Bound for a Rewarding Experience

Maximising points or miles with rail travel

As regular readers will know, prior to 1st March 2015, we had the most generous travel loyalty scheme in the UK. East Coast Rewards gave you points on all rail travel and let you redeem for many rewards* including train travel and lounge access. So back then the easy advice was just to book everything on the East Coast website and the points would flow.

* Although the best value rewards were on East Coast train travel (free travel, lounge access, etc) there was still a decent enough rewards catalogue of other items that it was still better than Nectar even if you were never going to redeem on East Coast tickets.

Now the question of where should you book to maximise your points is a lot more difficult. So we look at the options, but only from a points perspective. There are other considerations you should make when booking tickets too so please look at our other article where to book train travel online.

Nectar

Earn

The best place to earn Nectar points is not the Virgin Trains or Virgin Trains East Coast website as they only give points for their own journeys. If you book a Virgin Trains East Coast journey on the Virgin Trains West Coast website you will earn zero points.

However, the FirstGroup franchises GWR, TransPennine Express and Southwestern Railway offer Nectar points on all rail travel in Great Britain at the same rate of 2 points/£. So if you're registered with one of these sites already you can use these to book all your rail travel through, otherwise just pick one of the three (if one of them is your local operator then it's probably best to pick them so you get their offers, otherwise I'd recommend GWR as it's quicker to type!)

Bonuses: the Nectar app will show you if there's any bonuses available. These offers are targetted so will vary from person to person.

Spend

Unfortunately the only way to spend Nectar points on train travel is through Virgin Trains East Coast and the rate offered is just the usual 500 points = £2.50. As you're only getting the same value as you would at Sainsbury's there's no reason in normal circumstances to use your points directly on Virgin Trains East Coast. The best thing to do is seek out redemptions that are worth more than the base value, but if you don't want to do that then it's easier to redeem the points on your shopping and then put the money saved towards travel. Remember redemptions with Virgin Trains East Coast are restricted to their own services only and only the 'Advance' ticket type (so sale fares are usually not available with Nectar points), so you get more flexibility if you use them on your shopping.

As most will know, Nectar has a whole lot more partners you can redeem on. Most are at the base rate of 500 points = £2.50 but there are some with higher value. That's more the territory of Shopper Points so take a look there if you need any inspiration.

Bonuses: occasionally there are bonuses for redeeming Nectar points on Virgin Trains East Coast. Sometimes these are targetted and you will receive them either in the app or by email, other times they're available to everyone. Whether it'll be good value will depend on the particular offer and whatever other offers are running at the same time.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Earn

To earn Flying Club miles it's important you book on the correct site.

If the journey is on Virgin Trains East Coast in whole or in part then booking on www.virgintrainseastcoast.com will get you 2 miles/£ on the value of your qualifying tickets.

If your journey is on Virgin Trains West Coast in whole then booking on www.virgintrains.co.uk will get you 1 mile/£ on the value of your qualifying tickets. Please note: if your Virgin Trains West Coast booking includes travel with another operator on the same ticket you will not receive any miles. To qualify you must book connections with other operators separately (ideally through a different site such as GWR above so you'll get something for them).

You can earn 2 miles/£ on the Stansted Express by clicking through from the Virgin Atlantic 'Shops Away' portal.

For other train operators there's a few ways to earn Flying Club points indirectly through 'Shops Away', but I'd not recommend any of these as they generally charge a booking fee which will most likely take away any benefit you receive through the miles. You must go through the Shops Away site every time to get the miles.

The amount of miles offered can change at any time, these were correct as of 6th April. It seems the best option at the moment is Expedia Trains as they have no booking fee, but some people might find the options it presents confusing.

Spend

The rail options to spend are only for Virgin Trains East Coast (and Eurostar but this is only covering domestic services). eVouchers can be purchased in £25 multiples for 6,250 miles and are only valid for bookings on services operated by Virgin Trains East Coast.

