East Coast Rewards to close as Stagecoach wins franchise

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The Government announced on Thursday that a consortium comprising of Stagecoach (90%) and Virgin Rail (10%) will take over the East Coast rail franchise from 1st March 2015.

I will not dwell on the political issues behind putting the franchise back into the private sector – although you should remember that the new trains which are coming into service were ordered by the Government a number of years ago and are not, despite how the announcement may read, something which was proposed by the winning consortium.

East Coast thumbnail

The key issue for Head for Points is what happens to the East Coast Rewards loyalty programme.  As I have written before, East Coast Rewards is easily the most generous rail loyalty scheme available.  You effectively get a free First Class return ticket ANYWHERE on their network for spending just £600 on First Class rail tickets (or £900 on standard tickets).  This is a very generous rebate on your spend.

Looking at this Stagecoach press release, it seems that East Coast Rewards will close.  It will be replaced by Nectar points – not entirely surprising given that Virgin Trains already issues those for trips on West Coast.   Effectively, your ‘reward’ will be reduced to 1% back of the amount you spend compared to a potential 10%+ with the current East Coast Rewards scheme.

The only surprise in the announcement is that Virgin Trains (or at least the East Coast part) will become a Nectar redemption partner.  Given that the redemption rate is unlikely to be any better than the usual 0.5p per point, you would be no better off than if you used your points in Sainsbury’s and booked your train tickets for cash.

Since their is no sensible alternative to East Coast Rewards, I will continue to book tickets through their site when it is no more expensive than booking elsewhere.  Even if the scheme does close overnight on 1 March – which is unlikely as the new team will have more important things to worry about – you should still be able to book for travel up to 12 weeks ahead.

We can only hope that there is no repeat of what happened when Stagecoach took on the South West Trains franchise.  They worked out via a computer how few train drivers they w0uld require for their trains based on the timetable, sacked a large number of drivers to take them down to this number, and then faced total chaos when it turned out that the computer simulation bore no resemblance whatsoever to how the system worked in reality ….

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  1. Fares are of more concern to me than rewards. Used west coast line between GLC or CAR and EUS about every 2 months for last 7 years. Cannot recall ever receiving a promotion; advance tickets were best I could ever do. By comparison East Coast run generous promotions on their own and via third parties very frequently. Apart from all that I now expect to see unregulated fares between Scotland and NE England and London skyrocket.

  2. Cheshire Pete says:

    I hope the Virgin Traveller reward scheme is extended to this franchise. Been a member for over 10 years on West coast franchise. Basically it blows away this old scheme anyway. 12 months of Free First Class return travel for 2 people from Friday to Monday each week. Cost of attaining the card is around £800 if you buy the right tickets to qualify! It has always been Virgin Trains best kept secret….

    • I agree, East Coast is in no way the best frequent traveller reward scheme. The Virgin Traveller one is, so much so I’d consider buying 800 quid of tickets to nowhere and binning them to requalify. It has become secretive about requalification, but my last requalification was during the time Virgin lost the franchise and got it back, and they gave me 18 months of membership as a reward….

      • As you say, with no stated criteria for membership these days it is difficult to rank it. And it only works for a small subset, ie people who want to travel to/from Manchester / Birmingham / London at weekends, for free.

        I do have a friend who did buy tickets with no intention of using them, as he travelled up to Wigan to watch the football 21 times a year.

        • Well, like any of these reward schemes, you have to be able to use those flights, those trains (such as East Coast in that case, which is no good to me), so you’re always going to have to work on a limited subset (But a london to Birmingham/ Manchester/ Carlisle/ Glasgow/ Edinburgh first class for 2 per weekend has a lot of value if on the route).

          The benefits are a free ticket first class return for up to 2 adults, with additional children at 10 pounds a time, all day Friday to Monday noon. Has to include an overnight stay (recent addition). Every weekend.

          I can state the qualifying criteria:

          Buy 16 single qualifying tickets over a period of three months.

          These are:

          First class anytime return over 100 pounds (counts as 2 tickets).
          First class anytime single over 50 pounds.
          Advance First Class tickets over 70 pounds.

          Book using the virgin trains website. Travel on virgin train routes (so if going further, maybe best split out the ticket).

          In reality those limits are kind of funny to meet, you’ll struggle to find anytime single tickets that low and sometimes pick a more expensive train to get the advance ticket over 70 quid.

          What has changed since I first started being a member (I was first a member 2011) is the Two Together railcard, which gets 1/3rd off any two tickets when bought together. This can actually cut a huge chunk off the fare, and bring the higher fare ones close to the qualifying criteria. And both of those tickets count towards the qualification. The discounted amount has to be over the limits above there.

