When the pandemic hit in March 2020, my wife and I cut a trip to Norway short, changed flights and canceled reservations that included a train trip from Bergen to Oslo that we had booked with Euro Railways. All the other suppliers reimbursed us a long time ago, but we still haven’t received the $334 that Euro Railways owes us. In August 2020, company director Tom Louis wrote to “ask our creditors for time to reorganize our finances” to avoid filing for bankruptcy. That seems fine to me. But since then, they have not responded to our emails. Any help would be highly appreciated. Douglas in Richfield, Minn.
I can’t say I’m surprised you never heard from Tom Louis at Euro Railways, because looking into your problem, I suspect he never existed. In fact, the Euro Railways company does not exist anymore. The travel agency, once registered in Coral Gables, Florida, closed in 2020, according to his former owner, Washington Cunha, whom I emailed from his home in Brazil.
Starting in August, Mr. Cunha wrote, the company will try to restart its business and gradually refund or refund money to customers. He added that the company was “really sorry” for the inconvenience. (Mr. Cunha would not say if Mr. Louis was a real person, but I went through many documents about the company and saw no trace of him, nor is there any trace of him on LinkedIn or company social media; his style of writing in the email he sent contained grammatical errors similar to those of Mr. Cunha).
If he is true to his word, there is a chance that he will eventually get his money back.
That said, I wouldn’t get your hopes up, as I’ll explain soon. But before I get to the heart of your problem, your email was one of many I received complaining about tour operators and travel agencies delaying refunds for trips or other services canceled due to the pandemic.
In many cases, travel companies promptly reimbursed their customers; others never did. But while it’s worth noting that the massive wave of cancellations that hit the travel industry in early 2020 caused vexing problems for everyone, third parties like travel agencies that serve as intermediaries were hit especially hard. These companies were waiting for reimbursements from the railways, airlines, hotels and car rental agencies and therefore faced the challenge, as Mr Cunha lamented to me, of receiving a reimbursement so that they could reimburse their own customers. Cash flow issues can become overwhelming, and sometimes it’s even more complicated than that, as agencies must follow 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 went out of business. Mr Cunha told me that his staff had complied with 68 per cent of customer refund requests even though rail companies, such as Spain’s Renfe and Germany’s DB, he said, only complied with 23 per cent. of Euro Railways reimbursement requests. Mr. Cunha noted that, in many cases, he had received credit from companies for future train travel, but reimbursed customers in cash. (When I contacted these rail companies separately, a Renfe representative said all tickets had been refunded regardless of conditions, and DB did not respond to a request for comment.) That left Euro Railways with negative cash flow, Cunha said, even as it still owes people like you $128,000.
If that’s true, you were particularly unlucky. Age-Christoffer Lundeby, the communication manager for Vy, the Norwegian railway company that operates trains from Bergen to Oslo, sent me documentation showing that Vy had reimbursed Euro Railways for the value of their 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, from this TripAdvisor thread that started 10 years ago to those logged with 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 two years before Mr. Cunha ceased operations.
And perhaps most obviously, in 2020, Euro Railways was sued by Rail Europe, a major player in rail tickets (it brought the Eurail pass to the United States in 1959) for which Euro Railways was an affiliate agent. Rail Europe claimed that Mr. Cunha’s company owed them $38,000 that Mr. Cunha had agreed to pay in writing in 2018. In 2021, a Broward County judge entered a default judgment against Euro Railways and ordered Mr. Cunha pay more than $40,000. Neither Rail Europe nor Cunha said whether that debt was ever settled, but Cunha wrote: “I can assure you that we were the ones who suffered in a unilateral severance of the commercial relationship.”
I tried to go on and also broached whether Tom Louis was a real person. That seemed to be the last straw, and Mr. Cunha switched to Portuguese (which he knew I spoke) and told me to “go scare a pig,” a Brazilian equivalent of “go fly a kite” or “jump into a lake”. .” He did not respond to subsequent emails.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get his money back, but his story sheds light on two often confusing questions that could 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 wonderful and obsessive train website Seat61.com. He said that there is really no need to use intermediaries like Euro Railways. Instead, Google the train operator in the country where your trip begins and book directly through them.
“Absolutely ignore anything with the letters ‘ad’ in front of it,” said Mr. Smith, and go straight to organic results. “You’ll save hours of your life doing that.”
If you’re having trouble (some European operators’ English sites are easier to navigate than others), try booking with the operator in the country where your trip ends, though then you won’t be able to print tickets at your departure station. so make sure you get an e-ticket.
Mr. Smith also said that if you have any problems or need to book for multiple countries, use Rail Europe or Trainline, which he found to be reliable third-party sites with reasonable fares that work with many, but not all, European rail companies.
And for those still running into obstacles to getting refunds due to the pandemic, here’s what I found out:
First, make sure you’re right. Occasionally, travelers book for the wrong date, miss an email with a major change, or cancel insurance and then instinctively blame the company. (And by “travelers” I mean me).
If you’re right, start by exhausting all your dealings with the company itself, always being firm but polite, and getting everything 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 warning others 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 with the attorney general of the state where the business is located.
Results may vary, but after receiving multiple complaints about Boston-based Overseas Adventure Travel regarding pandemic refunds, as had my predecessor Sarah Firshein, I took the advice of one plaintiff and called the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office.
Roxana Martínez-Gracias, a spokeswoman, told me that since January 2020, the Attorney General’s Office had received more than 950 complaints about the company and that “the majority” had to do with cancellations due to the pandemic. The AG’s office Consumer Response and Advocacy Division has recovered more than $9.1 million from Overseas Adventure Travel and nearly $4 million from other travel companies.
When I asked for 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,” he 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 he didn’t tell me he was going to scare a pig.
If you need advice on a better designed travel plan gone wrong, email email@example.com.