Like most travellers, you're probably sitting on a stash of frequent flyer points. You've amassed them on your travels, and through strategic shopping and credit card spending on the ground. You're saving them for an upgrade on that next flight, or to book that long-awaited holiday.
But what happens to all your points if the airline behind that frequent flyer scheme goes belly-up?
As airlines around the world fight for survival against the coronavirus pandemic, which is set to cost them close to $500 billion in lost ticket sales this year, their now-grounded passengers have an understandable concern about the fate of their points should their favourite airline collapse.
It's an issue brought into sharp focus by the ongoing struggles of Virgin Australia, which is seeking a billion-dollar government bailout and – failing a fresh investment surge or a contentious debt-for-equity swap – could enter voluntary administration without that lifeline.
Update: Virgin Australia's administrator says the Velocity Frequent Flyer program will not be sold off "as an individual asset", and will instead be offered to Virgin's new owner as part of the overall airline deal.
Why this isn't Ansett all over again
Many Australians retain raw memories of the sudden collapse of Ansett in September 2001, which rendered worthless the airline's Global Rewards points. But Virgin's Velocity Frequent Flyer will likely present a very different scenario for its ten million members, says loyalty program expert Phil Gunter.
"19 years ago the frequent flyer schemes and the loyalty industry were very, very different, and in fact many companies looked at what happened with Ansett and tried to put more protections in place for members."
Today's model typically sees loyalty programs run as a seperate business within the airline, rather than just another division on par with the likes of human resources or finance.
How airlines can make money without flying
And it's a highly profitable business, with many airlines making as much or more money from their points machine than from flying.
In the case of Virgin Australia, for the July-December 2019 period its Velocity arm recorded higher pre-tax earnings ($68.9m) than the airline's entire domestic and international flying ($66m).
This makes an airline's loyalty business a solid asset in its own right, and one which an administrator can readily sell to raise much-needed funds.
"Frequent flyer programs are a major asset," explains Gunter, who helmed Velocity from 2006 to 2013. "There's two sides to it. One is the ability to generate cash, although there would be some impact of not being owned by an airline anymore."
"The other is the fact that it's a large, high-quality database. Virgin and Qantas both have colossal databases – each almost half of Australia. So there’s definitely value in a frequent flyer program, and if an airline went into administration, I would assume they would be looking to gain value from that asset."
The points held in members accounts would be handed over to the new owners of a loyalty scheme, so they don't vanish.
But they can be devalued by losing some of their purchasing power when it comes to turning those points into a 'reward', be it an airplane ticket or a toaster. "The value of the points is directly related to the rewards," Gunter says.
So what might happen to the Velocity program, and your Velocity points, if Virgin Australia went into administration?
"Well first of all, I hope that doesn't happen because I'm a big Virgin Australia fan," Gunter admits.
"But if the worst happens and Virgin Australia didn’t survive the current crisis," Velocity could find a new home with a large-scale retailer such as Coles.
"If for example Coles picked Velocity up, I would assume it would work with other partners to enhance the travel-based rewards. Coles could keep Velocity as a separate program to its own Flybuys program, or they could merge it with Flybuys, but almost certainly they'd be looking to add some travel-based rewards."
A bank would be another contender, Gunter suggests. "50% of frequent flyer points globally are issued through credit cards, so banks could be very interested in Velocity."
"If I had to rank best-fit buyers, the supermarkets and the banks would be most interested. Those guys are still making money and could potentially take it on."
In any of those scenarios, frequent flyer points wouldn't disappear in a puff of smoke, but they could prove far less valuable under their new owners.