  3. I cashed in my East coast rewards yesterday. 2 free 1st class tickets from Doncaster to Edinburgh

  4. I use the East coast line often, to go to both Newcastle and Edinburgh for work. Under public ownership it has not only been good value, but also a very pleasant service. I regard it currently as the best rail service in the UK. My heart rather sank when I read the news of the franchise award, no doubt the first thing that will happen is the prices go up. Plus I have a lot of points to cash in quickly – I suspect a few family trips to the Scottish cousins are on the cards.

  5. The highest bidder won and now they need to milk the customers for their pounds. At the same time the government tells us that this consortium will provide best value for customers but I am sure they mean tax payers. Until trains getting emptier and the tax payers need to foot the bill to keep it going. In NL they tried to privatize railways but saw what poor value it gave in UK and NL gov made a wise U-turn. A good coherent value-for-money infrastructure is important for economy.

  6. Pity that the rewards programme is being closed however pretty shocking that it is being privatised again. Quite simply rail travel in the UZk is not fit for purpose and need to be fully nationalised and perhaps run by Dbahn. On behalf of the government.

    • andystock says:

      Pauls comment about D Bahn – well D Bahn already operate Chiltern and London Overground who are always at the top of the performance tables

      • But the London Overground operation is a management contract not a franchise.

        Fares are set by TFL

  7. andystock says:

    At least flying we now have BA, easyjet, ryanair and flybe on the London to Scotland route so flying will become cheaper than using the train as Fares go up on the rails with this decision.

    Remember that avios availability is usually never usually a problem on the London to Scotland routes.

    Raffles comment about South West Trains reminds me of the disaster that was first capital connect! This new lot – Thameslink Great Northern are making a complete mess of the Thameslink route, major problems every other day. Not doing to bad on the Great Northern routes out of kings cross, my supply of delay repay vouchers has dried up

  8. Typical that I had a load of rail travel planned in March. Just a few points short of a first class reward as well.

  9. Does anyone know how long points on East coast take to go from pending to available?
    I’ve currently got almost 1000 pending and would be good to use them before the scheme disappears!

    • They become “available” as soon as you can no longer return the ticket for a refund. Which depends on the ticket type, but the maximum I beieve is 2 months after the outward journey date (because the most flexible tickets are valid for a month, and then you have another month after expiry to request a refund if you didn’t use it).

      I think if you buy lots of tickets together, then all the points become available in one go on the latest of the applicable dates.

  10. barnaby100 says:

    We spend about £30k a year on EasT Coast. Not impressed at all with nectar points. Love delay repay and reward seats.

  11. High Fares … Keep hearing the standard government response to complaints about prices, that cheap fares are available in advance . Advance doesn’t compete with car ownership which is available at short notice. It’s all so very wrong!

    • Would you prefer to book your car journey in advance for a discount on road tax? It may well come to this.

      Besides the comment only applies if you already own a car. If you need to make a journey, purchasing an advance train ticket is a good deal cheaper, faster and more convenient than buying, insuring, taxing and obtaining a licence to drive a car.

      The train wins every time. They also have toilets. And bars. There really is no competition. Why have a car?


  12. Did Stagecoach/Virgin do the same to the WCML as they did when taking over the South West trains franchise? No.
    What was necessarily so in one place, is not the same elsewhere.

  13. Metatone says:

    Any tips for good value usage of East Coast rewards when you can’t book ahead enough to get the return tickets?

    • Not sure I quite understand your situation, but bear in mind that once you redeem the points you have 6 months to actually book the tickets. So you can get the volume discount even if you don’t know exactly when you’re travelling – as long as you’re sure you’ll be booking 4 single journeys within 6 months.

      • If the scheme is ending (28th Feb or 1st Mar?) then I would assume you’re going to have to book tickets before those dates or lose all your points (barring some grace period).

        I’m travelling at the end of February and the middle of March so will use my points as soon as the 12 week advance booking period starts either in December / January..

  14. Very disappointed by this. I travel weekly from Newcastle to London and back on my own dime. I currently reap something like a 30% rate of return on my spend as use of the 4x1st Class redemption option at 1300 points has around a £310 value on Newcastle-KGX, with those points earned on around £1100 of spend across 1st/Standard tickets.

    Whilst frequent flyer and hotel scheme devaluations are unfortunate, this hits me right in the wallet to the tune of £600+ a year. No doubt the points I have sitting around will be difficult/impossible to cash in now as everyone will be trying to do the same.

    Virgin Traveller would be mostly irrelevant as I tend to travel midweek, though if the incentive was there skewing my working days could be an option I guess!

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