The crisis at Japan Airlines has indirectly introduced a lot of people to the fairly common practice of kabunushi yutai, meaning “privileges for stockholders.” The practice seems to be unique to Japanese corporations, which give special treatment to shareholders when there are no dividends to distribute. If the company is a manufacturer, it may actually give away its products or discounts on its products. In the case of JAL, shareholders received coupons that could be used for discounts of up to 50 percent on air fares, tours, hotels and other JAL-related services.
In the past couple of weeks these stockholder coupons have become a hot commodity. Because they are given away to stockholders and, according to the government entity that is overseeing JAL’s rehabilitation, coupons “so far issued” will be honored, their sale value has gone up a bit at so-called ticket shops.
Ticket shops are those retail businesses that resell travel tickets, gift coupons, postage, or anything that has a face value. Usually, people who receive such coupons and tickets for free (either as gifts or premiums or even as part of their job) sell them to ticket shops at below their face value, and then the ticket shops resell them at a price just a bit below face value. It’s perfectly legal.
JAL shareholders seem to have a lot of these coupons since JAL hasn’t had too many profitable years since it went private in the 1980s, and so they have always sold these coupons to ticket shops. But until the media started paying attention to the possibility that the company would go bankrupt the average person didn’t know about them. According to one news show I saw, due to increased demand the average price of a single coupon has risen from about 2,500 yen to 3,300 yen in about a week’s time. Ticket shops tend to pay a little more than 1,000 yen to buy them now. It used to be about 2,000 yen, but it dropped when JAL’s share prices did.
If a lot of people suddenly use these coupons – and JAL will have to honor them – then it will be bad news for the airline, since they need all the money they can get. They can hardly afford to give 50 percent discounts to hordes of travelers.