In the effort to impede the spread of the Corona virus, Via Rail has canceled all overnight trains for the foreseeable future. As a result, our planned, and highly anticipated, trip across Canada has been canceled. While I understand VIA Rail’s reasons, I am nevertheless bummed out by their decision.
Although VIA Rail will be refunding the cost of the tickets, I’m not certain we’ll be able to get American Express to replace the points which were used to purchase the air line tickets to fly to Toronto. Nor am I positive Hilton will reinstate the nearly half a million reward points which were used to cover our Hotel stays in Toronto and Vancouver.
The loss of those points would drastically increase the cost of re-booking the trip in the future, which would most likely mean it will not ever happen. Not because I could not afford the extra expense, but because it would be more than I’m willing to spend. Having those points available to cover half the cost of the trip was the only reason I considered taking the trip.
Yes, it may be possible to re-book the trip once the hysteria passes, but the whole point of taking the trip at this time of the year was to do it while there was still snow on the ground and not be so cold that we’d be forced to dress for sub zero temperatures. I want to be able enjoy being out in the snow, and not freeze my fingers off while I’m taking photographs.
The reason I used the word ‘may’ instead of will in the previous paragraph, is because there is a reasonable chance VIA Rail could use this event to justify discontinuing all over night trains; permanently.
Like Amtrak, VIA Rail is subsidized by the Canadian government, and just like their American counterparts the politicians view long distance passenger rail travel as being a costly and unnecessary burden. Critical pieces have already begun appearing in the Canadian media which have the potential to provide VIA Rail’s critics with even more ammunition to pressure the Canadian government to mandate VIA Rail stop the bleeding.
So even if American Express and Hilton restore our reward points, there is a real chance the trip won’t exist, or the experience will scaled back so much, it will no better than flying. Which would be a real shame.
There was no issue with getting the Hilton Honor points back. They were automatically restored when I canceled the reservations.
I have also gotten a cancellation confirmation from VIA Rail stating a full refund will be credited back to our credit card within 7 business days. The only thing left to do is get the Airline tickets canceled. Current call hold times with American Express Travel are 2 plus hours… Yikes!
After trying for two days to speak to someone @ American Express Travel and being put on hold for anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours before having the call disconnected, without ever speaking to an agent , we have given up on trying to cancel the flight. So we will not get the points back and the tickets will go unused if the plane is allowed to take off on Saturday, which is probably not likely, because both the Canadian and US governments announced the borders are closed to all non essential travel.
Truthfully, we are really not bothered by the fact we won’t be getting the points back. Why is due to the process American Express uses to redeem points for travel. When you book airline tickets they actually charge your credit card for the tickets and related fees. You then are transferred to a different person who calculates how many points are needed to cover the cost of the tickets, then after deducting them from your points balance, they apply a credit to your American Express card balance, which offsets the charges for the tickets. So although we won’t be getting the points back, we are not out any money for the unused tickets either. As for not having the points to use when we re-book the trip, it won’t matter because we will not be using American Express Travel ever again. I’ll leave the reasons for that to a future post. All I will say, is that if we asked to rate our experience using American Express Travel, we’d give them a big fat “F“.
I decided to try one more time to cancel our airline tickets. After calling Air Canada and once again being told I’d have to contact the agency the tickets were purchased through, I dialed the number for American Express Travel and was put in the queue.
1 hour & 57 minutes later, Joe came on the line. He apologized for the trouble I’d had trying to reach a representative
After taking the details, and verifying my identity, he canceled the Airline tickets, then issued a travel voucher good for travel on Canada Air anytime up until December 31, 2020.
Because I was able to finally get to talk to a person, I’ll change their grade from a “F” to a “C-“.