How easy is your loyalty scheme?
One of the reasons they claimed Nectar was introduced was the popularity of the scheme, apparently more people are Nectar card holders than any other scheme in the UK. Of course it doesn't tell you how many people are actually engaged with the scheme or whether it's people who just take the card because they were using those retailers anyway and even a small reward is 'better than nothing'.
Now let's compare how easy each scheme is to use when purchasing train tickets.
East Coast Rewards
To register for East Coast Rewards all you had to do is to tick a checkbox when registering for online booking (you need to register anyway if you want to book via their site), or if you hadn't signed up for some reason when you first registered you could sign up at any time by ticking a box on your profile page.
To redeem rewards you had two options, the best value was to redeem points for East Coast travel, when you have enough points you'd redeem a free ticket, once redeemed it would show up on the site as a £0 ticket. The other option would be to redeem for e-vouchers which were valid on all rail operators for all ticket types. It wasn't the best option but was good if you didn't have enough for a free ticket.
Just like East Coast Rewards you need an online account and the steps taken to register for this are the same as before, if you want to add your Nectar account you then have to enter the last 11 digits of your account number. So even if you already had a Nectar card the sign up procedure is still a bit more of a hassle than the simple check a box East Coast Rewards option.
If you don't have a Nectar card you'd have to sign up and that means giving yet another company your personal information as well as having another set of login information to remember. Considering how poor the rewards are for Nectar, it's more hassle for very little gain.
Redeeming is also more of a hassle. There's no integration between Nectar and VTEC so if you redeem the vouchers don't transfer to your VTEC account automatically. The highest voucher available is £50.00 this means for most tickets you'd need more that one voucher (although it'd take a long time to get the points needed for this much). When you order each voucher through the Nectar website (you have to do it one it a time) you are emailed a code that's 25 characters long that you need to enter into the VTEC website, you need to repeat this for each voucher.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
The hassles of setting up an account and redeeming are similar to Nectar as if you're not registered you'll need to create a separate account with Virgin Atlantic.
Which is better?
Well as you know East Coast Rewards was better by far. Nectar is not worth bothering with unless you collect points elsewhere (and even that is not very good) so if you don't collect the points elsewhere we recommend giving Nectar a miss. If you do want Nectar points we recommend you use the First Great Western website, using Nectar on the Virgin Trains East Coast website could be used as a sign that you're happy with Nectar replacing rewards. FirstGroup websites (e.g. First Great Western, Hull Trains and TransPennine Express) give Nectar points on all rail journeys whereas VTEC only gives points on their own journeys, therefore it means booking through First will get you more Nectar points overall.
If you have no connection with Nectar then it may be worth signing up to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, we expect there's a good chance that they'll concentrate on their partnership with Virgin Atlantic in future and offer more ways to spend your miles. However, at the moment the scheme only really benefits those who travel frequently (not just on Virgin Atlantic you can also use your miles for hotels) but if you want your points to go somewhere and you're not a member of either scheme then we think it'll work out the best option.