News analysis

Fewer eBucks rewards
  • The rules around First National Bank's eBucks loyalty scheme change on 1 July – and for frequent airport users, they will change for the worse.
  • For some eBucks users, automatic entries to SLOW airport lounges around South Africa have been scrapped entirely. Other reward levels will see massive decreases.
  • That includes the bank's wealthiest and most loyal customers, who will go from unlimited lounge access to an average of three entries per month.
  • "Bonus" maximum allocations have been increased – but those require you to book flights via eBucks Travel.
  • FNB says it is not actually cutting benefits.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

On 1 July, users of First National Bank (FNB's) eBucks loyalty scheme will see their free access to SLOW airport lounges around South Africa drop by between 20% and 100%.

FNB on Monday announced annual changes to the eBucks rules, saying those "will make it easier for customers to earn more eBucks".

It did not mention the significant changes in its travel benefits, which will affect every tier of eBucks customer on every kind of FNB account, for the worse.

The eBucks rules are somewhat arcane, and the bank has not published a side-by-side comparison of the changes coming next month. Instead customers have to compare the rules for 2019 with the rules that will apply from mid-2020 – which differ depending on the user's FNB account and eBucks status.

Doing so shows a massive difference in the SLOW lounge allocations across the board.

Least affected are FNB Premier account holders at the highest level of eBucks rewards, level 5. They will lose only 20% of their allocated airport lounge visits. Premier customers at eBucks levels 1 and 2, as well as Private Clients users at level 2, will lose 100% of their allocations.

The changes also affect the wealthiest and most loyal of the bank's customers. Account holders in its Private Wealth division, or who are clients of RMB Private Bank, lose between 36% and 80% of their annual allocations.

eBucks level 5 customers at those private banks go from unlimited lounge visits to 36 per year, or an average of three per month.

'Bonus' allocations increase – but only if you fly via eBucks Travel

eBucks also offers "bonus" entries to SLOW lounges, and those have all increased significantly.

At present Premier account holders have a maximum of two such bonus visits a year, Private Clients users have six, and Private Wealth and RMB Private account holders have eight.

Those allocations will all increase to 12, a difference of between 33% and 83%.

But "bonus" entries require travellers to book their flights via eBucks Travel to be activated. At present, eBucks Travel lists only FlySafair and Emirates as partners, though it is also selling tickets on Mango. "Bonus" entries can be unlocked only by flying on such partner airlines, with tickets booked at the eBucks website or via its app.

Once activated, such bonus entries can only be used for a week before and a week after the booked flight. After that, if unused, they return to the "pool" for which a user is eligible.

The effect is that the "bonus" allocations act as a ceiling on the number of lounge visits available to those who book their travel via eBucks Travel, rather than as a reward for loyal FNB customers.

FNB says that booking via eBucks Travel can save its customers up to 40% on flights. In testing this week, Business Insider found that discounts for the first flights available to book, in mid-August, were in fact 2.5% for a Level 4 Bucks user.

The changes are 'not a cut', FNB says.

FNB "aims to create further customer travel interactions on the FNB app" with the changes, said Johan Moolman, the CEO of FNB eBucks Rewards, in response to questions from Business Insider SA.

"We do not see this as a cut but rather shift of FNB customers to booking their flights on the FNB app and gaining the same if not more visits to SLOW by doing so. We are proud that we continue to reward customers more each year by driving behaviour change and we do not intend to change that."

Here is how each of FNB's account types that get airport lounge visits for free on eBucks are affected by the change in annual allocations.

Premier: down between 20% and 100%

eBucks changes



Private Clients: down 33% to 100%

eBucks changes


Private Wealth: down 36% to 80% (and from unlimited to 36)

eBucks Private Wealth

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