Accounting for Airline Frequent Flyer Programs: Management Incentives and Financial Reporting Impacts

8715 WordsJun 11, 201335 Pages
ACCOUNTING FOR AIRLINE FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMS: MANAGEMENT INCENTIVES AND FINANCIAL REPORTING IMPACTS May 2012 Brian J. Franklin, BBA Accounting ‘12, College of Business and Public Policy, University of Alaska Anchorage, 3211 Providence Drive, Anchorage, AK 99508, 907-268-4233 Ext. 401, bfranklin@frontiertutoring.com ABSTRACT The obligation to provide free or reduced-fare travel to passengers who redeem their accrued frequent flyer program (FFP) benefits represents a significant liability on every major U.S. airline’s balance sheet. Major U.S. airlines employ one of two methods to account for the liabilities they incur when issuing mileage credits to traveling passengers. The Deferred Revenue Method recognizes a liability for the fair…show more content…
CNBC estimated that over 15 trillion frequent flyer miles were outstanding as of May 2011 (Whitman, 2011). Today, major U.S. airlines employ one of two methods to account for FFP liabilities for mileage credits earned by paying passengers: either the Deferred Revenue Method or the Incremental Cost Method. The Deferred Revenue Method recognizes a liability for the fair value of the outstanding mileage credits (with “fair value” defined under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) as “the amount for which the award credits could be sold separately”) (KPMG, 2008). The Incremental Cost Method recognizes a liability for the marginal cost of providing air transportation to eligible award passengers (i.e. the cost of taxes, fuel, food, etc. to fly one additional passenger on a seat that otherwise would have been empty—generally a nominal amount). Incremental cost accounting has been subject to scrutiny several times throughout the history of FFPs. Within the past few years airlines have reduced seating capacity due to high fuel prices and weaker travel demand during the global economic recession, causing flights to be fuller on average and increasing the chance that, for any given seat, a passenger flying on redeemed frequent flyer miles could displace a fare-paying passenger (notwithstanding the fact that many airlines limit the number of seats eligible to be reserved using FFP

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