In our meetings with Virgin Trains East Coast they mentioned that they planned to offer more benefits to customers in addition to the current published benefits (which are poor compared to East Coast Rewards). Our hopes were dashed when we received an offer for a "Christmas bonus" of 1000 Nectar points (worth £5, which we dubbed the Christmas insult) as that looked like it was going to be the Christmas surprise. Then just a few days ago it was discovered that the online discount was also being scrapped this meant that there was no longer any financial advantage of booking direct with Virgin Trains East Coast.
So what's changed?
It turns out that the 1000 Nectar points was not the big Christmas surprise. Many of the Virgin Trains East Coast customers have now received a thank you for their loyalty. Gifts have included lounge passes and free tickets. Feedback on Twitter has been very positive, it shows that people do love train related benefits such as free tickets much more than a few Nectar points. We've been told that Virgin Trains East Coast plan to surprise and delight their customers more in the future and now we know it's not just more Nectar points the scheme looks a lot more attractive.
It also appears that Virgin Trains East Coast are also looking at using the travel data they have more intelligently. For example some of us have received a 50% discount code valid in both first and standard class for Virgin Trains East Coast advance fares. The message was: "Thanks for giving us another chance with your festive travel this year. By way of repaying your loyalty, have 50% off our Standard and First Advance fares!". It appears to be aimed at those who were affected with last years issues with overrunning engineering works after Christmas and the discount has been given to those who still chose to use the train for Christmas this year.
Recently we pointed out how, once the online discount was removed, you'd be better off booking your tickets from a site that gives cashback. Although there's currently no defined benefits we do think these surprise rewards are likely in future to be worth more than a few pennies in cashback. So if you agree then it's worth starting to book direct once again for journeys that involve Virgin Trains East Coast. We don't believe that booking tickets for other operators will have any benefit so these can continue to be booked elsewhere if you want to continue getting cashback for these.
Our current advice
- If your journey involves travelling with Virgin Trains on the East Coast we recommend booking your tickets direct with them. This will mean that you can potentially qualify for other surprises in the future, if you book through a third party they are unable to track and reward your spending.
- For tickets that don't involve Virgin Trains East Coast our previous advice of booking through either East Midlands Trains or First TransPennine Express via the TopCashback site still applies.
- Think twice before adding a Nectar card number to your profile. Virgin Trains East Coast use the number of customers on their site that have added Nectar to their profile as a measure of success.
- Look out for current discount offers. Virgin Red is an app that is often used by Virgin companies to push their current promotions. In the past few months there's been discount offers of up to 30% on Virgin Trains East Coast and 20% on Virgin Trains West Coast. The app is available for iOS and Android and is available through the App Store and Google Play. We also try to mention offers in our blog section. Virgin Red also sometimes run sign up promotions for joining Flying Club so if you're thinking of joining have a look for offers in the app first.
What we'll do
This is the first step from Virgin Trains East Coast in showing their willingness to recognise the loyalty of their customers and coming just before Christmas it has made a lot of people happy. We will continue to monitor the scheme and see what benefits people get going forward.
We hope this is just the beginning, we have our next meeting with Virgin Trains East Coast in January and we're glad that we can start our discussions on a positive note. It looks like they have understood the importance of keeping their regular customers happy and perhaps the delay has been down to putting the systems in place to support this.
Although it's important to remember that this is not as good as East Coast Rewards it is still a good way of recognising their regular customers and creating a positive impression. In particular if they're able to use the data they have to provide extra bonuses to those who have suffered inconvenience it will help build a positive impression of the brand or offer the occasional upgrade to a frequent buyer of standard class tickets.
We think the surprise based recognition could be combined with something more formal for their highest spenders as it would then give people something to aim for and the promised ability for season ticket holders to earn points, which has not yet been rolled out. We know season ticket holders haven't been forgotten about, but it does seem like it's taking longer than planned. Our guess is again delays in getting the required systems in place, we're sure we'll get an update when we meet them in January.