Bits: Delta launches Glasgow to New York, Amex ends Tripflex, Gatwick Express punctuality issues

News in brief:

Delta to launch Glasgow to New York for Summer 2017

Delta, the 49% shareholder of Virgin Atlantic, has announced a new Glasgow to New York service for Summer 2017.  This will complement the existing Edinburgh to New York service and the existing Virgin Atlantic service to Orlando.

Flights will start on 26th May using a Boeing 757 with just 164 seats.  You can book Delta flights using Virgin Atlantic miles although one way redemptions are not allowed.


Amex drops Tripflex, replaces it with statement credit

American Express has removed TripFlex as a redemption option for your Membership Rewards points.

I wrote about TripFlex back in 2014.  It let you use your Membership Rewards points to pay off any items of travel expenditure on your statement at a rate of 0.45p per point.

It has been replaced by a new option called ‘Use Points Towards Purchases’.  This is identical to the old option of redeeming points for general statement credit, which got you just 0.4p per point.

Both 0.45p and 0.4p are pretty terrible deals for your Membership Rewards points, of course, but removing TripFlex is a very small devaluation of the MR scheme.

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Gatwick Express punctuality

Gatwick Express punctuality problems

Reader Andy got in touch to point me towards the recent punctuality standards for the Gatwick Express rail service.  If you were taking this train you would, at the very least, expect that you would have a relatively trouble free trip out to the airport.

The numbers are appalling, however.  Over recent 4-week periods, the ‘on time’ performance has been as low as 56% and generally hovers around 70%.

Remember that ‘on time’ is a train which arrives within 5 minutes of the stated time, so you can be 4 minutes 59 seconds late on the 35 minutes trip and still be ‘on time’.

The % of trips which arrived EXACTLY on time has been as low as 26% and hovers around 35%!  It has never got above 38% for any four-week period over the last 40 weeks.

Reliability – ie the % of trains which actually operate – has been as low as 86% and now seems to be hovering in the low 90’s.

You can download the numbers from the Gatwick Express website here.  Whilst the long-term numbers only go up until the end of March, you can see from the ‘daily performance report’ for this Saturday that nothing has improved – just 38% of Gatwick Express services actually arrived on time.

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  1. Poor punctuality is due to the service being run by Govia who in parallel run Southern and Thameslink which are never on time. They don’t have enough drivers at present. Their delay repay policy means your journey must be delayed by at least 30min to get compensation.

    • Aeronaut says:

      It’s not actually anuthing to do with there being not enough drivers. There is an ongoing and pretty rancorous industrial dispute between conductors and the train company, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) who now run a super-franchise that encompasses Southern, Gatwick Express, Thameslink and Great Northern. There is currently a much higher level of staff absence through ‘sickness’.

      The dispute is rooted in the company wanting to allow drivers to be able to open and close the doors, rather than the conductors (aka guards). New trains are equipped with on-board cameras which enable the driver to see all the doors and so close them by themselves – so called Driver Only Operation (DOO). The company says conductors are to remain, to check (and sell) tickets and assist passengers on board, but the conductors are not convinced they’ll still be needed. The unions also cite various safety concerns.

      As an added element, the GTR franchise is not a conventional franchise but a management contract with the Department for Transport – this is because of the upheaval to services as a result of all the rebuilding work at London Bridge station. One take on this is that GTR is actually acting as the government’s trojan horse in terms of a wider push for DOO (and so ditching the need for conductors/guards) across the whole railway network, and is basically a proxy battle with the rail unions.

      Apologies for the overly verbose comment!

      The important points for readers here trying to get to or from Gatwick is that as well as Gatwick Express being affected, so is Southern trains, and whilst they don’t have any conductors Thameslink trains can also get caught up in the mess as a result of other late running trains.

      • For a good backgrounder on the issue, this alternative travel blog has it covered:

      • Actually it is a shortage of drivers. The guards/conductors are only used on the longer routes and cross London route but they still manage to cancel the metro services and blame driver shortages. It had been going on since late 2015 and they get away with saying it takes 18months to train a driver. Pathetic planning.

        • To be fair, a friend has been both a paramedic and a police traffic cop / fast response driver, and he says that being a train driver is a far more challenging and stressful job than the other two high speed careers. So 18 months is realistic.

          However, that’s taking the blog too far off topic!

