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29 Apr 2020

From Nectar and Clubcard to Avios: how is lockdown affecting loyalty schemes?

Find out your options for spending points earned through the likes of Nectar, Boots Advantage Card and Virgin Atlantic during the coronavirus lockdown

Savvy spenders who take advantage of the various reward points schemes could have hundreds of pounds' worth saved up - but could the coronavirus crisis mean you'll lose them?

Lockdown measures mean those who have been saving points to spend on flights, hotels, cinema trips and meals at restaurants may be at a loss as to what to do with their points - or how to carry on collecting them.

Here, Which? explores the current status of five major loyalty points schemes, including Avios, Tesco Clubcard and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, and explain your options if you want to donate points that would otherwise go unused to charity.

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Are loyalty points schemes still running?

We spoke to the providers of Avios, Boots Advantage Card, Nectar, Tesco Clubcard and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. All schemes confirmed customers can still collect and spend points during lockdown.

Flight reward schemes

Avios points are classically earned through buying qualifying flights, hotel stays and car hire. But in lieu of booking and going on trips, you can also build up your points by spending on certain American Express credit cards, converting Tesco Clubcard points and subscribing to The Economist.

Virgin Atlantic points are still primarily earned by members booking flights with Virgin Atlantic.

Despite the vast majority of planes being grounded and many countries around the world being in lockdown, the airline has introduced 'spring bonus' special offers of extra points for those who book flights before 30 April.

It says there is 'good availability' for those booking with points, and a flexible no-charge policy if plans should change, with booking currently open up to 31 May 2022.

You can also earn Flying Club points by spending with retailers such as John Lewis, Apple and iTunes.

Retail reward schemes

Nectar told us customers can still collect points in the usual way, by shopping with the likes of Sainsbury's, Argos and eBay.

Similarly, Tesco Clubcard points can still be collected when spending in Tesco stores and petrol stations, with Tesco mobile, and with Tesco bank and credit card accounts.

Boots told us that shoppers can still accrue Advantage card points when they shop online, but that points may take up to five days after the order has been dispatched to be credited to your account.

Can I still spend my loyalty points?

You can still spend with all of the loyalty points schemes we spoke to - but perhaps not in the way you might want to.

For instance, Nectar collectors won't be able to spend their points with Vue cinemas or Caffe Nero branches due to enforced closures.

Nectar said it's still possible to spend points at Argos, Sainsbury's, eBay and Sky Store, and that points holders will be able to resume spending their points at closed businesses as soon as they have reopened.

Boots customers can spend their points in store as long as they are buying essential items. Otherwise, Advantage Card points can be used when shopping online.

Tesco Clubcard vouchers can still be used online and in Tesco stores.

Of course, reward partners such as restaurant chains, travel companies and amusement parks aren't currently open, but companies have told Which? that anyone who has ordered a voucher for one of these kinds of activities will automatically have an extra six months to redeem it.

Those wanting to spend airline reward points can still do so by booking flights, but be prepared for the possibility of having to reschedule if coronavirus is still disrupting flights.

Avios told us that people can also spend their points onhotels, car hire, experiences and wine.

However, at the time of writing, the Avios website said activities and experiences are currently unavailable 'due to the current global situation with COVID-19', and an 'unprecedented number of orders' for its wine meant this, too, was unavailable for spending points on.

Will my reward points expire if I don't spend them?

It is possible for points held in all of the reward schemes we've looked at here to expire. However, the good news is it takes a long time for that to happen and it's pretty easy to avoid.

Nectar points will only expire if your account isn't used for 12 months. You don't need to spend points; just collecting them when you shop will keep your account active.

Avios and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points expire after 36 months. That's three years of inactivity, which you can stave off by collecting, spending, sharing or buying at least one point.

Some schemes have also extended the expiry dates for some loyalty rewards.

Virgin Atlantic has extended the status for its gold and silver members by six months, along with the validity of companion, upgrade and Clubhouse vouchers.

Tesco Clubcard has extended the period in which customers can use their Reward Partner codes from six months to 12 months from the original order date.

Can I exchange loyalty points for cash?

None of the rewards schemes we spoke to offer the option of converting points to cash.

What happens to my loyalty points if companies fail?

While loyalty points are given a monetary value, the points are not backed up by banks or the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

Therefore, if a company you have loyalty points with goes into administration, you have no form of redress and are likely to lose any unused points, as well as products or services you have not yet received.

Could I give my points to charity instead of spending them?

While recent weeks have seen scores of fundraising activities, charities across the UK are pleading for extra donations.

Nectar is offering shoppers the opportunity to donate Nectar points to Comic Relief and BBC Children in Need's Big Night In appeal. It says it will match the value of all points donated, with proceeds split equally between Comic Relief and BBC Children in Need, going on to local charities and projects in the UK.

Virgin Atlantic says it is supporting WE, an international charity and educational partner that's helping in the coronavirus crisis by focusing on the education of young people out of school and the medical needs of those in developing countries.

Flying Club members can donate a minimum of 2,000 points - or miles - to the charity. It costs around £30 to buy 2,000 Flying Club miles.

Alternatively, new platform For Good Causes is providing a way for those with other reward points to give to charity.

Brands currently signed up include BP, Quidco, Vodafone and Rakuten, along with many more. To convert your points to donations, go to the app or site you usually use to claim your rewards and click on the 'For Good Causes' logo.

You can donate to charities including NHS Trusts, Macmillan Cancer Support and The Trussell Trust; in fact there are 20,000 charities on the platform.

Which? Limited is an Introducer Appointed Representative of Which? Financial Services Limited, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FRN 527029). Which? Money Compare is a trading name of Which? Financial Services Limited.

Please note that the information in this article is for information purposes only and does not constitute advice. Please refer to the particular terms and conditions of a provider before committing to any financial products.