Save East Coast Rewards was set up in January 2015 when Virgin Trains East Coast (a partnership of 90% Stagecoach and 10% Virgin) announced their plans to scrap East Coast Rewards and move to a Nectar based scheme, this change took effect on 1st March the day they started the franchise.
There has been a long history of loyalty schemes on the East Coast mainline. GNER started with a scheme for their high spending passengers, this was carried on with the next private operator, National Express East Coast and on to the nationalised East Coast. In 2011 East Coast made changes to the scheme which meant that even less frequent travellers could now benefit from rewards such as free WiFi, train travel and first class lounge access. They had created what many considered to be the most generous loyalty programme in the UK.
What was the original aim of the site?
Prior to 1st March it had two purposes. First of all to campaign for East Coast Rewards to be retained and secondly to give advice to existing members on how to top up their points balances so they could earn a number of rewards before the scheme closed. Although we weren't successful on retaining East Coast Rewards the amount of support we received was outstanding and we've still not found that many people that genuinely consider these changes for the better. We believe that by applying constant pressure as well as educating people about what the scheme used to be will eventually pay off.
Is it worth the hassle?
East Coast Rewards was the most generous loyalty scheme in the UK. Those that were aware of the scheme and used it are now significantly worse off. We made this banner to clearly indicate the point:
All you needed to spend was £255 on rail travel through the East Coast site to earn a free ticket valid anywhere on their route. If you wanted to take it to the extremes that ticket could take you from London to Inverness or anywhere in between! Spending £255 with Nectar would only get you £2.55 worth of points, just enough for a free sandwich at Sainsbury's.
Things certainly don't get better for the higher spenders. If you spent £1500 you'd have enough points for four free first class tickets and still have some points left over, with Nectar those points would be worth £15 that wouldn't come anywhere near the cost of a ticket.
We think benefits like this are worth fighting for!
Is it commercially viable?
As East Coast was owned by the government it meant it was subject to Freedom of Information requests. This meant members of the public could submit requests for information. We put in a request for information about East Coast Rewards and discovered the following:
- From the launch in 2011 it had grown to over 670,000 members by January 2015. As a scheme that mostly spread through word of mouth this was impressive.
- East Coast earned 5% commission for selling rail tickets on other operators. This commission alone was more than enough to cover the costs of providing rewards to members.
- As well as earning commission on third party sales it also attracted more people to book East Coast tickets directly meaning East Coast didn't have to pay 5% commission to another operator.
- It made good business sense: East Coast Rewards members typically spent more on rail travel than non-members.
If Nectar was introduced as a cost saving measure, they're taking a big gamble. If people start booking elsewhere they'll quickly wipe out any savings they have made. Stagecoach and Virgin missed the opportunity to expand a popular scheme to their other franchises, instead they just copied the tactic of the west coast and go with Nectar.
The campaign will go on. You can find ways to help by checking out the 'How to help' menu at the top of each page. As well as comparing Nectar to East Coast Rewards we'll also be comparing it to frequent flyer schemes and Tesco Clubcard.
Other companies have signed up for Nectar and then dropped out a few years later when they realised it was a mistake. Two of these companies were the original launch partners Barclaycard and Debenhams. It's therefore possible that Virgin Trains East Coast can't drop out now due to contractual reasons but we want to make sure they do as soon as their contract allows (or alter the terms of the contract to allow an East Coast Rewards style scheme to be an option).