With the launch of the new Virgin Atlantic Flying Club credit cards from Virgin Money it may be time for some people to consider whether Flying Club will be worth looking at for your Virgin Trains and Virgin Trains East Coast bookings. There's a good Head for Points article on the subject but it doesn't cover train travellers, so consider this a supplement to that article.
There's some key points to remember:
- Journeys that include an element of Virgin Trains East Coast travel must be booked on the Virgin Trains East Coast website to earn Flying Club points. You won't earn points for booking an East Coast journey on the 'Virgin Trains' website* as that belongs to Virgin Trains West Coast #BrandConfusion
- As long as the booking contains at least part of the trip on Virgin Trains East Coast you will get points for that trip. For example - if you booked Hartlepool to Brighton you would earn points on that leg as long as some of the trip was with Virgin Trains East Coast.
- If you're planning on buying a flexible ticket valid on any operator then you need to select a Virgin Trains East Coast journey on the journey planner to be sure of getting the points (even if you actually use the ticket to travel on another service, as long as the ticket type allows this).
- If booking on the Virgin Trains East Coast website it will also label Virgin Trains West Coast journeys with a 'Virgin Trains' logo. So for routes where either East Coast or West Coast is possible (e.g. London to Edinburgh) you need to make sure you select an East Coast journey in order to get points on the Virgin Trains East Coast website.
- If your journey does not include any Virgin Trains East Coast travel you will not earn any Flying Club points on this leg.
- You also do not earn Flying Club points from any extras made with the booking (e.g. Plusbus)
- The earning rate on Virgin Trains East Coast is 2 Flying Club points per pound spent.
- If you're booking a Virgin Trains West Coast journey you'll need to book on the Virgin Trains website.
- You will only earn points on Virgin Trains West Coast if your WHOLE journey is on Virgin Trains West Coast, therefore if you have a connecting leg on another operator you won't earn any points unless you split the journey into separate tickets (which can sometimes be cheaper anyway, but not always)
- Virgin Trains West Coast only gives 1 Flying Club point per pound spent.
- Even if Flying Club turns out to be the best option for you, don't expect to be able to earn rewards anywhere near as East Coast Rewards. This is still a scheme mostly aimed at frequent flyers, it'll take a long time to earn enough with train travel alone.
- You can use Flying Club points to redeem on Virgin Trains East Coast, but not Virgin Trains West Coast.
* Note that in some circumstances the Virgin Trains website will helpfully offer to redirect you to the Virgin Trains East Coast website if you book an East Coast journey. This redirect only happens in certain circumstances so it's best to go to the Virgin Trains East Coast website directly to be sure.
So as usual with anything to do with Virgin Trains they've made things needlessly complicated despite their marketing trying to create the pretence that they're one company. It's important to always think of Virgin Trains (the West Coast operator) and Virgin Trains East Coast as two separate operators as you don't get any benefits booking on the wrong site (e.g. you won't get a WiFi code for an East Coast journey if you book it on the Virgin Trains site).
In the good old days (pre-Virgin), things were a lot simpler:
- You earned East Coast Rewards points on ALL rail travel booked on the East Coast website even if your journey had no East Coast travel (although there was a minimum spend of £22 for non-East Coast trips). You earned points for the whole value of your purchase including any extras like Plusbus and catering vouchers.
The reason why East Coast offered points on all travel was simple, they got 5% commission on all tickets sold and it also helps the operator build a bigger picture of you as a customer. From the passengers point of view it also made rail booking so much easier as a good general rule was just to make every train booking through the East Coast site.
What are the rewards?
It's worth looking at a recent Head for Points article if you want to redeem the rewards for flying. If you want to redeem points for train travel the rewards are not amazing. Only Virgin Trains East Coast offers train based redemptions and you need 6,250 points for a £25 voucher. On paper that's even worse than Nectar that needs 5,000 points for a £25 voucher. However, back in 2015 we mentioned how you can convert Tesco Clubcard to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points. Transferring 2500 Clubcard points gives you 6250 Flying Club points meaning you have to spend half as much as Tesco as you do at Sainsbury's to get the same reward! You can also spend your Flying Club points on Eurostar at the same rate, although the minimum spend is higher so you need 12,500 Flying Club points for a £50 Eurostar voucher. The same rate can also be redeemed at a number of Virgin Group companies.
Another use is for hotels. You can earn points at a wide variety of hotels as well as being able to transfer points to the loyalty schemes of IHG (InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, etc) and Hilton. You can also spend your points on hotel bookings with kaligo.com.
If you're looking on using your points for flying then it's better value to use these points in the premium classes. With flights you have to pay the so-called 'taxes' (which include government duties, airport fees and sometimes a little extra the airlines make up) on reward flights. On economy flights the taxes make up the bulk of the fare, but with Premium Economy and Business (Upper Class in Virgin talk) you can save a significant sum using your points. Once again, anything flying related Head for Points will have more detail but you can ask us anything on Twitter.
So if you're a non-flyer it could be worth looking at Flying Club if you've got some other ways in addition to Virgin Trains East Coast to top up your balance. Tesco Clubcard and the Virgin Atlantic credit card are two ways to do this.
If anyone wants us to go into more detail from a rail perspective then let us know. Simply email us or DM on Twitter - it would be useful to get some case studies to give examples of which people would benefit most from earning Flying Club points.
Remember that points earning credit cards are extremely rarely a good deal if you don't pay off your balance in full every month. If you pay your balance in full each month you won't be charged interest.
A recent trip I made composed of three segments: London to Leeds (for the Hop City festival), then to Sheffield followed by Nottingham and then back to London. London to Leeds was on Virgin Trains East Coast so I booked this segment on the Virgin Trains East Coast website. Leeds to Sheffield was on CrossCountry and Sheffield to Nottingham and Nottingham to London was on East Midlands trains so I booked all these trips on the GWR website. Why did I book on the GWR website? The main reason was I wasn't registered with CrossCountry or East Midlands trains but I was already registered with GWR. You also get Nectar points will ALL rail bookings on the GWR site whereas you'd get nothing for these trips when booking on Virgin Trains East Coast (despite Virgin Trains East Coast being 90% owned by Stagecoach who run East Midlands Trains). See our guide to booking train travel.