  2. O/T: I had to cancel a Hilton Barclaycard free night certificate over the weekend due to a last minute flight diversion. The hotel I booked with obliged, despite being within a coupe of hours of check-in, and told me that they would “refund the points” (I guess to them it looked like a standard redemption)…

    Has anyone done this before? Specifically, am I likely to get the equivalent points credited to my HHonors account, or alternatively, will I be able to rebook another hotel using the original certificate details? HHonors CS are pretty clueless on the matter.

    • Lee Harris says:

      I’ve done this- twice on the same certificate, in fact. You’ll be able to use the same certificate number when you rebook.

    • You won’t get the points but the certificate will go back in your account.

  3. There is an ongoing dispute between the union (Aslef) and company (Govia) which I believe is part of this, in addition to strikes there seem to be more drivers working to rule and “off sick” etc. 96% of the drivers voted to non-strike action, and 84% for strikes – so its widespread.

    Last time I flew from Gatwick the next two GE trains were cancelled on me, the first the driver was sick (presume suddenly else the company would have a replacement), and the second the train had technical problems. This was later in the evening and I had to take the very slow train to Victoria, making it impossible for me to get my last Kings Cross train, I got as far as I could towards Cambridge and then had to take a taxi for £100 to get home. Luckily for me this was work travel, I’m not sure if one could claim this back from Govia if it was personal.

    • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

      FYI: Even if everything is running to schedule, you will find it quicker to take the Thameslink service to St Pancras next time if you have a Gatwick to KGX connection.

      • Yep, when it works that is super quick as I can just walk 2 mins between Kings Cross and St Pacncreas.

    • I take these trains virtually every day of my life. It is an unmitigated shambles. Currently you should always try for the Gatwick Express in my opinion. If for no other reason that there are fewer people trying to get on them and it seems to me at least that the scant human resources Southern can rustle up currently seem to be directed towards the Gatwick Express. The Thameslink trains currently can be full to bursting due to mass cancellation of Southern services and impossible with luggage. There was actually a fight/minor riot on the platform of East Croydon last week with aggrieved commuters trying to get on an already full train which had its fair share of Gatwick travellers with suitcases. Tbh I would avoid public transport to LGW for the foreseeable and definitely during peak hours.

  4. IslandDweller says:

    Much slower service to Victoria? Much slower? Some services branded “Southern” take less time than some branded “Express”, and most are only 3 to 5 minutes slower. As pointed out above, they’re all operated by the same company, but services that aren’t branded “Express” are way cheaper.

    • This one stopped everywhere, yes I agree many non-expresses are as good. The problem is if there arent any when you need them, or they are also affected by industrial action.

    • Jovanna says:

      I used my Oyster on this the other week too. I think it was £8 and only 4 minutes slower than the ‘express’.

      • Genghis says:

        Yes. £8 off peak but £14 peak I think. Cheapest way to travel to Gatwick for an individual

        • Andrew H says:

          Was this to London Victoria? Cheapest price I can find is £15. I don’t have Oyster, but I do use contactless around the tube. IDoes contactless get you the £8 price, and if so, from which station (Victoria or Bridge)

      • Scallder says:

        You can use Oyster, however you need to have a minimum of £8 cash balance on it to have the barriers open for you. I have a 1-4 travelcard and having had £5 on it and only needing to go to East Croydon (£3 charge as mentioned above) it wouldn’t let me use it so had to use contactless as the minimum Oyster top up at Gatwick is £14…

    • Lady London says:

      I have never paid my own money for the Gatwick Express. The few times I’ve used it on business, it’s been stunningly late. I always use the regular trains instead.

      Most readers who are based in London will know this but when using the regular services I always make a point of choosing a train with as few stops as possible. Stops seem to be the main delay attactor and exacerbator. I’ve always found it worth letting a few slow trains go by in order to pick the faster trains with fewer stops instead. Rail is such a ripoff in the UK! Not just for price, but for the quality of almost every service which is a national embarrassment.

      • Anything is a national embarrassment in Britain, chiefly because of a weird desire to self-deprecate.

        The British rail network is one of the best in the world, and you’re going to have a very hard time coming up with an actual reason as to how it’s not.

        • I do generally agree with this. It certainly isn’t as bad as press coverage would have it for long distance trips.

          On the other hand, five hours to Cornwall or however far it is to, say, Bournemouth is a bit of a shocker.

  5. Metatone says:

    Thameslink is generally good, except when there is engineering work.
    Problem is, there has been a lot of engineering work over the past year.

    Can’t see Tripflex being a big loss to anyone – which is probably why they gave up on it…

  6. Metatone says:

    Worth noting that it’s not just union trouble. The operator (Govia) are intentionally running without enough drivers, calculating that the fines are costing them less than cancelling services. You can thank the current government for this mess.

