All Linda Shapiro wanted was to change her train tickets from Seville to Madrid. That’s it. How hard can it be?
Harder than you think, it turns out.
Her online travel agency, Trainline, took her on an unexpected journey through ticket change hell, followed by a surprise stop in refund purgatory. And now that I’ve almost run out of theological metaphors, here’s one more: Shapiro needs a little redemption from our team of consumer advocates.
Along the way, we may be able to help answer a question many of our readers have recently asked: How can you get a full refund from Trainline?
His case is a cautionary tale about “flawed” websites and online agencies and why their technology doesn’t always work. But thanks to a little research, we have a pretty good idea of how to get a refund on Trainline tickets and how long it usually takes to receive a refund from Trainline.
Want to change your train ticket? Buy another
Shapiro recently booked two train tickets from Seville to Madrid with Trainline, which bills itself as a digital train and coach technology platform headquartered in London. Trainline sells train tickets and train cards and offers “free” access to live train timetables.
But Shapiro just wanted to do something simple via the Trainline site. “I needed to change to an older train,” she explains.
She could not do this online via her train operator’s website. Every time she tried, an error message popped up advising her to call Trainline by phone.
So Shapiro called Trainline customer service. A representative attempted to troubleshoot the site but ultimately recommended that he purchase a new ticket and then submit a refund request online.
It’s not exactly the solution she was hoping for.
It is worth stopping for a minute to look at the calendar. It’s 2022, and changing a ticket online should be as easy as a tap or two. The Spanish train operator’s site spit out an error message, and the company eventually asked him to spend more money.
Very suspicious, if you ask me.
And even more suspicious when you consider what happened next.
“Now Trainline says refunds are not possible – unless I send a screenshot of the error message I received, with a timestamp, when I try to cancel my ticket,” says- she.
Of course, she doesn’t have a screenshot. Nobody told her to take a screenshot when she tried to cancel her ticket.
Is it possible to refund Trainline tickets?
Trainline tickets are refundable – up to a point. Shapiro’s tickets are 70% refundable, which is a bit odd by American standards.
But think of it like this: when you have a “cancellation for any reason” travel insurance policy, you get between 50-75% of your non-refundable prepaid expenses back. This genre works the same way.
At least that’s what Shapiro thought.
Trainline was only an intermediary between the Spanish rail operator Renfe and Shapiro. And Renfe’s policy, as described on the Trainline website, is that “the tickets have identical exchange and refund conditions. You can cancel your existing reservation and purchase a new one.
In other words, unless Trainline had negotiated some sort of exception to Renfe’s policy (which it might have), Shapiro had to book a new ticket and then request a refund. Yeah, seriously.
Trainline’s refund policies vary by country. Some European train operators offer full refunds or exchanges free of charge; some don’t. Trainline must follow these rules. And the policies have been revised during the pandemic, so don’t assume you know them just because you’ve taken the train in Europe in the past.
But was she unlucky with this ticket exchange request?
The problem with ticket resellers
I probably don’t have to say it, but there was a serious breakdown in communication between Trainline and the Spanish train operator. Trainline told Shapiro it could process a ticket change request through its site, but that was not the case.
This is a common problem with travel agencies. They direct you to their websites for the “best” customer service, but then only offer you dead ends and error messages. And all this only enriches the companies.
If I didn’t know better, I’d say that companies create sites to hijack people and let them keep your money. But in this case, it was probably a problem with Shapiro’s browser accessing a European site or something equally benign. Sometimes these things just happen.
train line terms and conditionswhich you can find on its site, are clear on the deadline for canceling your tickets.
If Shapiro had something in writing that shows she tried to cancel her tickets in time, she might have received the 70% refund. But she had no proof, which complicated her case.
I recommended that the next time she needs to cancel something before the departure date and time, she should make sure she has proof – an email, a printout, a cancellation number – who shows that they contacted the company before the deadline for a refund. And for her, this deadline was the day of her departure.
How do I request a refund for a canceled Trainline ticket?
The Trainline refund request process is more or less straightforward; this varies by country. For example, if you try to cancel a train in the UK, the company asks you to go online. Log in to “My bookings”, select your booking and click on “Refund tickets”.
But for Shapiro’s Spanish booking, the technology is apparently not that sophisticated. The site says she needs to email the company directly so someone can handle the refund manually.
Shapiro couldn’t have known that before he booked his tickets. A quick look online might have revealed the bureaucracy and hassle of changing or refunding a ticket, so at least she would have been warned.
How long does Trainline take to refund?
According to Trainline, refunds take between three and five days. If you’re impatient, you can check the status of your refund in your account. If there is a note that your ticket is “Refunded/Refund Approved”, rest easy and the money will be in your account within five days.
Trainline won’t like me to share this with you, but European passenger protection regulations govern your train journey. You can learn more about EC 1371/2007 and how it applies to your next train journey. Unfortunately, the law does not prescribe a time frame for a refund, but there is precedent for prompt compensation for other issues.
It could have been worse. We’ve had a few train horror stories in the recent past where a refund was the least of a passenger’s worries:
Here is your Trainline refund
I contacted Trainline on Shapiro’s behalf. The company reviewed her records and verified that she was refusing her refund. The reason? She had not canceled her tickets through her Trainline account.
“She contacted us so that we could help her get a refund for these two tickets since she was unable to exchange them at the station,” a representative said.
That’s not how she remembers it, but that doesn’t matter. Trainline says it decided to make “an exceptional refund” and honored the 70% refund.