CL- Are the scalpers at work?

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Can I just say maybe all of these sold out and high bucket rooms are the fault of some travel company trying to make a quick buck, but in fact everyday human beings are using Amtrak now for travel, and have spent maybe all of 2 minutes reading about Amtrak deals, and have learned what we all know, book early. Thats not a secret, and it isn't very hard to figure out if you google phrases like "amtrak tips", "cheap amtrak" and the like.
 

AlanB

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The ability to book and cancel without penalty gives exactly the behavior you're seeing here: it encourages people to buy tickets on the chance that they'll be traveling on some day, knowing that if they decide not to make the trip there's no problem downside.
There is a penalty for the users, since most people don't pay off their credit cards right away, so they are paying interest on that money.

And for Amtrak, even if the passenger does pay off their card, they are still getting an interest free loan in many cases for 11 months.
 

volkris

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The ability to book and cancel without penalty gives exactly the behavior you're seeing here: it encourages people to buy tickets on the chance that they'll be traveling on some day, knowing that if they decide not to make the trip there's no problem downside.
There is a penalty for the users, since most people don't pay off their credit cards right away, so they are paying interest on that money.

And for Amtrak, even if the passenger does pay off their card, they are still getting an interest free loan in many cases for 11 months.
Accepting that view for the moment, here's a thought: instead of having that penalty go to credit card companies who certainly have neither Amtrak's nor the US transportation infrastructure's best interests forefront in their minds, Amtrak should take control of the situation by setting and collecting penalties for rebooking on its own terms. These reservations are Amtrak's inventory to manage, but what you describe cedes that control to otherwise-interested banks.

But I doubt your view is particularly accurate based on what others here say, so let's see some numbers. What proportion of bookings are canceled? What proportion of those were clearly doublebookings trying to maximize the riders' flexibility? For that matter, what proportion of Amtrak riders canceling their bookings DO pay off their credit cards or have such low interest rates that the penalty is insignificant?

And GML, no, I'm not an "extremest libertarian", and it's funny that I convey that impression through notions like "If I have two dollars, and you ask for four, well, that's just not going to work out" Only libertarians can do math? The concept of negative numbers is but a political stunt? You should see the cabal that came up with calculus!
 

Ryan

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Clearly you missed the part where Amtrak gets an interest free loan on the money for up to 11 months.

These reservations are Amtrak's inventory to manage, but what you describe cedes that control to otherwise-interested banks.
This may be the most ridiculous thing that you've ever written, and that bar is pretty high. Care to expound on how the banks have any control over the situation?
You're asking all the wrong questions - the only one that matters is "How many rooms/seats go unsold because someone cancels at the last minute?". Clearly Amtrak is the only one to know that answer and don't think that it's an issue at this point. Their cancellation policy on sleepers does has some teeth in it at the last minute, so it must have been a problem at some point.

And GML, no, I'm not an "extremest libertarian", and it's funny that I convey that impression through notions like "If I have two dollars, and you ask for four, well, that's just not going to work out" Only libertarians can do math? The concept of negative numbers is but a political stunt? You should see the cabal that came up with calculus!
Thanks for confirming, you're the worst kind of libertarian there is, the "common sense" libertarian that doesn't realize that their views are at the extreme. That kind of disconnect from reality why you're so utterly unable to understand so much of the time.
 
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AlanB

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But I doubt your view is particularly accurate based on what others here say, so let's see some numbers. What proportion of bookings are canceled? What proportion of those were clearly doublebookings trying to maximize the riders' flexibility? For that matter, what proportion of Amtrak riders canceling their bookings DO pay off their credit cards or have such low interest rates that the penalty is insignificant?
I obviously have no access to such numbers, since Amtrak has never posted or made public such numbers. However, it is quite clear that Amtrak does have such numbers, are aware of what's going on, and that they don't consider it to be a huge problem. It's clear that they are aware from two recent events. The most recent, the simple fact that they are taking steps to stop Travel Agents from gobbling up rooms. The other event occured a few years ago when Amtrak made changes to one's ability to call up an agent and make an upaid reservation for travel on the NEC.

Amtrak found with the popularity of Acela that far too many people were making multiple unpaid reservations hedging their bets for a low bucket seat such that they could pick up which ever ticket worked best for them after their meetings were done for the day. In many cases people wouldn't even cancel the other reservations, leaving Amtrak with unsold seats. So Amtrak changed the rules on unpaid reservations, taking away the very liberal 7-day hold for an unpaid reservation. Now ARROW determines for the agent just how long the reservation will be held without payment before being cancelled. On average it's probably about 2 days that a reservation can be held, and the closer to departure it is, the shorter the time that Amtrak will hold the reservation. Additionally Amtrak will cancel multiple reservations for the same person on the same day when clearly the person cannot be riding 3 different trains at the same time.

