Thousands of season ticket holders using the newly-named Virgin Trains East Coast line can no longer earn points after an overhaul of its loyalty scheme.
Passengers who bought annual or monthly season tickets had points added to their rewards account on a monthly basis depending on the type, class and cost of the ticket. See our Cheap Trains guide to cut the cost of travel.
But under the new scheme, which launched on 1 March, passengers can only collect points on tickets bought online, not those bought at stations, which means points can no longer be collected for season tickets. Those who have already purchased season tickets will also only receive points until the end of February.
A spokesman from Virgin Trains East Coast told MoneySavingExpert that it is "currently exploring ways to allow customers to earn points with season tickets".
However it's not just how you can earn points that's changing. Passengers now have to choose between Nectar points or Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles rather than collecing points to spend on train tickets, while the new scheme also restricts passengers from earning points on journeys that don't include at least some of the journey on an Virgin East Coast train.
Previously passengers could earn points on tickets booked through the East Coast website for a journey on a train run by any operator.
The revamp comes after Virgin Trains East Coast, a company led by Stagecoach and Virgin, took over the East Coast main line franchise earlier this month. It operates trains from Inverness and Aberdeen down to London.
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Last month 101,000 out of the 675,000 passengers registered to use the rewards scheme earned points.
Any remaining points must be redeemed and used before 30 September 2015.
Right, so what's the new scheme?
From 1 March 2015 members can choose to earn either Nectar points or Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (VAFC) miles. You can only choose one – but you can switch between them on your Virgin Trains East Coast online account at any time.
To get the points you must add either a Nectar card or VAFC details to your Virgin Trains East Coast account. Here's how it works in brief – a full explanation is detailed below:
- Nectar. Once points are converted into Nectar points these can be turned into eVouchers on the Nectar website to spend on advance train tickets for use on Virgin Trains East Coast. You can't use the Nectar points to buy other items. You'll need a minimum of 500 points to do this, which equals £2.50 in eVouchers. Until 31 May 2015 there's also a bonus running where you get £3.75 for 500 points.
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (VAFC). Points can be converted into air miles to buy flights through VAFC to 28 destinations as well as on flights with partner airlines including Air China, Virgin America and Delta Air Lines. The amount of miles you need varies depending on the destination and class of ticket. Eg, you'd need 45,000 points for a flight from Manchester to Barbados. Some flights incur extra charges, see the Virgin Atlantic website for more details.
How many points can I earn?
The table below explains how the scheme has changed for those earning points:
|Value of spending||Old East Coast rewards scheme||Nectar||Virgin Atlantic Flying Club|
|Standard class advance ticket||1 point per £1 spent||2 points for every £1 (i)||2 miles per £1|
|First class advance ticket||1.5 points per £1 spent||2 points for every £1 (i)||2 miles per £1|
|Standard class season ticket||0.5 points per £1 spent||N/A||N/A|
|First class season ticket||1 point per £1 spent||N/A||N/A|
|(i) Tickets booked before 31 March 2015 will qualify for four points for every £1 spent.|
What happens if I'm a season ticket holder?
It's bad news for season ticket holders, as you'll miss out on any remaining points. This is because points are paid on a monthly basis. You could get 0.5 points per £1 spent on standard class tickets and 1 per £1 spent on first class tickets.
So, if for example, you purchased an annual standard class season ticket from Peterborough to London Bridge costing £6,460 per year, that would be an average of £538.33 per month. So you would have been awarded 268 points per month.
If this season ticket had been purchased in January 2015 then you would have collected 268 points in January and then 268 in February, but you'll miss out on the remaining 2,690 points that you would have been awarded for the remainder of 2015.
Passengers are also no longer able to earn points on weekly or monthly season tickets either.
What's happening to the East Coast rewards scheme?
The scheme is now closed. That means you can't earn points on any journey after 1 March 2015.
Can I still redeem my old East Coast points?
Members have until 30 September 2015 to both redeem points and use the rewards on Virgin Trains East Coast tickets under the old scheme rules, or convert them into Nectar points. You can't turn them into air miles.
Each East Coast reward is worth 1p in points, which is then converted into eVouchers. So 1,400 points equals £14. You need 100 points before converting it into an eVoucher.
eVouchers can then be spent on first class, single tickets, standard single tickets on Virgin East Coast trains, access to the Virgin East Coast First Class lounges and East Coast wifi passes. But you've only got until 30 September to use it.
