American Airlines bankruptcy: Are your frequent flyer miles safe?

American Airlines is the latest in a long line of major U.S. airlines to seek bankruptcy protection. Indeed, it seems it was really just a matter of time; American was the last of the major carriers to have never filed for Chapter 11 protection. Some airlines have been through the process twice.

That's alarming news for folks holding the company's common stock, of course, but the bankruptcy potentially affects a lot more of us as well: Anyone holding frequent flyer miles. You might be wondering how your miles will be impacted.

The good news: In the short term, there will be essentially no change to your miles and your ability to redeem them. Just hours after the bankruptcy protection was announced, American sent an email to its customers assuring everyone that their miles were intact: "We want to assure you that your AAdvantage miles are secure."

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That said, Forbes thinks there might be some reason for concern -- specifically, current events might conspire to devalue your miles. Even if American continues to honor your accrued miles -- and there's every indication the company will, including the historical precedent of other airlines that have emerged from Chapter 11 -- American might throw up barriers to redeeming your miles.

And as you are well aware, frequent flyer miles are only as valuable as they are redeemable. As Forbes notes:

Several years ago, the airlines came up with a very creative way to have frequent flyers redeem more miles for "free" seats. They offered some seats with no restrictions called "Anytime" seats. But to get one of those seats, you had to pay twice as many miles as you did for a regular seat -- called a "PlanAhead" seat. In the post-bankruptcy era, one might expect to see the number of bargain PlanAhead seats decrease dramatically.

So, what should you do?

In a nutshell, spend your points. Use them on flights, if you can, or consider redeeming them for merchandise, benefits and services if possible. They still have all the value they had last week, for sure, as Forbes notes. But hording points for an indeterminate future could ultimately prove to be a costly error in judgment.