Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rules are made to be broken

I recently booked the train from Saskatoon to Montreal. Literally a few hours after I booked, Via Rail announced a 50% discount. I was in the middle of a road trip, but when I got home a couple of days later I called Via Rail to see if they would do anything.

I navigated the usual maze-like computerized phone system (I really hate those things - I can only think they are designed to discourage people from calling.) When I finally got to talk to a human being they pointed out that I had 24 hours to cancel my booking and re-do it with the discount. I explained that (a) I wasn't aware of this, and (b) I was travelling and wasn't able to do this. They "helpfully" pointed out that if I had read my reservation email I would have seen the 24 hour cancellation. I checked, and it's there, at the bottom, buried with all the other terms and conditions that no one reads.

They said it was too late. I asked if there wasn't something they could do. They passed me over to "customer support" (which raises the question of who I was talking to initially?).

I went through my whole story again, and got pretty much the same answer - "there's nothing we can do". That may be true in terms of the powers of that individual, but in terms of Via Rail, it's patently untrue - they can do whatever they want. It's not like it's illegal to bend your own rules.

The final explanation was that even if they did allow me to cancel and rebook, I wouldn't save much money. Huh? It turns out that the 50% is off some hypothetical "regular" price that is higher than what you would normally pay. (I also hate sleazy marketing scams.)

I gave up, it isn't worth trying to fight this kind of bureaucracy. There's not much joy in trying to deal with people that are just going through the motions. Of course, by the letter of their rules, they are perfectly in the right.

(On the positive side, I had only booked one direction so I was able to get the discount on the return trip.)

I can only hope my own staff understands that there are times when it pays to bend the rules. And that rules shouldn't be an excuse not to care about and look after your customers.


  1. So did it make much of a difference between the trip down and the return trip?

  2. I think it worked out to about 30% less.