When using eVouchers towards the cost of a ticket, or to pay in full, it'll cost the following in points:
- First class tickets: 460 points
- Standard class tickets: 255 points
- 4 x single ticket discount for first class: 1,565 points
- 4 x single ticket discount for standard class: 920 points
You can only use a ticket on the booked date and time as specified on your ticket.
If using points to buy a pass to get access to Virgin Trains East Coast first class lounges, these are valid in Kings Cross, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh Waverly, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Darlington, Wakefield Westgate and Doncaster. It will cost the following in points:
- One day pass: 50 points
- Three day pass: 715 points
- Six months pass: 1,125 points
- 12 months pass: 2,050 points
Alternatively you can get six Nectar points for every one Virgin Trains East Coast rewards scheme point that you convert.
So how did the old East Coast rewards scheme work?
Before the scheme closed you could earn points by booking tickets for any train company on the East Coast website – not just for East Coast services.
You could earn 1 point per £1 spent on standard class advance tickets and 1.5 points per £1 spent on first class advance.
For season tickets, points were earned on a monthly basis – you could get 0.5 points per £1 spent for standard tickets and 1 point per £1 spent on first class tickets.
Why is Virgin now in charge of East Coast trains?
The Government contracts out the operation of passenger railway operations by franchising to private companies. At the end of last year, it was announced that Virgin Trains East Coast had won the franchise contract for the former East Coast line.
Virgin Trains East Coast is 90% owned by another rail operator – Stagecoach and the remaining 10% is the Virgin Group.
How does the new scheme work with Nectar?
To get points you need to link your Nectar card by inputting the last 11 digits of your card number to your Virgin Trains East Coast online account. It's best to do this before you make a booking, but you've got a maximum of 24 hours to do so after you've purchased tickets.
You'll get two points for every £1 spent on Virgin Trains East Coast tickets. As part of the launch of the new scheme you can collect double points on all Virgin Trains East Coast journeys booked on its website by 31 March. You'll get four points for every £1 spent.
At least some of the journey must be on a Virgin East Coast train to qualify for points (under the old scheme you could book a journey on any line).
If you get a refund then your Nectar points will be deducted from your Nectar account within 28 days of the refund. If you make a change to your booking then your points will be increased or reduced based on the final transaction amount.
You convert your Nectar points into eVouchers to use as part of full payment towards advance tickets. At the moment, there's a bonus where you can get £3.75 to spend on tickets for every 500 points until 31 May 2015. Usually, its 500 points = £2.50. You can use multiple eVouchers to purchase tickets.
You can't get a refund on eVouchers – unused, lost, expired cannot be refunded or exchanged. They are valid for 12 months from redemption.
If your voucher is more than the cost of your ticket then the balance is stored in your online account until your next booking, or expiry date, whichever is sooner.
How does the new Virgin Atlantic Flying Club work?
If you choose to collect with the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club then you'll get 2 miles for every £1 spent on Virgin Trains East Coast journeys booked on its website.
As with Nectar, you'll get points for a journey featuring at least one Virgin East Coast train.
In order to collect points you must link your Virgin Atlantic Flying Club membership number to your online Virgin Trains East Coast account. You can't earn miles on journeys which are paid for in part or full using a National Rail Travel voucher (this is a voucher that is issued as part of its refund scheme for delays).
Miles will be added for non-refundable advance tickets the day after travel, for other tickets these will be added 31 days after a ticket has run out.
If you get a refund on your ticket, for whatever reason, the miles will be deducted from your Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account within 28 days of the refund. If you make a change to the booking then miles will be deducted or added accordingly.
You can use your miles to buy flights through Virgin Atlantic to nearly 28 destinations worldwide as well as flights with partner airlines such as Air China, Virgin America and Delta Airlines. You can buy more points, if you haven't got enough for a flight. You can do this in increments of 1,000 – for more information on this, visit the Virgin Atlantic website.
The amount of miles varies depending on the destination and class of the ticket. For example you'd need 35,000 points for an economy flight from the UK to New York (JFK/Newark), or 100,000 points for an upper class flight on the same route. Some flights incur extra charges, see the Virgin Atlantic website for more details.