Alaska Airlines owes some serious cash to its customers. The airline revealed to investors last week that it owes somewhere between $500 million and $600 million in travel credits to customers. That's about 10 times more than the airline typically owes at any given time. The big question is how and when customers will use vouchers as we move into a post-COVID travel atmosphere.
The big problem for Alaska Airlines is that it can be difficult to estimate revenue when such a large number of future tickets will be credit tickets. What's interesting is that a quick increase in demand for travel could actually harm Alaska's bottom line. That's because many people with travel credits may be eager to fly as quickly as possible this summer. That could hurt summer revenue because Alaska will be running flights to accommodate more travelers without necessarily bringing in more money. There's also worry that an increase in demand could harm fall revenues.
What we're seeing with Alaska Airlines has implications for the entire airline market. That's because most other major carriers are in similar positions. However, there's no way to know the specific numbers involved. The regular supply-and-demand flow of the airline world could be majorly disrupted if a large number of summer tickets used are credit tickets. That's because airlines might not want to discount tickets if a large portion of customers are using travel credits. In fact, they are almost incentivized to keep prices high. Lower prices this summer could mean that a person flying on a travel credit from January could actually use the credit to purchase two trips.