Dear Mr. Horne,
I wish you every success with the operation of Virgin Trains East Coast, you have the opportunity to prove the doubters wrong and that the Virgin/Stagecoach partnership is the right way forward for the East Coast Main Line. You can understand why there is scepticism on this route after going through the collapse of National Express East Coast (NXEC).
Unfortunately, the first communication we as passengers of East Coast get regarding the new franchise is an email telling us our well regarded loyalty scheme, East Coast Rewards, is closing and going to be replaced with Nectar. Those who earn points through season ticket purchases or business travel aren't going to get anything whatsoever.
Switching to Nectar is a bad decision from both a business perspective and also bad for your new customers, many already happy with the product and service offered by East Coast and will be watching this new franchise very closely. East Coast Rewards was beyond a shadow of a doubt the most generous rail loyalty programme in the UK, whereas Nectar isn't even the most generous supermarket programme and offers poor value redemptions on travel.
Nectar could be introduced on the First Group franchises and Virgin West Coast due to the fact they didn't already have a rewards scheme and something is better than nothing so they took the out of the box option. The option to convert to Virgin Flying Club miles is only useful for those who do longhaul flying and not for those who only travel domestically.
From a business perspective what advantage does Nectar give you? You're not offering something distinctive to your customers, you can get Nectar points through many sources and it takes ages to have enough to be worth anything useful. Whereas with East Coast rewards even a modest spender could earn enough points for a few rewards trips a year. It really was a scheme that made you feel rewarded and from a business perspective gave some people the chance to try out First Class.
All the systems are in place for East Coast Rewards to operate so it's not like you would have had to set up a loyalty scheme from scratch which is what First Group and Virgin West Coast would have had to do if they hadn't chose Nectar. The staffing costs must be minimal as everything is done online (except for season tickets). It would be a shame if you created such negative feeling when you already have the systems in place all you had to do was declare business as usual from day one.
There has been a long history of loyalty programmes on the East Coast Main Line. Don't kill off this tradition. GNER started off with 'excel' which was the first points based scheme and changed over to GNERtime which had minimum spend requirements but offered generous benefits for those who spent enough to qualify. NXEC then launched 'escape' which was similar to GNERtime. East Coast knew the importance of loyalty schemes so they kept 'escape' running until they launched their own East Coast Rewards. The reason the current East Coast Rewards is so popular is because it rewards both large and small spenders, it can do this because it's run online so has a small admin overhead. On the other hand, Nectar is poor whether you're a high or a low spender and failing to recognise the loyalty of your season ticket holders is another big mistake.
If it's possible can you reverse the decision to switch to Nectar and keep East Coast Rewards, if it's too late to do that then please make Nectar a temporary measure until you can relaunch a loyalty scheme fit for the East Coast.
Save East Coast Rewards
Feel free to share this letter (if published online I'd appreciate a link back to saveecrewards.co.uk) or use it a basis for your own letter to David Horne. He is an active Twitter user - @DavidHorne