Writing business

To help! It’s been over 2 years and I still don’t have the refund.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, my wife and I cut short a trip to Norway, changing flights and canceling reservations that included a train ride from Bergen to Oslo that we had booked through Euro Railways. All the other sellers refunded us a long time ago, but we still haven’t received the $334 owed to us by Euro Railways. In August 2020, company director Tom Louis wrote to “ask our creditors for time to reorganize our finances” to avoid declaring bankruptcy. Fair enough. But since then, they no longer answer our emails. Any help would be much appreciated. Douglas in Richfield, Minn.

I can’t say I’m surprised you’ve never heard from Tom Louis of Euro Railways, because after investigating your problem I suspect he never existed. In fact, the Euro Railways company no longer exists either. The travel agency formerly registered in Coral Gables, Fla., ceased operations in 2020, according to its former owner, Washington Cunha, who I communicated with via email from his home in Brazil.

Starting in August, Cunha wrote, the company will attempt to restart operations and gradually refund or refund the money to customers. He added that the company was “truly sorry” for the inconvenience. (Mr. Cunha would not comment on whether Mr. Louis was a real person, but I combed through many company documents and saw no sign of him, and there is no no record of him on LinkedIn or the company’s social media; his writing style in the email you forwarded contained grammatical errors similar to Mr. Cunha’s.)

If he’s true to his word, there’s a chance you’ll get your money back eventually.

That said, I wouldn’t give you hope, as I’ll explain to you shortly. But before I get to the nitty-gritty of your issue, your email was one of many I’ve received complaining that tour operators and travel agencies are dragging their feet on refunds of trips or refunds. other services canceled due to the pandemic.

In many cases, tour operators quickly reimbursed their customers; others never did. But while it should be noted that the massive wave of cancellations that hit the travel industry at the start of 2020 caused vexing problems for all, third parties like travel agencies that act as intermediaries have been particularly affected. . These companies were waiting for reimbursements from railways, airlines, hotels and car rental companies, and therefore faced the challenge — as Mr. Cunha lamented to me — of getting reimbursed in order to be able to reimburse their own clients. Cash flow issues can become overwhelming, and sometimes it’s even more complicated than that, as agencies must track the widely varying cancellation, credit, and refund policies of the companies they buy from, and interpret them for the consumer. ..

Many smaller agencies, such as Euro Railways, succumbed to financial pressure and closed. Mr. Cunha told me that his staff had honored 68% of customer refund requests while rail companies – like Renfe in Spain and DB in Germany, he said – had only honored 23% of refund requests from Euro Railways. Mr Cunha noted that in many cases he received credit from companies for future train journeys, but reimbursed customers in cash. (When I contacted these train companies separately, a Renfe representative said all tickets had been refunded regardless of terms and DB did not respond to a request for comment.) This left Euro Railways with a negative cash flow, Mr. Cunha said, even though he still owes people like you $128,000.

If that’s true, you’ve had particularly bad luck. Age-Christoffer Lundeby, the communications manager for Vy, the Norwegian railway company that runs the Bergen-Oslo trains, sent me documents showing that Vy had reimbursed Euro Railways for the value of your tickets, money that obviously never reached you.

Unfortunately, you are not the first person to have problems with Euro Railways. The company has a history of online complaints, this TripAdvisor thread which began 10 years ago to those enrolled in the Better Business Bureau. The state of Florida administratively dissolved Euro Railways in 2018 for failing to provide an annual report, and never reinstated it in the roughly two years before Mr Cunha went out of business.

And perhaps most egregiously, in 2020 Euro Railways was sued by Rail Europe, a major player in train tickets – it brought the Eurail pass to the United States in 1959 – of which Euro Railways was an affiliate agent. Rail Europe claimed that Mr. Cunha’s company owed them $38,000 which Mr. Cunha had agreed in writing to pay in 2018. In 2021, a Broward County judge entered a default judgment against Euro Railways, ordering Mr. Cunha to pay more than $40,000. Neither Rail Europe nor Mr Cunha would comment on whether this debt was ever settled, but Mr Cunha wrote: “I can assure you that we were the only ones harmed by a unilateral severance of commercial relationship.

I tried to follow along and also touched on the topic of whether Tom Louis was a real person. That seemed like the straw that broke the camel’s back, and Mr. Cunha switched to Portuguese (which he knew I spoke), telling me “go scare a pig”, a Brazilian equivalent of “go fly a kite” or “go jump in a lake”. .” He did not respond to subsequent emails.

So, alas, I couldn’t get your money back, but your story highlights two often confusing issues that might help other travellers: how to book train tickets in Europe and what to do if you can’t get a refund .

For the train ticket question, I turned to Mark Smith, who founded the wonderfully obsessive train website Seat61.com. He said there really was no need to use intermediaries like Euro Railways. Instead, Google the train operator in the country where your journey begins and book directly through them.

“Absolutely ignore everything with the letters ‘ad’ in front,” Smith said, and skip straight to organic results. “You’ll save hours of your life doing this.”

If you have any problems (some European operators’ English-language sites are easier to navigate than others), try booking with the operator in the country where your trip ends, but you won’t be able to get tickets printed at your departure station. so make sure you have an e-ticket.

Mr Smith also said that if you are having trouble or need to book for multiple countries, use either Rail Europe Where Railway linewhich he found to be reliable third-party sites with reasonable fees that work with many, but not all, European train companies.

And for those still having hurdles getting refunds due to the pandemic, here’s what I found out:

First, make sure you’re right. Sometimes travelers book on the wrong date, forget an email with an important change, or opt out of insurance, then instinctively blame the company. (And by “travelers” I mean me.)

If you’re right, start by exhausting all efforts with the company itself, always being firm but polite and doing as much as you can in writing.

Then turn to online reviews or discussion forums. You may or may not get a response from the company, but even if you don’t, you’ll be letting others know about your experience. Be fair and rational – instead of venting, give an accurate and detailed account of what happened.

Another option is to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or the attorney general of the state where the business is based.

Results may vary, but after receiving several complaints about Boston-based Overseas Adventure Travel regarding pandemic refunds – as my predecessor, Sarah Firshein had also – I took the advice of a complainant. and called the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office.

Roxana Martinez-Gracias, a spokeswoman, told me that since January 2020, the AG’s office had received more than 950 complaints about the company, and “the majority” were for pandemic cancellations. The AG’s Consumer Advocacy and Response Division recovered more than $9.1 million from Overseas Adventure Travel and nearly $4 million from other travel agencies.

When I requested a response from the company, I received a statement from Ann Shannon, a spokeswoman.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has created extraordinary and ongoing challenges for the travel industry,” she wrote in an email. “We continue to respond as quickly as possible to all travelers with refund requests under the circumstances.”

A disappointing answer, but at least she didn’t tell me to go scare a pig.

If you need advice on a best-laid travel plan gone wrong, email [email protected].