So the bottom line here is that Amtrak is looking at these issues and making changes when and where they feel that they need to do so. And clearly, other than the travel agent issues, Amtrak feels that they are not having major issues with people double booking sleepers that then go unsold. In fact the travel agent issues isn't even about those rooms going unsold, Amtrak is only concerned about the fact that the agents are gobbling up the low bucket rooms and leaving none for the general public. That's why Amtrak is trying to change the rules, not because the rooms go unsold.
 

Cho Cho Charlie

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From what I get, the problem is someone (some travel agency), buys up all the low bucket bedrooms. They hope to be able to re-sell them later, when the alternative is for travelers to buy a bedroom directly from Amtrak at the highest bucket.

Also, there is no real capacity issue (sorry GML). Just a false one, caused by many bedrooms being booked early on (11 months ahead). Of course, if not re-sold, those bedrooms all get dumped back into the system at the last minute, and may or may not be booked by others. Amtrak can, in an instant, go from a sold out full train, to a nearly empty one, at least in terms of sleepers.

The solution? :D

To require all bookings to have the passenger's name when made/reserved, and to not allow subsequent name changes. This should eliminate any "speculative purchases" because the true, final, passenger's name would not be known. But it should not effect legitimate passengers, like us, because we would obviously make the purchase/reservation under our name (and AGR number too!).
 

The Metropolitan

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+1 to Cho Cho, Ryan, and GML.

I do agree that no one person or entity should have more than one reservation in the system at the same time on the hopes of travelling, and also agree that there should be a deterrent to low bucket rooms getting snapped up by Travel Agents looking to resell them.

However, I've BEEN the person who had to cancel a much anticipated trip days before it occurred, due to an unforseen emergency, and actually needed the cash back to handle said unforeseen emergency. As much as I hoped the space I'd reserved didn't go to waste, I was also glad that the trauma of the emergency wasn't added to by the inability to get my money back as well.

I've lost money behind airlines and hotels behind similar circumstances, and as with GML, Amtrak's refund policy is one thing that makes me VERY partial to Amtrak when Amtrak wherever possible, and I try to show my appreciation by buying their tickets and plunking my butt in their seats.

Southwest's model is good compared to nearly any other airline, and it makes me a favor them a bit, but not nearly as much as Amtrak.

I can understand the frustration of not being able to find cheap rooms, but not the generalizations of anyone who has to cancel the plans as simply being wishy-washy.
 

AlanB

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Also, there is no real capacity issue (sorry GML). Just a false one, caused by many bedrooms being booked early on (11 months ahead). Of course, if not re-sold, those bedrooms all get dumped back into the system at the last minute, and may or may not be booked by others. Amtrak can, in an instant, go from a sold out full train, to a nearly empty one, at least in terms of sleepers.
I'm sorry, but there is a real capacity issue on the trains, especially the single level trains. Let's look at the Crescent which had no special reasons to be full during the month of March; that's the latest stats released by Amtrak.

The Crescent normally runs with 2 sleepers, so 2 X 2 trains per day X 15 rooms X 31 days = 1,860 rooms that could be sold. Now, the crew occupies a minimum of 6 of those rooms, so we loose a mimimum of 372 rooms, bringing that available number down to 1,488. Now if we assume that every room is filled to capacity, that would mean that a max of 2976 passengers could be accomodated. In March Amtrak transported 2,968 people.

Now I will grant you that Amtrak does resell some of the rooms during the trip and of course not every room is indeed occupied by 2 people, but it's not like those sleepers are going empty on any given day.

If we move out west, and look at the Southwest Chief, we find the following. That train runs with 2 sleepers and I beleive that they sell 6 rooms in the Trans/Dorm when needed. So 21 rooms X 2 cars + 6 = 48 rooms per train. Times that by 2 trains per day and we have 96 rooms available for sale. Multiply that by 2 and then throw in 4 extra passengers for the family rooms, and we have a max capacity of 196 people per day. That gives us a montly max capacity of 6,076. The crew doesn't factor in here, since they don't occupy revenue rooms, unlike what happens on the east coast.

In March the SWC carried 5,128 passengers. And I was being generous by adding in the Trans/Dorm rooms during an off peak time. But while there is some capacity to spare here, again these trains aren't running empty. And the main reason that there is excess capacity here is due to the fact that the crew isn't using revenue rooms.
 
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MikefromCrete

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I'm interested in the use of the word "scalping" here. To my knowledge, a scalper is someone who, for instance, buys a ticket to a sporting event and then stands outside the stadium and resells the ticket at a higher price to someone who wishes to attend the event but doesn't have a ticket. The scalper makes a profit on the tranaction, which is illegal in many places. Companies exist to resell tickets, often held by season ticket holders who can't attend every game. Of course, this is all based on the fact that the sporting event in question is already sold out and someone can't buy a ticket by simply waiting up to the box office. And that someone is willing to pay more than the marked value of the ticket.

