Take away a good thing...
I'm sure when Virgin Trains East Coast decided that they were going to take away the excellent East Coast Rewards and replace with Nectar that there'd only be a few people unhappy with the changes. They probably expected not many people really looked into the loyalty schemes and most would be happy participating in a big name scheme.
How wrong they were! The removal of East Coast Rewards is still one of the most complained about items on Twitter. When you take away something as generous as Rewards people notice. The fact that no other operator had a decently loyalty scheme did not matter, we had Rewards and it added that extra East Coast sparkle that was missing from other rail providers.
So now Virgin Trains are making a similar mistake on the West Coast. Since December 2011, Virgin Trains has offered a railcard easement on their services. Basically if you had a railcard of an approved type (16-25, Senior, Disabled HM Forces and Family) you were able to travel on peak time services with an off-peak ticket. This was particularly useful to young people and disabled who needed to commute to work. Now they've called an end to this benefit on 6th September it means those that were taking advantage of this easement could be paying significantly more, for example, in my previous post I used an example of a return from London Euston to Manchester with a 16-25 railcard. It's currently £53.85 for travel anytime with this railcard, in future to travel during the peak time it will be £217.15 (that includes the railcard discount!)
So although Virgin Trains are the only ones that offer this easement it's a good benefit that people have got used to and may have even made decisions on which jobs to accept based on this. There's a number of young people saying that they'd not be able to afford to travel to work having to pay the full fares, they took advantage of these fares to get on the career ladder in a major city such as London, Birmingham or Manchester but due to the high cost of living couldn't afford to move away from that family home quite yet.
Losing the sparkle
So both East Coast and Virgin Trains lost schemes that were highly appreciated by their customers. It doesn't matter that other rail companies didn't do this, what mattered it was a way of building loyalty and satisfaction with the brand.
I've always rated East Coast above West Coast and apart from the loyalty scheme I'm mostly happy with the way Virgin Trains East Coast has been run, it's still generally the best way to travel on that line despite their being more competition than most operators have. On the West Coast, Virgin Trains certainly perform above average but I'm not a fan of travelling in a cramped Pendolino when I'm in standard class so they'll always rank below East Coast for me.
As both operators have a reputation for leading rather than following it's not an acceptable reason to say "everybody else does it" when making changes that are not in the customers best interests.
We've had a petition to Save East Coast Rewards for a while now, so if you agree with us it'd be great if you sign it. A petition has also been set up to ask Virgin Trains on the West Coast to reconsider their decision regarding railcards.