GNER First Class

Forgetting your best customers

The East Coast Mainline has a long history of loyalty schemes started by the first private operator on the route, GNER. The original loyalty schemes had high barriers to entry, largely because the admin costs of the scheme were very high (you generally needed to post your tickets in to qualify, you needed to book your rewards tickets by phone and vouchers were sent out by post), as East Coast Rewards took the whole scheme (except season tickets) online it reduced admin costs substantially and allowed a scheme to be created that was good for both the frequent and less frequent travellers.

The big mistake

We've been told Nectar is for everyone, it benefits the one-off traveller as well as the frequent traveller. But what is loyal about a one off traveller, why should a company care about a non-loyal customer edging 20p closer to their free sandwich? It's good to encourage new custom, but it's more important to reward those that are paying thousands a year so that they're less likely to move their business elsewhere.


Let's look at GNERtime, you needed to spend £1200 in 3 months on GNER travel. When you qualified you received a book of vouchers including:

  • Six First Class Return vouchers for two
  • Two First Class Return vouchers for one
  • Four restaurant vouchers available for breakfast or a 3 course dinner
  • Four £5 buffet vouchers

and a membership card entitling you to:

  • 2 for 1 drinks on-board
  • Lounge access for the member and a guest
  • Discounts on meeting room hire
  • Half bottle of wine in the restaurant

There may be other benefits, these were just from memory. The benefits varied over the years, these were the ones during the last year of GNER.

If your spend was enough to earn these benefits on GNERtime, now on Virgin Trains East Coast you will get £12 worth of Nectar points

NXEC and 'escape'

NXEC did not have a loyalty scheme ready from the start, but they certainly handled the transition better than VTEC did. They realised that annoying your best customers from day one is not the best idea. So until their loyalty scheme was ready they announced the following:

  • All GNERtime members were sent a free first class return voucher for two as a welcome to National Express
  • All GNERtime benefits would be honoured until the expiry date (no early termination of benefits)
  • Additional free vouchers were sent out through the year to GNERtime members until the new scheme was ready
  • GNERtime members were asked if they wanted to join a panel for input into the loyalty scheme

The new loyalty scheme launched as 'escape'. It was similar to GNERtime but had a higher qualifying threshold of £1800 over 3 months. Accounting for inflation and the fact GNER had not raised the threshold since their scheme started it wasn't as significant jump as it appears. 'escape' launched online booking of rewards tickets although you still had the option to post tickets in and there still was a dedicated team for loyalty. The scheme was not as generous as GNERtime, but at least by consulting their members they retained the key benefits. It was launched as:

  • Two First Class Return e-vouchers for two
  • Two First Class Reurn e-vouchers for one
  • Lounge access for member and a guest
  • Quarter bottle of wine when dining
  • 20% off NXEC advance fares

Later on the vouchers for two were changed into two vouchers for one to allow more flexibility giving a total of six first class returns for one. After re-nationalisation, the scheme continued as 'escape' under East Coast for a while before being renamed East Coast Rewards. This scheme was closed in 2011 when the new East Coast Rewards (the one this campaign is about) was launched.

If your spend was enough to earn these benefits on 'escape', now on Virgin Trains East Coast you will get £18 worth of Nectar points