If a person reserves a room on an Amtrak train in advance, pays for it, then later decides to cancel the reservation and gets his money back, how is that scalping? There's no profit motive for the original buyer.
 

amamba

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I'm interested in the use of the word "scalping" here. To my knowledge, a scalper is someone who, for instance, buys a ticket to a sporting event and then stands outside the stadium and resells the ticket at a higher price to someone who wishes to attend the event but doesn't have a ticket. The scalper makes a profit on the tranaction, which is illegal in many places. Companies exist to resell tickets, often held by season ticket holders who can't attend every game. Of course, this is all based on the fact that the sporting event in question is already sold out and someone can't buy a ticket by simply waiting up to the box office. And that someone is willing to pay more than the marked value of the ticket. If a person reserves a room on an Amtrak train in advance, pays for it, then later decides to cancel the reservation and gets his money back, how is that scalping? There's no profit motive for the original buyer.
My question about this is in regards to the travel agents who scoop up the low bucket rooms. Do they resell them to the public at a higher rate? Do they put the amtrak tickets into some sort of "package deal" with hotel rooms, thereby marking up the amtrak tickets? It sounds like amtrak is working to stop this practice which is a good thing, because they very well could be marking up the rooms at their own profit.
 

haolerider

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I'm interested in the use of the word "scalping" here. To my knowledge, a scalper is someone who, for instance, buys a ticket to a sporting event and then stands outside the stadium and resells the ticket at a higher price to someone who wishes to attend the event but doesn't have a ticket. The scalper makes a profit on the tranaction, which is illegal in many places. Companies exist to resell tickets, often held by season ticket holders who can't attend every game. Of course, this is all based on the fact that the sporting event in question is already sold out and someone can't buy a ticket by simply waiting up to the box office. And that someone is willing to pay more than the marked value of the ticket. If a person reserves a room on an Amtrak train in advance, pays for it, then later decides to cancel the reservation and gets his money back, how is that scalping? There's no profit motive for the original buyer.
My question about this is in regards to the travel agents who scoop up the low bucket rooms. Do they resell them to the public at a higher rate? Do they put the amtrak tickets into some sort of "package deal" with hotel rooms, thereby marking up the amtrak tickets? It sounds like amtrak is working to stop this practice which is a good thing, because they very well could be marking up the rooms at their own profit.
Quite honestly, it is not really a travel agent (as you know them) that is doing this on selected trains. The companies are wholesalers who do the same thing with hotels, airlines, attractions, etc. Most of these companies have a block of rooms, seats, tickets, etc that they commit to the wholesaler, who in turn spends their money to advertise the packages in a variety of different media - i.e. Sunday Travel Sections, magazines, etc. In most cases the company working with the wholesaler has a "sell and report" system that requires the wholesaler to provide rooming lists at a certain date prior to the arrival date, departure date, etc. Amtrak works with wholesalers who primarily focus on the western trains - SW Chief, Empire Builder, California Zephyr - that have attractive and historic scenery and locations to feature. The Crescent, Capitol Limited, Cardinal and even the Silver Service trains are generally not involved with this kind of activity. There is nothing illegal or wrong with this practice, unless the company does not have the ability to get the unsold space back with enough time to re-sell the unsold rooms. I believe Amtrak is working diligently to set up this kind of control to insure that space is not held until the last moment and then put back onto the market. It is not scalping, nor is it illegal or immoral - it just needs to be controlled properly.
 
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dlagrua

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It could also be normal folks taking advantage of Amtrak's fully refundable tickets. I have two sleeper trips on reserved next month to the same destination because I havn't decided when I want to go yet. I may use one, I might not go at all, but I won't be using both. It works out that I either hold these two reservations or risk not getting a sleeper at all. The way the return policy is set up I can make sure I am getting exactly what I want and shift all the risk to Amtrak and other passengers.
You could be correct about the cancellations but consider my argument. When a train is sold out it shows no bedrooms are available. Say two bedrooms are cancelled and become available again. It is common for Amtrak to post "Hurry only two, three or four bedrooms left'. The fact that I did not see this message posted means that a whole flock of rooms became available. I might buy the theory that Amtrak may be adding and deleting sleepers according to load but am more inclined to believe that someone was holding the bedrooms and trying to re sell them.
 
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Green Maned Lion

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So long as Amtrak requires that a name go on the reservation, I don't think it is possible to "resell" it.
 