    • evelyn thomas says:

      Southern rail confirmed to me that they are not offering advance ie much cheaper rail tix on my regular journey to Chichester at the moment, because of cancellations. So public has to pay full price for service which may anyway be cancelled. Just more profit for southern it seems to me.

      • All actual revenue goes back to the government it is not a standard franchise but a managing contract.

  7. Tripflex, has anyone used this non-benefit?

  8. Genghis says:

    Very OT but a good FYI. I got matched to HH Diamond in Jan 16 from Accor Plat (via Amex Plat – sadly no longer available). This was valid until March 17. My Accor Plat membership expires Feb 17. However, I applied for another match to Accor Plat and I’ve been matched with HH Diamond now valid until March 18! Great as I’m currently planning a holiday for April 17.

    • Do you have to show proof of an upcoming stay / past stays with Accor to get the match?

      • Genghis says:

        Yes. My last Accor stay was in Oct 15 (I believe only need to have had one stay in past 12 months) so worked.

    • James67 says:

      Ghenghis, which link did you use please? I was just about to write CS to request an extension but I may as well just try a link first given your experience. Thanks

    • How do people know/check on account how long this is valid for? I was matched to Mar 2017, but my account says “based on current stays your status will be silver in 2017”

  9. Andrew Stock says:

    Anyone who uses Southern, Gatwick Express, Thameslink and Great Northern they all part of Govia Thameslink Railway who are the worst train company in the UK in terms of the official Performance and customer satisfaction.

    I live on the Moorgate to Welwyn Garden City line and on Saturday at one point 75% of train services was cancelled due to no drivers to drive the trains.

    Comments from thier own employees describe the company as a complete mess with departments under staffed.

    When you do make a delay repay claim it takes them forever to send the vouchersame out to you. Under First Capital Connect they used to send the voucher to you in around 7 to 10 days.

  10. To be fair to Southern, I recently bought a ticket for a journey which I then had to cancel. The circumstances (bus replacement involving much longer journey) didn’t automatically entitle me to a refund but I put in a claim and politely asked for the whole cost to be refunded. A few weeks later a voucher turned up for the full cost. I noted it was processed by a completely different company in the Midlands but credit for Southern for agreeing to refund me promptly.

  11. BillyBoy says:

    I generally dislike everything about Virgin Trains, but to give them credit, they did refund me instantly on an Anytime ticket last week (once I had gone through the engagingly old-fashioned route of printing out the refund form and posting it to them !!).

  12. Scallder says:

    It has got so bad that the government has agreed to change their required performance targets:

  13. OT:
    How do you check on amex online services if you have been targetted for PRG to platinum upgrade? Is there another way to get this? Hitting my 2K spend today and would like a bit more MR.


  14. OT: Moneycorp stops London and Airport Collections…is it a potential Brexit option strategy to stop booking the cash as per the Raffle’s article on 07/06? what is your understanding reading the website? can you pickup somewhere else?

    • No. Your chance now would possibly be to invoke the buy-back g’tee which I think costs £3.99.

      I guess MC just saw unusually high patterns of business, people using that free option, and thought they had no particular need to risk taking a hit.

      • thanks for your reply, but as per T&C: Moneycorp reserves the right to withdraw this offer without prior notice.

        which exposes to risks

  15. Henry Young says:

    The train services generally through Croydon, Gatwick and down to Brighton are truly awful. It is hardly a Gatwick Express specific problem. For that reason I always get to Gatwick the evening before even early afternoon flights. I highly recommend Yotel if you like compact spaces, with dinner at Giraffe. Try for a room at the far end of a corridor where the a/c is uncontrollably strong. Complain and the manager will pledge you a free night next time. Of if you want straight up comfort, get a room closer to reception. I have to admit to a strange liking for adversity based negotiation 😉

  16. rams1981 says:

    OT seems like new supercard app is available and I’ve registered. It’s now with MasterCard. UK payments attract 1% and £1 fees. Foreign ATM withdrawals charged at 2.99%. Was good whilst it lasted during the pilot :-(

  17. Gatwick Express is a con and a tourist trap. It is widely accepted by rail fare experts that the way they charge extra for their trains is in potential breach of the conditions. There are a number of Southern branded trains that are actually faster than Gatwick Express branded trains. And trains are often cancelled and delayed and the GTR staff don’t advise you to use their Southern services.