help! It’s been more than 2 years and I still don’t get my refund

When the pandemic broke out in March 2020, my wife and I cut short a trip to Norway, changed flights and canceled reservations that included a train ride from Bergen to Oslo that we had booked using European Rail. All the other sellers reimbursed us long ago, but we still haven’t received the $334 we owe from Euro Railways. In August 2020, the company’s director, Tom Lewis, wrote, “We are asking our creditors to allow time to reorganize our finances” to avoid bankruptcy. fair enough. But since then, they haven’t responded to our emails. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Douglas in Richfield, Minnesota.

I can’t say I’m surprised you didn’t hear back from Tom Lewis from Euro Railways, because judging by your problem, I think he wasn’t there at all. In fact, Euro Railways no longer exists either. The travel agency registered in Coral Gables, Florida, ceased operations in 2020, according to its previous owner, Washington Kona, who reached out to him by email from his home in Brazil.

Mr. Cunha wrote that from August, the company will try to resume business and gradually pay or refund the money to customers. He added that the company was “really sorry” for the inconvenience. (Mr Cunha did not say if Mr. Lewis was a real person, but I combed through several documents about the company and saw no sign of him, no trace of him on LinkedIn or the company’s social media; his writing style in the email I sent contains errors Grammatically similar to Mr. Cunha’s errors.)

If he is true to his word, there is a chance that you will eventually get your money back.

Having said that, I won’t get your hopes up, as I will explain shortly. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of your issue, your email was one of many messages I’ve received from tour operators and travel agencies delaying refunds for flights or other services canceled due to the pandemic.

In many cases, travel companies have quickly refunded their customers; Others did not. But while it is worth noting that the massive wave of cancellations that hit the travel industry in early 2020 caused troublesome problems for everyone, third parties such as travel agencies that act as intermediaries have been hit particularly hard. These companies were waiting for refunds from railroads, airlines, hotels and car rental agencies, and thus faced the challenge – as expressed by Mr. Cunha Lee – of getting reimbursed to be able to refund their customers. Cash flow issues can become overwhelming, and sometimes even more complex than that, as agencies must follow widely varied cancellation, credit, and refund policies for the companies they buy from, and interpret those policies to the consumer..

Many smaller agencies, such as Euro Railways, succumbed to financial pressure and closed. Mr. Cunha told me that his employees honored 68 percent of refund requests from customers even though rail companies – such as Spain’s Renfe and Germany’s DB, he said – honored only 23 percent of refund requests from Euro Railways. Mr. Kona noted that in many cases he took credit from companies for future rail travel, but repaid customers with cash. (When I contacted these rail companies separately, a Renfe representative said that all tickets were refunded regardless of the circumstances and that DB did not respond to a request for comment.) This left Euro Railways a negative cash flow, Mr. Kona said, even with still owed $128,000 for people like you.

If this is true, then your luck was especially bad. Age-Christoffer Lundeby, Director of Communications for Vy, the Norwegian railway company that operates Bergen trains to Oslo, sent me documents showing that Vy has refunded 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 complaints online, from a TripAdvisor thread that started 10 years ago to those registered with the Better Business Bureau. Florida administratively dissolved Euro Railways in 2018 for failing to file an annual report, and never returned it in the two years or so before Mr. Kona went out of business.

Perhaps most tellingly, in 2020, one of the major rail ticket companies, Rail Europe, sued Euro Railways – which brought the Eurail pass to the US in 1959 – of which Euro Railways was an agent. Rail Europe alleged that Mr. Cunha’s company owed it $38,000 that Mr. Cunha had agreed to pay in writing in 2018. In 2021, a Broward County judge issued a default judgment against Euro Railways, ordering Mr. Cunha to pay more than $40,000. Neither Rail Europe nor Mr Cunha said if this debt was ever settled, but Mr Cunha wrote: “I can assure you that we are the ones harmed in a unilateral breach of the business relationship.”

I tried to follow up, and also touched on the topic of whether Tom Lewis was a real person. This seemed to be the last straw, and Mr. Kona turned to Portuguese (which he knew I spoke) and told me “Go scare a pig”, which is the equivalent of “Go fly a kite” or “Go and jump in a lake”. He did not respond to subsequent emails.

So, unfortunately, I couldn’t get your money back, but your story highlights two often confusing issues that can help fellow travelers: how to book train tickets in Europe, and what to do if you can’t get your money back.

For the train ticket question, turn to Mark Smith, who founded the awesome amazing train site He said there is really no need to use intermediaries like Euro Railways. Alternatively, you can use Google the train operator in the country where you start your journey and book directly through them.

‘Totally ignore everything with the letters ‘ad’ in front of him, said Mr. Smith, and go straight to the organic results. “You will save hours of your life by doing this.”

If you get stuck – some European operator sites are easier to navigate in English than others – try to book with the operator in the country where your flight ends, although you will no longer be able to print tickets at your departure station so make sure you have your Electronic ticket.

Mr Smith also said that if you run into any problems, or need to book for multiple countries, use either Rail Europe or Trainline, which he found reliable third-party sites for reasonable fees that work with many, but not all, European rail companies.

And for those still facing hurdles in their quest for a refund due to the pandemic, here’s what I found out:

First, make sure you are right. Occasionally, travelers book the wrong appointment, overlook an email with an important change or cancel an insurance subscription and then instinctively blame the company. (By “travelers,” I mean me.)

If you’re right, start by exhausting all efforts with the company itself, always be firm but polite, and do everything you can in writing.

Then go to online reviews or discussion boards. You may or may not elicit a response from the company, but even if you don’t, it will warn others about your experience. Be fair and rational – instead of venting, give an accurate and detailed description of what happened.

Another option is to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, or with the attorney general of the state in which the company is headquartered.

Results may vary, but after receiving multiple complaints about Boston-based Overseas Adventure Travel regarding refunds due to the pandemic β€” as did my predecessor, Sarah Firchen β€” I took one complainant’s advice and contacted the Massachusetts Attorney’s office.

Company spokeswoman Roxana Martinez Gracias told me that since January 2020, the AG office has received more than 950 complaints about the company and that “the majority” had something to do with the pandemic cancellation. The AG’s Defense and Consumer Response division has recovered more than $9.1 million from Overseas Adventure Travel and approximately $4 million from other travel companies.

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

β€œThe 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 requests for refunds under these circumstances.”

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

If you need advice on the best obliquely crafted travel plan, Send an email to [email protected].

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