Ryan

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It could also be normal folks taking advantage of Amtrak's fully refundable tickets. I have two sleeper trips on reserved next month to the same destination because I havn't decided when I want to go yet. I may use one, I might not go at all, but I won't be using both. It works out that I either hold these two reservations or risk not getting a sleeper at all. The way the return policy is set up I can make sure I am getting exactly what I want and shift all the risk to Amtrak and other passengers.
You could be correct about the cancellations but consider my argument. When a train is sold out it shows no bedrooms are available. Say two bedrooms are cancelled and become available again. It is common for Amtrak to post "Hurry only two, three or four bedrooms left'. The fact that I did not see this message posted means that a whole flock of rooms became available. I might buy the theory that Amtrak may be adding and deleting sleepers according to load but am more inclined to believe that someone was holding the bedrooms and trying to re sell them.
Not necessarily - I've got a hunch that the "Hurry only x rooms left" is keyed off of the number of rooms remaining in the high bucket (since those are the last ones sold). When a train is sold out, and then a less than high bucket ticket goes back into the inventory, the system assumes that since it's selling a less than high bucket ticket remaining that all of the high bucket tickets are left and so the message isn't triggered.
I say this because the morning that I snagged my low(ish) bucket ticket on the CL when it dropped back into inventory (I assume), there was no message. Later on that morning when I looked at it, the rooms were once again sold out - while it's possible that a whole mess of rooms sold that quickly, it would be surprising to me for that to happen in the early morning 8-9 months before the trip was taken.
 

volkris

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You know, not having available the data to either support or refute a position doesn't somehow make the position stronger. It means there is no available data to support the position.

The economic realities of Amtrak's system are clear: the lack of a penalty for overbooking encourages people to book rooms they don't so much need, keeping them out of the hands of those who need them more, and causing precisely the situation described here. Returning canceled rooms at the price they were reserved at will tend to blindly discount them unnecessarily, costing Amtrak money. All of this is as true as the notion that people will do things for money.

So a couple of you have proposed that there are overriding factors outside of that economic reality. Maybe there is a significant external penalty from using credit cards. Maybe letting Amtrak hold on to the cash gives the company a benefit that outweighs the costs it sees. It's very true that both of these are possible... but until there's some data demonstrating it, they're nothing but guesses. You might as well guess that the head of Amtrak has a magic leprechaun under his desk hanging out gold each time a trip is canceled; hey, there's no data to support or refute that either, right?

In the end what we're left with is customers unable to get the reservations they want because others are holding them before canceling later. The speculation that external factors prevent negative consequences seems misplaced.
 

dlagrua

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So long as Amtrak requires that a name go on the reservation, I don't think it is possible to "resell" it.
Valid point but there must be some exception for travel agencies that book tours. We met a couple on the AutoTrain a while back that went on a trip package that included a ride on the Silver Meteor to their Disney Cruise departure destination in Florida and back. I believe that it was Miami. They told us that the train trip/cruise sold almost every sleeper on the train. These things apparently happen but I still do not understand the mechanism. I would guess that the travel company scoops up all the rooms as soon as they are available for sale, puts the trip package together, sells what they can and returns the unsold rooms at the last minute. Then we all know what happens to the cost.
 

Cho Cho Charlie

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I'm sorry, but there is a real capacity issue on the trains, especially the single level trains. Let's look at the Crescent which had no special reasons to be full during the month of March; that's the latest stats released by Amtrak.
From the way I see this, if there was truly a general capacity problem with sleeper accommodations, then no one, and I mean here no one, would ever be able to do an on-board upgrade. Never. Because all sold out trains would actually depart still sold out.

However, I am still under the impression that there are many trains which get tagged as "sold out" 6 or even 11 months before departure, but still manage to actually have one or more sleeper accommodations empty. It can't be that Amtrak keeps adding more sleeper cars to all trains that become "sold out", because where would Amtrak get this supply of additional cars, especially Viewliners?

The alternative would be that most (all?) rail passengers are a pretty flaky bunch, and regularly make, and later cancel, reservations on momentary whims. Yea, maybe this falls into one of those "urban legion" conspiracy theories, that some unknown devilish travel agency regularly books all the low-bucket sleeper accommodations on all Amtrak LD trains.
 

Cho Cho Charlie

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So long as Amtrak requires that a name go on the reservation, I don't think it is possible to "resell" it.
Valid point but there must be some exception for travel agencies that book tours.
I think the consensus is, that we want no such exceptions for travel agencies. Travel agencies can book for a specific client, but they can't grab accommodations for speculation.
 

Ryan

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You know, not having available the data to either support or refute a position doesn't somehow make the position stronger. It means there is no available data to support the position.
You know that statement applies to you as well, right?
"You can't disprove my crackpot theory, so despite the fact that neither of us have any evidence, I'm right and you're wrong" can be an apt summation of nearly every post you've ever made.
 
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