket on Trainline several weeks ago for a journey from Stockport, England, to London. When I checked the ticket on the day of departure through the Trainline app, it showed that the train scheduled for 2:24 p.m. had been canceled.
There was another train leaving at 2:19 p.m., so I rebooked my ticket for that one. Trainline charged a change fee and a fare difference, even though the train had been canceled and Trainline didn’t inform me about this before departure.
I expect a full refund for the fare difference and change fee for an error that was not my fault. I would have missed the train if I hadn’t checked before arriving at the station. Can you help?
— Neale Gonsalves, San Francisco
ANSWER: Trainline should have informed you about your canceled train trip. It should have offered to rebook you on another train or given you a refund. It should not have waited for you to discover the canceled train, and then charged you a change fee. So why did it?
Trainline is a ticket agent. Its records showed that you were traveling from Stockport, near Manchester, to London on a highly discounted ticket.
“Advance single tickets are highly discounted, and they give you the best value for your money,” a Trainline representative said. “However, these tickets are only valid for the date, time and train as specified, which makes them non-flexible. And, due to that, a direct refund does not go through on these tickets.”
Since you initiated a ticket change after learning of your train’s cancellation, Trainline says it can’t refund your tickets.
Trainline is clear about the terms of your ticket. Its site says you can use your existing ticket to travel on the next available service. But there’s some fine print. In the U.K., you have to use the next available train with the same train operator. Other tickets have restrictions on the time of day you can use them.
“Remember to check the conditions of your ticket in case you can only travel with a certain operator/route,” it says.
Trainline may be right about the terms of your ticket, but it should have also notified you of the cancellation and offered to rebook you. After all, its site promises it will be with you “every step of the way.” I don’t think it was.
Trainline prefers that you communicate with it through its app. It looks like you did that, but the company continued to deny your request for a refund. I think an email to an executive would have been your next step. All of Trainline’s email addresses follow the format: firstname.lastname@example.org. Trainline publishes the names of its executives on the Trainline site at www.thetrainline.com/about-us/meet-the-team (but not their emails).
Trainline should have notified you about your cancellation and explained what rescheduling your trip on a more expensive train would have cost. Instead, it allowed you to assume that your ticket change would be reimbursed.
I contacted Trainline on your behalf. “We’re sorry to hear your reader was unhappy with their experience booking through Trainline,” a spokesman told me. “When a customer’s train is canceled, we notify them and explain which services their ticket is valid on without extra charge. However, we understand these refund rules can be complex, and as a goodwill gesture, we have refunded your reader the extra amount they paid for their second ticket, along with the admin fee.”
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy (elliottadvocacy.org), a nonprofit organization that helps consumers solve their problems. Email him at email@example.com or get help by contacting him at elliottadvocacy.org/help/.
(c) 2023 Christopher Elliott
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