On March 20, Aloha Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It's Aloha's second time in bankruptcy, and there's a real possibility that this is the beginning of the end for the Hawaiian carrier. The prospect of Aloha being grounded for good unnerves members of the airline's AlohaPass frequent flyer program. And it should.
In the five-year period between 2002 and 2007, when many of the major carriers were in or on the brink of bankruptcy, I found myself reassuring jittery mileage collectors that their miles would almost certainly survive, even if the airline which issued those miles disappeared. That was because a major airline's frequent flyer database is a valuable marketing asset, which other airlines would be happy to acquire in the event of another carrier's demise.
But Aloha's AlohaPass program is much smaller, and therefore less desirable. And because it's so Hawaii-focused, very few airlines would be interested in acquiring the program and shifting AlohaPass members into their own programs.
In other words, if Aloha fails, AlohaPass members could be left empty-handed. Which raises the question: What should AlohaPass members do with their accumulated miles?
For those who think Aloha's prospects are bleak, or who are risk-averse, the only way to ensure that their miles are not lost is to redeem them while Aloha remains in business.
Compared to those of larger airlines' programs, redemption options for AlohaPass members are limited.
For air travel, miles can be used for free trips on United or Island Air (a small carrier flying among the Hawaiian Islands).
Miles can also be redeemed for car rentals and hotel stays, but almost exclusively within Hawaii.
And for those who are not interested in travel awards, there's a range of Aloha-branded merchandise—caps, bags, and the like—available for miles as well.
Should Aloha go the way of Pan Am and TWA, such items could only increase in value—scarce mementos of a time when Aloha and Hawaiian Airlines were the Aloha State's main carriers.