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While demand for air travel continues to grow around the globe, a number of major international airlines are in precarious financial situations. Loyalty Lobby reported early last week that Colombian flag carrier Avianca posed a $68 million loss for the first quarter of 2019, causing Avianca’s debt to trade at distressed levels.
Avianca has $550 million in bonds due in May of 2020, which are now yielding 18.6%, up from 9.7% at the start of the month. Yields rise as prices fall, meaning that the sharp jump in yield is due to investors selling off Avianca’s debt. Avianca stock is currently trading at just above $3 per share, down more than 80% from an all-time high of $18.33 per share in 2014. This makes Avianca both the worst performing Colombian stock and the worst performing Latin American airline this year, according to Bloomberg.
This poor financial performance has caused Avianca to shift its focus from growth to sustainability. Reuters reported that Avianca had reached an agreement with Airbus to cancel an order for 17 A320 NEOs and defer delivery on another 35 aircraft, saving $2.6 billion between 2020 and 2022.
Earlier this year, Avianca’s majority shareholder breached the terms of a loan agreement with United Airlines. While the two airlines are actively negotiating joint ventures along with Panama’s Copa Airlines to try and expand the reach of Star Alliance into Latin America, this opens the door to the possibility of United taking over Avianca should its position further deteriorate. It’s thought to be unlikely that a major international airline like Avianca would simply cease operations the way WOW air and Primera Air did recently. Instead, a takeover or new round of financing seem more likely.
It’s worth noting that Avianca Brazil filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. While both airlines are owned by the same investment group (the one that violated the terms of its loans with United), they were separate entities so the bankruptcy shouldn’t affect Avianca’s operations.
Avianca’s LifeMiles frequent flyer program used to be a relatively obscure program known only to the points and miles pros, but it’s recently gained a lot of mainstream popularity after both Capital One and American Express added it as a transfer partner. Avianca also frequently sells miles at steep discounts, making LifeMiles some of the easiest points to earn. LifeMiles is one of the most valuable Star Alliance loyalty programs, whether you’re looking for long-haul premium cabin awards with no fuel surcharges tacked on, discounts on mixed-cabin itineraries, or even domestic flights on United.
In recent days, Avianca has even begun to extend deep discounts on economy awards for select routes. There’s been no announcement of a formal change to the award chart and this doesn’t appear to be dynamic pricing either, but while we wait for some clarity on what is actually happening, check out TPG editor Nick Ewen’s post on how to book United awards for as little as 3,500 miles each way.
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