Closure of East Coast Rewards now confirmed – what should you do?

If you are a member of the East Coast Rewards train loyalty scheme you will have received an email yesterday confirming that the scheme is being closed on February 28th.  The franchise is being handed over to a Stagecoach / Virgin consortium.

The new team will be awarding Nectar points instead as currently happens with West Coast and the various First Group franchisesThis is a very poor deal which effectively returns a fixed 1% of your spend.

Existing East Coast Rewards members have two options:

Redeem before February 28th via East Coast Rewards

or

Wait until March when Virgin Trains East Coast will make you an offer (in Nectar points) for your existing East Coast balance.  If you don’t like this offer, you can continue to redeem for the current selection of East Coast Rewards items until September 30th.  Note that ALL TRAVEL must be completed by September 30th.

So, a bit of a dilemma.

East Coast thumbnail

There is no doubt in my mind – none at all –  that the offer of swapping your balance for Nectar points will be derisory compared to the value you would get for redeeming for East Coast train tickets.  The value will probably be similar to what you receive today if you choose to redeem East Coast points for shopping vouchers, ie rubbish.

However, we have no idea what sort of availability Virgin Trains East Coast will offer from March 1st.  It is possible that they will restrict train ticket redemptions to just a handful of seats on a handful of trains every day, compared to the pretty generous availability that East Coast has at present.

The instructions are pretty vague:  “Virgin Trains East Coast will contact all members of the existing East Coast Rewards scheme from 1 March to provide information on Nectar and how they can redeem their existing Rewards Points or convert them to Nectar points.”

Your options are therefore effectively:

Redeem by February 28th (for travel up to 12 weeks ahead) and take advantage of decent East Coast availability

or

Gamble that Virgin Trains East Coast will continue to offer good availability for redemptions booked later in the Summer, with the risk that you will not be able to find seats and end up taking a derisory offer of Nectar points instead

I will certainly need some East Coast train tickets to visit the Yorkshire Coast over the Summer.  These trains will not open for booking until May so I must throw myself on the mercy of Virgin Trains East Coast availability.  I don’t see much point in having a ‘free’ day out in, say, York in Spring just for the sake of it.

You can read more about the closure on the East Coast website here.

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Comments

  1. I’ve never travelled on West Coast but use EC Rewards a lot.

    In the email it said you could take the option of Virgin Flying Club miles. Is this something that happens on VWC already and if so is it any good as an option?

    Cheers

    • sandgrounder says:

      http://www.headforpoints.com/2014/08/18/virgin-trains-introduces-nectar-points/

      There are some restrictions in the Ts & Cs about starting your journey with another operator (recommends buying two tickets). It’s 2 per £1 from own website only.

      • Stupidly, I spent around £200 on train tickets thinking I would get the Virgin points, but missed the T&C re: other operators and lost out on the points because I tagged a cheapo Day Pass for the London Underground on the journey… stupid mistake that wasn’t massively costly, but I won’t be making again!

    • Speedbird_ABZ says:

      I thought I would convert mine to Virgin Flying Club as well, so seems like a better option for me.

  2. I used what I could last week on April travel to Kings Cross.

  3. Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

    Have they said what will happen to unused gift voucher balances?

    • Gift vouchers are issued through the regular booking engine and have a National Rail booking reference.

      Virgin will have to honour them or if they don’t want to do that they need to be refunded.

      Don’t worry. Do you think East Coast would be allowed to sell them over the busy Christmas period knowing their franchise was up and marketing them as having no expiry date? If they expired at the end of the current franchise then East Coast would have had to make it perfectly clear. Remember that East Coast was always meant to be a temporary solution until the government gave it back to the private sector to screw up for a third time.

  4. You are wrong: ALL TRAVEL does NOT need to be completed by 30 September that’s when it needs to be booked by. The text is quite clear about this. Presumably this is the date they’ll be switching off the East Coast booking engine.

    It’s worth noting that Beardcoach will be making wifi free throughout the train so there’s no point in using your rewards points to buy a wifi pass with validity beyond February. Those who always travel in 1st class anyway have no reason to rejoice, National Express did the same thing when they ran East Coast with the result that the wifi was even slower than it is now due to the increased demand.

    The bigger news is that season ticket holders and corporate accounts (which can both benefit from the current scheme) will be left without a loyalty programme.

