Dear Tripped Up,
When the pandemic broke out in March 2020, my wife and I cut short a visit to Norway, changing flights and canceling reservations that included a train ride from Bergen to Oslo that we had booked using Euro Railways. All the opposite vendors reimbursed us way back, but we still haven’t received the $334 we’re owed from Euro Railways. In August 2020, the corporate’s director, Tom Louis, wrote to “ask our creditors for time to reorganize our funds” to avoid declaring bankruptcy. Fair enough. But since then, they’ve not responded to our emails. Any help can be very much appreciated. Douglas in Richfield, Minn.
I can’t say I’m surprised you never heard back from Tom Louis at Euro Railways, because from researching your issue, I think he never existed. In reality, the Euro Railways company now not exists, either. The travel agency once registered in Coral Gables, Fla., went out of business in 2020, in keeping with its former owner, Washington Cunha, whom I communicated with over email from his home in Brazil.
Starting in August, Mr. Cunha wrote, the corporate will attempt to restart its business and progressively reimburse or refund money to customers. He added that the corporate was “really sorry” for the inconvenience. (Mr. Cunha wouldn’t say whether Mr. Louis was an actual person, but I combed through many documents in regards to the company and saw no sign of him, neither is there any trace of him on LinkedIn or the corporate’s social media; his writing style in the e-mail you passed along contained grammatical errors much like Mr. Cunha’s.)
If he’s true to his word, there may be a probability that you just might eventually get your a refund.
That said, I wouldn’t get your hopes up, as I’ll explain soon. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of your issue, your email was one among many I received complaining of tour operators and travel agencies dragging their feet on refunds for trips or other services canceled due to the pandemic.
In lots of cases, travel corporations refunded their clients speedily; others never did. But while it’s price noting that the huge wave of cancellations that pummeled the travel industry in early 2020 caused vexing problems for all, third parties like travel agencies that function middlemen were hurt especially. These corporations were waiting on refunds from railways, airlines, hotels and automobile rental agencies, and were thus faced with the challenge — as Mr. Cunha lamented to me — of getting repaid to have the opportunity to refund their very own customers. Money flow issues could turn into overwhelming, and sometimes it’s much more complicated than that, as agencies must follow the widely various cancellation, credit and refund policies of the businesses they buy from, and interpret those for the patron.
Many smaller agencies, like Euro Railways, succumbed to the financial pressure and closed. Mr. Cunha told me that his staff had honored 68 percent of refund requests from customers despite rail corporations — like Spain’s Renfe and Germany’s DB, he said — only honoring 23 percent of refund requests from Euro Railways. Mr. Cunha noted that in lots of cases he had received credit from the businesses for future train travel but reimbursed customers in money. (Once I individually contacted these rail corporations, a Renfe representative said all tickets had been refunded no matter conditions and DB didn’t reply to a request for comment.) That left Euro Railways with a negative money flow, Mr. Cunha said, at the same time as it still owes $128,000 to people such as you.
If that’s true, you had particularly bad luck. Age-Christoffer Lundeby, the communication manager for Vy, the Norwegian rail company that runs the Bergen to Oslo trains, sent me documentation showing Vy had refunded Euro Railways for the worth of your tickets, money that obviously never made it to you.
Unfortunately, you should not the primary person to have problems with Euro Railways. The corporate has a history of complaints online, from this TripAdvisor thread that began 10 years ago to those registered with the Higher Business Bureau. The state of Florida administratively dissolved Euro Railways in 2018 for failing to supply an annual report, and never reinstated it within the two years or so before Mr. Cunha stopped operating.
And maybe most manifestly, in 2020, Euro Railways was sued by Rail Europe, a serious player in rail tickets — it brought the Eurail pass to the US in 1959 — for which Euro Railways was an affiliated agent. Rail Europe claimed Mr. Cunha’s company owed them $38,000 that Mr. Cunha had agreed in writing to pay in 2018. In 2021, a Broward County judge issued a default judgment against Euro Railways, ordering Mr. Cunha to pay greater than $40,000. Neither Rail Europe nor Mr. Cunha would say whether that debt was ever settled, but Mr. Cunha wrote: “I can assure you we were those harmed in a unilateral breach of business relationship.”
I attempted to follow up, and in addition broached the subject of whether Tom Louis was an actual person. That seemed to be the last straw, and Mr. Cunha switched to Portuguese (which he knew I spoke), telling me to “go scare a pig,” a Brazilian equivalent of “go fly a kite” or “go jump in a lake.” He didn’t reply to subsequent emails.
So, alas, I couldn’t recuperate your money, but your story does make clear two often confusing issues that would help fellow travelers: find out how to reserve train tickets in Europe, and what to do when you can’t get a refund.
For the train ticket query, I turned to Mark Smith, who founded the splendidly obsessive train website Seat61.com. He said there’s really no need to make use of middlemen like Euro Railways. As a substitute, Google the train operator within the country where your journey starts and book directly through them.
“Ignore absolutely every part with the letters ‘ad’ in front of it,” Mr. Smith said, and go straight to the organic results. “You’ll save hours of your life by doing that.”
June 17, 2022, 6:16 p.m. ET
In case you run into trouble — some European operators English-language sites are easier to navigate than others — try booking with the operator within the country where your journey ends, although then you definately won’t have the opportunity to get tickets printed at your station of departure so, make sure you get an e-ticket.
Mr. Smith also said that when you run into any problems, or have to book for multiple countries, use either Rail Europe or Trainline, which he found to be reliable third-party sites with reasonable fees that work with many, but not all, European rail corporations.
And for those still running into obstacles pursuing refunds due to the pandemic, here’s what I’ve discovered:
First, make sure you’re right. Occasionally, travelers book for the fallacious date, overlook an email with a crucial change or opt out of insurance after which instinctively blame the corporate. (And by “travelers” I mean me.)
In case you are right, start by exhausting all efforts with the corporate itself, all the time being firm but polite, and doing as much as you’ll be able to in writing.
Then, turn to online reviews or discussion boards. You could or may not elicit an organization response, but even when you don’t, you’ll be warning others about your experience. Be fair and rational — as an alternative of venting, give a precise, detailed account of what happened.
Another choice is to register a criticism with the Higher Business Bureau, or with the attorney general of the state where the business relies.
Results may vary, but after receiving multiple complaints in regards to the Boston-based Overseas Adventure Travel regarding pandemic refunds — as my predecessor, Sarah Firshein also had — I took one complainant’s advice and called the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.
Roxana Martinez-Gracias, a spokeswoman, told me that since January 2020, the A.G.’s office had received greater than 950 complaints in regards to the company and that “the bulk” needed to do with pandemic cancellations. The Consumer Advocacy and Response Division of the A.G.’s office has recovered greater than $9.1 million from Overseas Adventure Travel, and nearly $4 million from other travel corporations.
Once I asked for a response from the corporate, I received an announcement from Ann Shannon, a spokeswoman.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has created extraordinary, ongoing challenges for the travel industry,” she wrote in an email. “We proceed to reply as quickly as possible to all travelers with refund requests under the circumstances.”
An underwhelming response, but not less than she didn’t tell me to go scare a pig.
In case you need advice a couple of best-laid travel plan that went awry, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.