Travel Rumblings

Loyalty & the Train Traveller

In the travel press, there are always stories about loyalty. There are loyalty cards for airlines, hotels, car hire companies which the average person probably doesn’t bother with. The loyalty cards that mean most to us are those that come from Tesco, Sainsbury and Boots because those are places that we use a lot. There isn’t anything from tour operators, surprisingly, because we may only use them once or twice a year. No, the National Trust membership or something like that has more appeal.

But what about trains?

We use them for getting to work, days out, weekends away and even forgetting to summer holiday destinations. Eurostar operates a loyalty scheme but what of mainline domestic railway companies? Apart from youth passes, over 55 tickets at slack times of the year and senior passes that just reward age, is there anything else?

Meet “Escape” from East Coast railways, described as the exclusive rewards programme for their customers that travel the most. Now I, and quite a few colleagues, use East Coast quite often to go between London and Leeds, York and sometimes Newcastle, Durham and Edinburgh. What might we get if we sign up?

The short answer is nothing because we don’t fulfil the criteria. We have to have spent £1,800 on tickets in any 3 month period. By my reckoning despite the fact that I have travelled 3 times to Leeds, 3 times to York, once to Durham and once to Doncaster, I haven’t even hit the £500 mark. I certainly don’t go first class and I book in advance so I rarely pay more than £60 per return. So this is not for me. Even if three of us added all our travel together, we wouldn’t make £1,800. It is the equivalent of spending about £150 each and every week. And you can’t use standard season tickets (only 1st class), travelcards or rail rovers to count towards the magical £1,800! I would be surprised if there are many takers to this appealing offer.

And even if you qualify and join what benefits are available? Access to a first class lounge (where there is one) plus a complementary drink and snack. And here is the clincher. If I buy a two-course meal in the restaurant car I will get free, and at no additional expense, a whole quarter bottle of wine! Well, say no more. What else could one ask for? Well 20% off tickets. But if I get 20% off, I’ll have to spend even more to get to my £1,800 threshold or lose out. From day one, it looks as the East Coast want to remove passengers from “Escape” rather than add them.

Obviously this loyalty plan is designed to reward very very few. And if that’s the case, is there any point to it? The vast majority of us will get nothing for our loyalty. But then what choice do we have? If I want to go to Leeds from London, I either use East Coast or some connecting service that adds to the time. So maybe there will be no loyalty schemes for average passengers until we get true competition on railway lines.

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