    • Copied directly from the East Coast website:

      Any unused Rewards Points will need to be redeemed and used up to and including 30 September 2015 (for example, a Rewards travel ticket will need to be both redeemed and the journey booked by that deadline).

      Seems very clear to me that travel DOES need to take place before 30th Sept as Raffles said.

      • It says journey booked by that deadline! You can book tickets in advance.

        Redeemed refers to the act of turning points into a travel reward.

  5. Remember you’ll no longer be able to earn Nectar points with ScotRail as of April too, when the current FirstGroup franchise ends.

    • Has Abellio confirmed this? They might decide to keep the promotion going, or if they have more sense create their own scheme modelled on East Coast rewards.

      • My apologies, seems Nectar is being kept, and some other loyalty scheme they did is being axed: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/transport/east-coast-travellers-in-line-for-airmiles-under-new-franchise.116324554

        • From that article it appears Passenger Focus doesn’t really understand Nectar and the poor value it will bring. It’s impossible that it will offer the same value as East Coast rewards otherwise you’d get a free rail ticket with your weekly shop!

          Raffles: can you contact passenger focus as well as any paper that runs articles on this and explain why this will be a terrible deal for passengers?

          QUOTE:
          Consumer watchdog Passenger Focus said it was unclear whether passengers would be better off under the new scheme.

          Guy Dangerfield, Passenger Focus manager, said: “Passengers will welcome Virgin Trains East Coast’s link up with Nectar, but without more detail it’s impossible to say if that will offer more or less than East Coast’s existing rewards scheme.”

        • The big news in that article is the scrapping of Scotrail Advance which, while not points-based, offers free weekend first travel as standard, various discounts such as £19 return anywhere in Scotland or £99 sleeper return to London from time to time. Given it was free to join if you have any first class ticket (eg Haymarket to Waverley!), this is a HUGE loss of savings unless the new operators come up with something special.

          • Damn, didn’t real that was going – that was by far one of the best value for money promos going, made use of it quite a few times and got a few friends to sign up for it too!

  6. Personally I’m not a big fan of giving any of my rail travel business to Stagecoach, headed up by the homophobic Scottish nationalist Brian Souter. Of course all promotion of the franchise will be handled by the equally annoying beardy who will claim credit for buying new trains that the government have already ordered.

    If I was Grand Central, the open access operator that goes to Sunderland, I’d do the following:

    Rebrand as GNER, a train operator that was highly respected on the East Coast mainline. This is actually possible as a company called Alliance Rail Holdings bought the rights to the GNER brand and now both Alliance and Grand Central are owned by Arriva.

    Introduce a loyalty scheme along the lines of East Coast Rewards or maybe even look into a partnership with Avios (to counteract Virgin’s offer of Flying Club miles) or if they want an out of the box solution that’s still better than Nectar then Tesco Clubcard.

  7. startupflyer says:

    One of the things that I used up points on was Gourmet Society cards, you can get them from 290 points if I recall. The retail at £69.95, but you can get them for far less. I got two for my wife and I in early January and have already got £70 in value from them, as well as our final redemption of a first class return trip from London to Edinburgh.

    I will miss East Coast, really enjoyed travelling with them and as Raffles notes it was by far the best rail scheme out there.

    • Thanks. Might look at that as I have a handful (150?) points expiring on January 31st so using 290 on one of these might be worthwhile.

      • Well gourmet society free 3-month trials are free all over the net… you don’t have to pay at all

        • I’ve just – literally 60 seconds ago – signed up for the 12 month membership. 290 East Coast points of which I had 350 expiring in two weeks. No need for a train in the next 12 weeks and a £3 East Coast evoucher did not appeal!

          I am left with – luckily – almost exactly 920 points which a First Class return somewhere.

  8. The shopping voucher values actually aren’t that bad, might well be better value than taking a trip you don’t want to. As long as you choose the M&S ones and not East Coast vouchers – it never made sense to me why the M&S were better value…

  9. ECR is a loss but I’m more concerned about fares. Ny guess is these will mirror Virgin west coast so in reality a huge price hike. Promos between GLC and EUS have been nonexistent to my knowledge with Virgin ehilst EC has had some great inhouse and third party deals across the network. I am guessing east line has much lower passebger volumes than west so hopefully that will continue to drive discounts. I still scratch my head wondering why I can book travel for today on a plane cheaper than the train.

