Frequent-flyer miles. Millions of loyalty program members have them. Trillions and trillions of them.
Meanwhile, the airlines carry those miles on their books as an outstanding liability. Delta, as an example, showed $4.4 billion in frequent-flyer-mile liability on its balance sheet in the most recent 10Q report. United's was $5.6 billion. Big numbers. And they're getting bigger.
It would therefore seem that frequent-flyer program members and the airlines that operate those programs have a common interest in readily available awards. That's why consumers sign up for the programs, after all. And the more miles those consumers cash in, the better the airlines' balance sheets look. Win-win.
But anyone who's tried to redeem their miles knows that award seats are harder than ever to come by.It's no mystery why. With the airlines running at more than 80 percent full year-round with paying passengers, there just aren't many empty seats left over for frequent flyers looking to redeem their miles, especially on more popular routes.
So the airlines have expanded their award catalogs to include everything from toasters to iPads to subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal.
But so far, those non-flights awards have been either lousy values or less than compelling, or both.
The newest wrinkle in the alt awards space comes from Aeromexico, which now allows members of its Club Premier program to use their miles (kilometers in this case) to play online games.
Club Premier members can play Premier Games for free, just for grins. But they can also pay to play for prizes. The currency used to buy into prize games is PremierCoins, which can be purchased for cash or for Club Premier miles.
Among the featured games are solitaire, mahjong, and gem swap. Prizes include air tickets, travel packages, event tickets, and consumer electronics.
As is the case with many of the non-flight awards featured in airline programs, Premier Games was developed by an outside company, Engage Play Technologies. You can be sure the company is in talks with U.S. airlines about incorporating similar redemption option in their programs.
This is not the solution to the problem of scarce award availability. But it might at least provide some harmless diversion while we're waiting for our award bookings to be confirmed.
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.