I often get asked about my views about the fare rises on Virgin Trains East Coast, the only honest answer I can give is 'I don't know'.
What's the official situation?
No fare has risen, in fact standard anytime fares have been reduced by 10% on some routes. As the standard anytime are the most expensive standard class tickets available they are aimed at those who really needed to travel at short notice on peak trains and needed flexibility not to be tied to a particular service. These people tended to be less price sensitive but it will benefit some companies if they needed to do a lot of peak time short notice travel.
The tickets purchased for the majority of leisure travel and business travel where it's possible to plan ahead are advance tickets. These can offer significant savings but tie you to a particular service, they can be changed for a £10 (+ fare difference) fee but are non-refundable if you're unable to travel, these are the fares that many people have said have risen.
The way these fares work is they're allocated on a quota controlled basis, meaning the cheapest fares will run out quickly on the most popular services. Also if there's a high demand on services (e.g. peak times) it's possible to allocate a smaller quota of the cheaper tickets to a service.
What's actually happened?
Many people suspect that Virgin Trains East Coast have reduced the number of fares in the lower tiers that are available, meaning that for many people they're unable to get the lower fares on their preferred services. Virgin Trains East Coast have denied that they have reduced the number of lower fares available and unfortunately there's just no way we can check for certain.
Assuming that Virgin Trains East Coast are being honest with us there are reasons why fares may appear more expensive:
- Fares for all rail operators rise in January. This was before Virgin Trains East Coast took over in March, but people who didn't book in January/February may have attributed the increase to Virgin
- Due to brand confusion a lot of people have incorrectly assumed that virgintrains.co.uk (the website for Virgin Trains on the West Coast) is the place to book, therefore losing the East Coast online discount. Some measures have been put in place to redirect people to the correct site but it doesn't work in all circumstances.
- The new 24 week booking window. Many routes can now be booked (weekdays only) 24 weeks ahead rather than 12. This experiment was started by East Coast about a year ago, this will mean the cheaper fares will sell out sooner. I suspect that this will also impact those who travel on routes that are within the 12 week window but are served by trains where some of the routes can be booked 24 weeks out.
- It's possible that demand has increased and as people have become more familiar with things such as cheap ticket alerts (these were heavily promoted when the franchise began) more people are booking tickets as soon as they're released.
Is rail travel more expensive?
Although I'm keeping an open mind as to whether the number of advance fares have been reduced, for those who participated in East Coast Rewards rail travel has indeed got more expensive. Some people factored in the free travel into the total cost of rail travel. The current scheme, Nectar, only gives 1% of value, whereas East Coast Rewards could easily give 10% of value and often could be worth a lot more. Here's a few examples:
- £50 of standard class rail spend would get you a 24 hour WiFi pass which is sold on-board for £9.99 (20% value) whereas with Nectar you'll get 50p worth of points.
- £255 of standard class rail spend would get you a free standard class ticket on the East Coast route. This is worth at least £25 (10% value) and often a lot more particularly if you travel long distances. With Nectar the same spend is worth £2.55, this might get you a sandwich at Sainsbury's but not a full meal deal
- £460 of standard class rail spend would get you a free first class ticket on the East Coast route. This is worth at least £50 (11% value) and often a lot more particularly if you travel long distances. With Nectar the same spend is worth £4.60
- Due to the bonus given for first class travel, you'd only need to spend £307 on first class travel to get a free first class ticket (at least 16% value). With Nectar there's no bonus on first class travel so the points would only be worth £3.07
As you can see East Coast Rewards provided lots of extra value and also provided other options such as lounge passes, beer, wine and gift vouchers if you didn't want to redeem on train travel. As far as I'm concerned East Coast Rewards was an excellent example of a true loyalty scheme and is the only significant area that Virgin Trains East Coast is currently lacking. As always we need your support to encourage them to reward their best customers and help keep rail travel an attractive proposition.
Articles within the blog section of Save East Coast Rewards reflect the views of the contributor (in this case Dave H) only and may not reflect the official views of the campaign.