It Ain’t Broke, So Why Fix It?
Several weeks ago, Amtrak improved their website. No, wait . . . let me re-phrase that: Several weeks ago, Amtrak improved the appearance of their website.
Yes, that describes it better. They’ve improved the look of the site, not the functionality. The type is clean and most of it is large enough for my old eyeballs. There’s open space, I like the graphics, and the art and photography are OK and appropriate.
But it really doesn’t function so well in a couple of areas that are important for me. And I’m not alone. I’ve heard grumblings from a number of other people.
I’m on their website at least a half-dozen times a day, mostly double-checking details: arrival and departure times at various stops, price comparisons, details like that. The most annoying problem I’ve run into is not being able to figure out how to book a multi-stop trip.
In May, I’m planning to take Amtrak from Chicago to Los Angeles, but with overnight stays in Denver and in Davis, California—three segments on two different trains. That’s not a big deal and I should be able to book all three segments at one time. It can be done because I found the pathway through the mire several days ago. But I got there by accident and have been unable to figure out how to get back there ever since.
Yes, I can book the three segments separately, but that means I’ll have to go through the entire payment ritual three separate times. And if I figure out how to book all three segments at the same time and they appear on the same ticket, will the fare be less that if I book all three separately? I don’t think so, but I want that clarified before I commit.
Of course I could revert to the old-fashioned approach and just call Amtrak Reservations. But not yet. I’m still looking for the “Multi-Trip” button. I know it’s gotta be in there someplace.
I found when trying to check possible itineraries for a five-segment trip that the website allows four segments as a maximum. This seems crazy, as last summer I booked a six-segment trip with no problem! Recent changes also completely broke the Amtrak app for Fire tablet, and made the phone app, which worked fine before, almost illegible. Sigh.
As my old English teacher would often write at the top of my essays: “It is to weep!”
While like you I did eventually figure out where they hid things, I recently booked seven separate one-way tickets for a trip I’ll be taking out West this summer. Fortunately on Amtrak the multi-city fare is almost always the sum of the one-way fares anyway (like you, I check all the options, and I don’t think I’ve ever come across a case where it’s more–unlike airfares), so it just means I’ll have a mess of separate tickets to shuffle.
I also dislike the Amtrak phone app. If you’re checking train status, the phone app requires you to scroll through every single station in the country in alphabetical order until you get to the one you want. It would be MUCH easier to just let the customer type in the station code.
Far too much software these days is designed for appearance rather than functionality, and far too often companies (Amtrak included) change things just to keep things fresh rather than because there’s an actual need to change it.
Change just for the sake of change is common in the advertising business. An ad or a brochure is redone because the most recent version is deemed to be “tired” by the art director. Sometimes a little “freshening up” is needed, but in this case it was as though you got into your four-year-old car and overnight someone had repositioned all the knobs and buttons and dials. Very frustrating.
I thought I was the only one who didn’t like the new website. I’m considering taking the Coast Starlight when I visit my friend in California in August, and it took me a half hour to navigate to the prices.
In the booking window, click on “One-Way” and the options for Round-Trip and Multi-City travel appear.
Yeah, thanks … I finally found it. But–am I crazy?–does that makes any sense? You have to click i]on “one way” to access the multi-city format??
More confusingly, I have to click on One-Way to book a round trip?
The big problem is that there is no indication that the text “One-Way” is a control. There’s no visible reason why you would expect that clicking on it does anything. There is a line that says “Select Other Travel Options >”. That seems like something to click on, and when you do, you’re taken to a page with options for Auto Train, Rail Pass, hotels, travel insurance, etc.
_Under that_ is some text saying “Book One-Way, Round-Trip or Multi-City Travel >”. “Aha!,” you might think. “I’ve found it”. No. You click on that link and you’re right back to the first page displaying “One-Way” only.
This appears to have never been put into any sort of usability testing.