In an announcement Monday morning, United Airlines Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ: UAL) said that the company has received committed financing of $5 billion, backed by its MileagePlus loyalty program, and that it expects to receive $4.5 billion as a loan under the provisions of the federal CARES Act. United expects to have available liquidity of around $17 billion by the end of the third quarter.
The airline in May gave up on issuing some $2.5 billion in non-investment grade debt (junk) but still requires an infusion of liquidity to “provide even more flexibility as the airline navigates the most disruptive financial crisis in the history of aviation.”
While it would seem that the loyalty program would be a liability on the airline’s accounts, the airline sells the miles to credit card companies and other non-airline partners under contracts that extend for up to nine years, according to United’s 2019 annual report. MileagePlus awards accounted for 7.2% of United’s total revenue passenger miles last year.
At the end of December, United’s frequent flyer deferred revenue liability totaled $5.3 billion. The value is “attributed to the miles earned or sold and deferred until the miles are redeemed and air travel is completed, or non-air awards are shipped.” At the end of March, the deferred revenue liability had increased to $5.5 billion.
United said it has enough collateral based on its airport slots and gates and its routes to meet the collateral coverage for the $4.5 billion CARES Act loan. The company has not committed to taking the loan yet.
Passenger traffic dropped by around 90% last month, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects 2020 spending on air transport to fall by 50% year over year as the number of passengers falls by nearly 51%. Passenger flight revenues are forecast to drop by nearly 55% and cargo flight revenues are expected to decline by nearly 17% in 2020.
United’s announcement shaved about 3.8% for its share price Monday morning. The stock traded at around $38.16, in a 52-week range of $17.80 to $96.03.
At the end of the first quarter, Delta reported selling $992 million in SkyMiles rewards and ended the quarter with a balance of $6.2 billion loyalty program liability. American reported a balance of $8.9 billion in loyalty program liability at the end of the first quarter, after recognizing $651 million in revenue from the program.