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. 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.

  2. 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..

  3. 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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