    • I doubt pricing will greatly change. Even if it is as expensive as you claim on the west coast, fares are regulated. They aren’t legally allowed to have a massive price hike.

      The plane can be cheaper than the train for numerous reasons – principally that the people with expensive tickets subsidise the cheap fares and that rail infrastructure is incredibly expensive to run.

      • It is indeed unlikely there will be a price hike. In the first place there is not that much price difference between the East-Coast and West-Coast trains. However it is easier to find discounted advanced tickets on the East-Coast at the moment than on the West-Coast. East-Coast had also some great promotions (once I did a £10 return LON-EDI) for people who like to travel on non-peak hours, which probably will disappear completely.

        • Yes, this is exactly my point; I did not mean a price hike in real terms but rather as the practical reality of less advance tickers, and fewer inhouse and third party promotions rwsulting in the need to purchae more expensive tickets. Ovee seven years I cannot ever recall even seeing a single Virgin promotion between GLC/CAR and EUS; at that time I was very frustrated with the wealth of offers from EC but since moving to Edinburgh a year ago I have been delighted to tame advantage of them. Obviously, like many others, I will be sad to see them go if they dry up with the new franchise. IIRC though National Express and GNER before EC also did frequent promotions so hopefully new operators will have to do so soon. I recal Callum orsomebody else commenting in another post some time ago that Virgin did promotions on routes further south, but I suspect that was driven by competitin they do not have to CAR and GLC. My concern is that they will use their influence on the east line to ensure there is little difference between what we ultimately have to pay between Scotland and London by removi g availability of promotions.

          • Yes, hopefully the sheer number and low price of flights between EDI and LON will help keep these promos coming on the ECML.

          • Fair enough, though a quick look at next month has fares from Euston to Glasgow for £20. Virgin are also part of “Megatrain”, though not to Glasgow, so you’ll possibly see more routes included in that, with fares from £1.

          • Thanks Callum, will look out for any developments on megatrain. I guess that will be most likely the source of any future inhouse promotions. If they do £1 offpeqk singles all will be forgiven! The £20 month out advance singles on Virgin West Coast do exist but not very common, probably time of year. Yesterday I was looking for CAR-EUS and best I could get for my dates in late February were £33 and that was with a railcard so nondiscounted price about £50.

  10. Whilst it’s bad for the collectors of EC rewards points.

    I’ve got to say I think it’s very , very honorable of virgin to compenstate at all for the accrued loyalty points.

    Well done Virgin!

    • Wait to see the conversion rate before you get carried away! I also get a feeling that the Government would have insisted on this as part of the contract.

      • Either that, or a cheap (if using nectar) way of virgin building their mailing list!

      • Aeronaut says:

        I suspect that’s the case – unlike a normal franchise change, in this case what’s happening is that the Stagecoach/Virgin joint venture is going to take over ownership of the existing East Coast company (which is currently government owned).

  11. barnaby100 says:

    I spend about £20,000 a year on EC 1st class. We get 4 x lounge passes and then use the rest for tickets. My son travels to and from school each week on an E Coast 1st class reward. We use 100 ish a year ourselves and tend to book tickets for family etc.

    Even with his tickets it saves me £3000 a year. (30 weeks x £100 average). Not at all impressed by the Virgin scheme on the surface.

    • Aeronaut says:

      Perhaps your son would be OK slumming it in steerage?

      • Maybe he would, what does it have to do with the valuation?

      • barnaby100 says:

        Does that matter. he is 18. What would you have preferred at 18? in 1st he gets a full meal and drinks- much better reward options/value than standard. Imagine if it was said that you shouldn’t use airline rewards for anything other than economy travel- there would be outrage on here!

  12. For those who don’t have enough points to redeem a free ticket, would it be a good idea to redeem EC wifi vouchers?

    Does anyone know if the wifi vouchers last forever until used?
    Also, what is the likelihood of Virgin deciding that wifi will be free for all? :O

    • I think it was already mentioned in the comments that Virgin are planning free WiFi for all. I must say whenever I’ve used it before I’ve been pretty unimpressed with it – I’d consider using the vouchers for something else!

  13. Wonder if you’ll be able to use Virgin Traveller tickets on the new route.

    • I doubt it. Generally speaking there is almost no co-operation between franchises in the UK even when they are owned by/branded as the same company