Given the Foreign Office has now advised against all overseas travel, it’s likely cancelling holidays is further up people’s priorities than booking new ones.
But for those with bucketloads of Avios or American Express points who were intending on putting them towards flights, the news might leave them at a loss as to what to do with them.
While some may simply sit tight until the Covid-19 pandemic blows over and airlines return to normal service, there are other ways of using them.
But should you? This is Money looked at some of the options and asked one air miles expert to find out.
British Airways planes in Havana, Cuba, waiting to fly repatriate stranded passengers of the cruise ship MS Braemar. It’s likely people are thinking more about cancelling or getting home from holidays abroad than booking new ones
What are Avios points?
A quick reminder, Avios is the biggest air miles loyalty scheme in the world, operated by British Airways and partner airlines including Vueling, Iberia, Qantas and Qatar Airways.
Avios points are earned through general spending on certain credit cards, usually American Express ones, and other deals.
The points are most often swapped for reward flights, though as we’ll reveal, other alternatives are available.
It is hard to put a true valuation on one point, but experts often say to aim for 1p or above.
But as well as simply earning Avios points, other loyalty schemes including American Express reward points, HSBC reward points and even Tesco Clubcard points can be converted into those air miles.
Will my Avios points disappear?
For people with big Avios balances they can’t currently put toward a holiday, many may be fretting that if the virus lasts for a long time that those points will disappear.
Luckily this is unlikely to be the case. British Airways told This is Money Avios points do not expire provided you spend or earn at least one point in 36 months.
This means if you continue to shop at the supermarket using an Avios-earning credit card, you will be fine.
We did ask a follow-up question about whether transfers from other loyalty schemes into Avios also counts as ‘earning’ but have yet to receive a response.
I have a reward flight booked this year already, can I get my points back?
Under BA’s ‘booking with confidence’ policy, customers due to travel before 31 May can change their destination, date of travel or both for free, or cancel in exchange for a voucher. This goes for all flights.
Someone who booked a reward flight would therefore receive a voucher for another reward flight in the future equivalent to how many points and money they spent, though they won’t get the points back.
If they wanted to go somewhere further away, they would have to pay the difference, either in points or cash.
Passengers from the Covid-19-stricken Braemar cruise ship return to Heathrow Airport in London
For bookings after the end of May, BA’s standard fees apply. To cancel a reward flight, it costs £35 for an ‘Avios redeposit’, while BA also levies an additional £15 ‘service centre fee for date/time changes, cancellation and Avios redeposit’.
You can find a full list of reward flight booking and service fees here.
You will never get a great deal with a non-flight redemption from a frequent flyer scheme because it costs the scheme real money.
Rob Burgess, editor of frequent flyer website Head for Points
But: Rob Burgess, editor of frequent flyer website Head for Points, cautioned against rushing to claim a refund in the form of a voucher.
This is not because BA or its parent company IAG are in danger of going bust, but because you could potentially get cash.
He said: ‘If your flight is cancelled, you are entitled to a full refund in cash’, rather than vouchers.
‘Unless you are travelling in the next 4-5 days, you might want to think about waiting in case you end up missing out on a full cash refund.’
IAG said its capacity could potentially be cut by 75 per cent in April and May.
What else could you spend it on?
Given they are reward points, it’s perhaps not surprising that even the alternative uses for Avios are geared toward holidays.
The other headline ways of using them are redeeming them for hotels, car hire with Avis and Budget, ‘experiences’, and bundles of wine, beer, champagne and spirits.
However, with the government quarantining people for the foreseeable future, it’s unlikely you’ll be looking to use points for hotels, experience or car hire, whether it is in the UK or abroad.
Wine: For those in quarantine after something to cheer them up, it’s almost certain which one of those they’re looking at.
The wine comes from Laithwaites, and you do not have to pay delivery costs.
Some of the most popular deals include six bottles of prosecco for 14,100 Avios, 12 bottles of Merlot for 20,100 and 12 bottles of white wine – including Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc for 18,500 points.
While not a direct grapes-to-grapes comparison, buying directly from Laithwaites would currently cost £53.94 for the prosecco, £95.88 for 12 bottles of Merlot, and £99.99 for 12 bottles of white wine.
Instead of reward flights, people can use their Avios points on beer, wine and spirits from Laithwaites. But one expert warned against this, and said it wasn’t good value
But should you?
However, Rob Burgess warned against using your points on some of these alternatives.
He said: ‘Assuming you don’t book a hotel on Avios for a stay over the next month, the only easy way to cash out Avios today, with 100 per cent certainty of receiving something, is to order a pile of wine.
It’s a terrible deal though, as is redeeming Avios for hotels or car hire. You are getting around 0.5p per point.
‘You will never get a great deal with a non-flight redemption from a frequent flyer scheme because it costs the scheme real money.’
He added bluntly: ‘I’m not bailing out of my points balances.’
Can I donate the points to charity?
This is Money did ask BA if it was considering allowing people to give the points to charity under the current circumstances, but it said this was not the case.
That’s a lot of loo roll…
We mentioned American Express points, which can be transferred into Avios points at a ratio of 1:1, at the top of this article.
Those on the hunt for points, even if they don’t plan on spending them, might also be pleased to know Amex has doubled the sign-up bonus on its Preferred Rewards Gold Credit Card until 29 June.
The card, already considered one of the best around for earning air miles as you receive one point for every £1 you spend, will give you 20,000 points when you spend £3,000 in the first three months of having it.
Golden ticket: American Express’ Preferred Rewards Gold Credit Card comes with a number of spending bonuses which offer enough air miles for a holiday on their own
It comes with a £140 fee after the free first year, and an APR of 57.6 per cent. You can only get the bonus if you haven’t held an Amex card for 24 months.
As well as turning Amex points into air miles, they can also be used for hotel bookings in their own right through Amex, and gift cards.
Partner shops include Currys PC World, Waterstones, Costco, Amazon and Marks & Spencer. Those 20,000 points would get you £100 gift cards at Amazon, Costco, Currys PC World and M&S, which would buy an awful lot of loo roll.
American Express points can be put towards retail gift cards
But Burgess again cautioned: ‘Travel rewards remain a better deal than Amazon vouchers.
‘However, Amex isn’t going bust so there is no need to panic over those.
‘Anyone who is closing an Amex card and who needs to empty out their points may need to think more carefully.
‘If someone was thinking of, say, cancelling a Platinum card because the £575 annual fee is no longer justified due to not using the travel benefits, the Amex Rewards card is a free card which would keep a Membership Rewards account alive.’
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