Jun 15, 2020 - Economy

United Airlines mortgages its MileagePlus loyalty program to borrow $5 billion

Photo: Joshua Lott/AFP via Getty Images

United Airlines said Monday that it secured a $5 billion loan using its MileagePlus loyalty program as collateral and has other assets to pledge if it decides to tap another $4.5 billion from taxpayers to weather the coronavirus crisis.

Why it matters: While officials at the Chicago-based airline said there's early evidence of a modest rebound in air travel, their goal is to build a $17 billion cash cushion by the end of the third quarter — three times their normal liquidity balance.

Details: The MileagePlus loyalty program is one of United's most valuable assets, spinning off $5.3 billion in cash and $1.8 billion in EBITDA profit each year, and is worth an estimated $20 billion, according to company officials.

  • The revenue comes as consumers redeem frequent-flier miles for trips, credit card purchases, hotels, car rentals and other items from United's non-airline partners.
  • While some bankrupt airlines have used their frequent-flier programs as collateral to obtain financing in the past, United said its deal is uniquely structured so it will not give up any operating control — or equity — to its lenders.
  • Goldman Sachs, Barclays Bank and Morgan Stanley are providing the loan.

What to watch: United says it has other collateral such as airport gates, slots and routes to secure a future $4.5 billion Treasury loan, should it need to under the CARES Act.

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