Non-rail redemption options are available, the most obvious being Virgin Atlantic flights. This blog post looks into this more in depth.

Virgin Red

Although Virgin Red is described as a loyalty scheme by the Virgin Group it's not the same as the other schemes mentioned here. It's an app that gives you targetted offers mostly for companies in the Virgin Group but also from other companies. Participation in Virgin Red will not stop you participating in one of the other Virgin Trains schemes. Targetted offers often include discounts on both Virgin Trains East and West Coast, WiFi access on Virgin Trains West Coast and chances to win Flying Club miles.

Virgin Red can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

Virgin Trains Traveller

Traveller is probably the closest thing we have left to a rail loyalty scheme in this country. It was a once great scheme that had been cut back through the years but if you qualify it's still worth going for.

Traveller is only available to frequent first class travellers on Virgin Trains West Coast and the key benefits include free weekend travel (booked in advance, subject to availability), priority parking and a free alcoholic drink in the Euston lounge. To qualify you need to have made 8 return first class journeys on Virgin Trains West Coast (there's a minimum spend depending on ticket type) and have booked on the Virgin Trains West Coast website. The Traveller homepage lists the full details. 

Participating in Traveller does not stop you earning Flying Club miles or Nectar on the Virgin Trains West Coast website at the same time.

Avios

Avios is the name of the rewards currency used by British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and a few other smaller airlines.

Earn

The only rail operator that will allow you to earn Avios directly is Heathrow Express. You will earn 10 Avios/£. Railcard discounts aren't available with the Avios offer. If you have a railcard (more info) then you're best off booking through the regular Heathrow Express page and claiming Heathrow Rewards points instead.

Just like Virgin Atlantic Flying Club you can earn points on the Stansted Express through the Avios eStore portal. The rate is currently 3 Avios/£.

No rail operators will allow you to earn Avios directly through their site but you can book through the Avios eStore but I'd not recommend any of these as they generally charge a booking fee which will likely take away any benefit you receive through the points. You must go through the Avios eStore every time to get the points.

None of these options are particularly inspiring due to the booking fee.

Spend

We're not aware of any way to use Avios for rail travel. Eurostar is no longer a partner and there's no domestic rail partners. The main benefit for Avios is to redeem on flights on British Airways and their many partners. 

Tesco Clubcard

Earn

There's no way to earn Tesco Clubcard points when booking rail travel.

Spend

Tesco Clubcard points can be spent on rail travel on the RedSpottedHanky. £5 of Clubcard points are worth £10 on rail travel (which makes up for the £1 booking fee). This means that redeeming points for rail travel is better value than redeeming in store.

It's worth noting there's often Clubcard deals worth more than double value. Shopper Points maintains a list of these offers.

It's also possible to purchase railcards with Clubcard points.

RedSpottedHanky Rewards

RedSpottedHanky is a rail retail site run by Atos. It has its own rewards scheme that has some similarities to East Coast Rewards as they were developed by the same team.

Although it's technically similar to East Coast Rewards as it's not connected to a rail operator it can't offer the most appealing rewards such as free travel or lounge passes. You earn 1 point/£ and each point is worth 1p off rail travel and most other rewards or they can be donated to charity.

As RedSpottedHanky charges a £1 booking fee it means that unless you're spending over £100 the fee won't even cover the value of what you're getting back.

Conclusion

That's it! Not exactly exciting stuff is it? Unfortunately there was no easy answer to the question of earning points on rail travel. In most instances currently, Nectar is as good as it gets.

Personally my collection preference is Avios but I also collect Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points. As all the Avios earning options are through 3rd parties that charge a fee I don't book train travel through any of them. For simplicity most of my non-Virgin rail travel is booked through GWR, then I make sure I book Virgin Trains East Coast and West Coast on the correct site to get Flying Club points (unless I'm taking a bike as the Virgin sites are not cycle friendly).