Troubled Major Airline Offers Free Travel Instead of Interest Payments to Investors

I’ve previously suggested that frequent flyer executives have their compensation paid out in airline miles. Then their incentives would be aligned with their customers to support the value of the currency.

Do you think airline employees would accept their pay in travel vouchers?* If not then why should investors?

HNA Group, formed out of Hainan Airlines, was one of the highest flying of Chinese investment firms going on acquisition sprees – mostly in the travel space – all over the world. Their empire included:

  • At least a portion of Chinese airlines such as Beijing Capital Airlines; Fuzhou Airlines; Hainan Airlines; HK Express; Hong Kong Airlines; Lucky Air; Tianjin Airlines; and Urumqi Air

  • Stakes in international airlines such as Azul, Comair, TAP Air Portugal, and a pending acquisition of an equity stake in Virgin Australia

  • Interests in NH Hotels, Red Lion Hotels, Carlson Hotels, Swissport, ICE – International Currency Exchange, and Rio de Janeiro–Galeão International Airport

  • Airline caterers Gate Group and Servair

  • The largest ownership stake in Hilton

Mainland China cut off access to cheap loans last year as part of a crackdown on ‘irrational outbound investment’ which is also related to a crackdown on corruption and a desire to stem capital flight.

Facing challenges servicing debts and even paying for fuel and under pressure from the Chinese government, HNA has been selling off assets and deleveraging.

They’re clearly not out of the woods, though. They missed a $43 million debt payment in September and now a financing arm of HNA Group is offering travel vouchers instead of cash to repay its investors, who can claim tickets on Hainan Airlines or Grand China Air valid for (the later of) five years (or bankruptcy).

This all makes me wonder, at least a little, whether the Hong Kong Airlines business class mistake fare from August was really just a way to raise cash from travelers fast, and of course whether or not those are good for travel later is something to worry about in the future. That’s after all more or less how US airlines ran fare sales a decade ago during the Great Recession.

(* Of course airline employees already accept some pay in the form of free or discounted travel, the benefits of any job are a part of total compensation.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Gary: “If not then why should investors?”
    Carl Icahn accepted travel vouchers on TWA. So, yes, depends on the rate of exchange.

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