Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Spain 11: Getting a ticket refund with the clock ticking down
When we arrived in Madrid, we went immediately to the train station and bought tickets to Toledo, where we planned to spend the first three nights of our six nights in Spain. We missed the 6:00 train to Toledo by only a few minutes. If I hadn't lost my glasses in Charles de Gaulle - I will never see them again - and spent all that time trying to find out how to get them back, we could have made that train, but we had to wait for the 7:00 train. Which was boring, even with the cup of cafe con leche we got at the little cafe.
But we bought our tickets at the snazzy train ticket machine, which, amazingly enough, accepted our credit card. So many times in Europe* our card has been rejected, even though the rule is supposed to be that if a merchant takes MasterCard, he takes it even if it's from the US and doesn't have the microchip in it that European cards have. The merchants we have encountered have not cared whether we bought from them or not.
"Oh ze card eet does not work," they shrug. "Tante pis."
I should amend that: the clerks we have encountered have not cared. I suspect the owners of the businesses would care. But clerks? They are paid whether you buy or not, which I had to remind myself of when I was a clerk at Macy's over Christmas several years ago after I was laid off. "No matter how rude someone is being to me," I would think, "I am still being paid." Although I would also think, "Is it worth nine dollars an hour before taxes to have someone be nasty to me?"
What was not obvious to us when we bought the tickets was that there was a financial advantage to buying a roundtrip ticket over two one-way tickets. We priced the trip both ways and the price appeared to be the same. As we were not sure which train we would be taking on the return trip, we thought, Well, we might as well wait.
We left Toledo Friday morning. Got to the train station at 10:00 for the 10:30 train, bought our tickets from the ticket seller - and I noticed something on the bottom of the ticket. I asked the ticket seller about it.
"That means you get a discount when you buy the ticket to come back here," he told me.
"But we're not coming back. We've already come here. We came on Tuesday."
"Then where's your ticket? I can give you a discount."
He glanced at the clock and then at a sign next to his booth. The sign said, "Ticket sales stop 15 minutes before departure time." It was 10:11. The train left at 10:30.
We stepped out of the line while we looked for the old tickets. I searched frantically for my ticket stub. SH went straight to the pocket of his computer bag, pulled out a handful of neatly-organized documents, thumbed through it, and pulled out his ticket.
I couldn't find mine, no matter how hard I looked through my purse and my book. (You mean you don't use boarding passes and ticket stubs as bookmarks?) It was the glasses all over again. Resigned, I stepped back in line. At least I could get one refund.
I got to the front of the line again. I handed the man SH's ticket stub and his new ticket. The ticket agent refunded half the previous sale, then sold me a new ticket at the discounted price, a savings of $3.
I took everything out to SH and started looking for my ticket stub again. A three-dollar return! Just for a two-minute transaction! That's a pretty good deal.
Yet I couldn't find my stub. "I don't think I left it on the train and I don't remember throwing it away," I told SH. "Where could it be? Why isn't it in my purse? Why would I throw away something that would save me money?"
It was 10:12.
"Is that the purse you were using when we got here?" SH asked.
I looked down. I was wearing my travel purse across my shoulder. It's small with a flap and a long strap. I don't need all my regular stuff when we are walking around town.
But on the plane, I wanted a bigger purse - a purse to hold my passport and tickets and three pairs of glasses (reading glasses, regular glasses, and RX sunglasses) and a snack and a water bottle and a book.
That purse was the one I had been using when we took the train to Toledo. It was now at the bottom of my suitcase.
I threw the suitcase to the floor, unzipped it, and dug through my jeans and sweaters and socks until I found it. I opened it. Alas, my lost glasses did not appear, but there was the ticket stub.
"Give me your credit card," I demanded. SH handed it to me and I ran back in line.
I waited as the slowest people on earth bought their tickets. They were interrogating the ticket seller about every possible option, which was crazy because the only options in Toledo are to go to Madrid. Every hour, on the half hour. That's it. Pick your time. That's the only thing you can pick.
People got in line behind me. Too bad. Show up at the station 16 minutes before your train and expect to buy your ticket right away? Not my problem.
My turn. I rushed to the counter. Plopped everything down. "Found it!" I exhaled.
The ticket agent did not smile to see me again, but to his credit, neither did he roll his eyes as I surely would have at someone who was going through so much trouble to save a mere $3.
"But that's the cost of an order of churros!" I would have protested, had he said something to me. "Plus it's the principle of the thing - never pay more than necessary!"
He probably thought what I thought when I was at Macy's: Bless her heart I'm being paid no matter what and she's just material for my blog about crazy customers.
At 10:16, he pushed the new ticket across the counter to me. I averted my eyes as I walked past the other people in line. Sometimes you have to break some eggs.
* First world problem