East Coast Rewards was the name of the loyalty scheme offered by East Coast Trains prior to Virgin Trains East Coast taking over the franchise in March 2015. It was one of the most generous loyalty schemes in the UK.
Virgin Trains East Coast decided the scrap this popular scheme and replace it with Nectar, despite the fact it is a well known scheme it is one of the least generous in the UK. Please see our 'How to Help' section for ways you can get your views across to Virgin Trains East Coast.
Whether you're a frequent traveller or just travel a few times a year you will be significantly worse off with the change to Nectar. All you needed to spend to get a free ticket with East Coast Rewards was £255 (and your points were valid for 2 years), with Nectar a £255 spend will only give you £2.55 back (enough for a sandwich). You'll need to spend at least £2500 under Nectar to get a free ticket. Even if you could never reach £255 spend you could get a First Class Lounge Pass or 24 hour WiFi voucher (worth £9.99) for just £50 spend, whereas with Nectar £50 spend is only worth 50p.
|Ticket Type||East Coast Rewards||Nectar|
|Spend||Standard Class||First Class||Virgin Trains EC Only|
|Standard Class Single||£255||£170||£2500|
|First Class Single||£460||£307||£5000|
|4 Standard Class Singles||£920||£614||£10,000|
|4 First Class Singles||£1565||£1044||£20,000|
|£10 Gift Card||£510||£340||£1000|
Unlike East Coast Rewards Nectar doesn't officially offer free tickets instead you spend your points based on the total fare. The chart above assumes a standard class ticket costs £25 and a first class ticket costs £50. In many cases the actual cost will be higher so the costs to buy a ticket with Nectar will be even greater.
How the schemes work
East Coast Rewards
Earn one point for every pound spent on eastcoast.co.uk on rail travel plus extras booked online (such as PlusBus, catering vouchers, lounge access vouchers, wifi). First Class tickets earn 50% more points. There's a minimum spend of £22 when booking other rail operators, but no minimum when booking East Coast advance fares.
East Coast have also run promotions offering more points. These bonus promotions were aimed at all passengers.
Nectar points are currently earned at a rate of 2 points per pound for train purchases and 1 point per pound at Sainsbury's. There's no bonus for buying first class tickets or purchasing extras alongside your ticket.
Virgin Trains East Coast currently only offer Nectar points when at least part of the journey is on one of their trains. FirstGroup on the other hand give Nectar points for all rail travel.
So even if you're interested in collecting Nectar points you'll be better off switching your bookings to FirstGroup. FirstGroup also offer a small amount of Nectar points on season tickets online, something that Virgin doesn't currently do (although they claim they're looking into options).
Double points promotions are sometimes offered.
East Coast Rewards
The best value use of redeeming East Coast Rewards is on travel on East Coast services. 255 points is enough for a standard class single ticket and 460 points for first class. You can also buy access to the first class lounge for just 50 points. All these are easy to achieve if you're a regular rail traveller, even if you travel on other operators just make sure you're booking on eastcoast.co.uk
If you don't want to use your rewards on East Coast there's other options available which I will compare with Nectar:
£10 House of Fraser or M&S voucher is 510 points (£510 standard class or £340 first class spend)
A 3 bottle mixed case of wine is 920 points
A cinema ticket is 355 points
The worst value is the e-vouchers for other operators which is 100 points per pound off. This is a 1% return. Even the worst option is still competitive with Nectar.
You very rarely get better than 1% off at Nectar and when Sainbury's halves their earning rate in April it'll be even more difficult to attain any meaningful rewards.
You are able to convert Nectar points into an eVoucher which can be used as payment for Virgin Trains East Coast Advance tickets. There was an introductory offer of 500 Nectar points = £3.75 until 31 May 2015 (returning to the standard 500 points = £2.50 from 1 June 2015). There will also be bonus offers throughout the year.
Nectar has many partners but they all offer a poor deal for redemptions.
£10 off at Sainsbury's would be 2000 Nectar points (£1000 spend, significantly more than East Coast which is £510 for M&S or House of Fraser)
The cheapest wine offer I can find is 5400 for two bottles
Cinema: the offer with Vue Cinemas is 500 points per £2.50 off. My nearest Vue cinema is charging £7.60 for a ticket meaning 1520 would be the cost with points.
There really is no situation where Nectar is better than East Coast rewards.
So how many points is it for a ticket now?
Nectar is effectively a cashback scheme so there's not a fixed number of points for a redemption. The number of points you pay is directly linked to the current price of tickets on the day you book. So if you want to work out how many points you'd need, do a dummy booking on eastcoast.co.uk and find out the price of the ticket you require. You need 500 points per £2.50.
For illustrative purposes I've assumed a standard class single is £25 and a first class single is £50, in most cases the tickets will cost more than this. I'm using relatively low values to show the best case scenario with Nectar, even the best case is bad enough, for most people it will be significantly worse.