3 Airline Stocks With Long Runways Ahead

These companies are poised for a revenue bump as travel rebounds

Vikram Barhat 23 March, 2022 | 4:28AM
Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Jet and blue sky

Travel demand is rebounding as two years of COVID-19-induced mobility restrictions and health concerns ease up globally. This presents a sunny outlook for airlines, an industry battered by the fallout of the pandemic.

Leading North American airlines are seeing a spike in booking activity based on factors including pent-up demand, “revenge travel” and consumers’ willingness to shrug off soaring jet fuel prices in the wake of sanctions on Russia, a major oil producer.

These trends point to a multi-year growth for the travel and tourism sector. Investors may want to take a close look at the following undervalued airline stocks in the Morningstar coverage universe.

Canada’s largest airline, Air Canada (AC) serves nearly 50 million passengers each year together with its regional partners. The carrier is a sixth freedom airline, similar to Gulf carriers, which flies many U.S. nationals on long-haul trips with a layover in Canada. It racked up $19 billion in revenue in 2019 before the pandemic hit operations and dragged revenue down to $6 billion in 2020.

The Canadian flag carrier is internationally focused with only about 22% of 2019 capacity was utilized for domestic Canadian flights.

“We’re anticipating a short-haul leisure-led recovery, and think that Air Canada’s low-cost carrier, Rouge, will continue providing a low-cost product that effectively competes against [rivals],” says a Morningstar equity report.

The company’s long-haul leisure traffic is contingent on the global distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and “will keep capacity lower for longer until international travel demand returns,” says Morningstar equity analyst Burkett Huey, pointing out that Air Canada came into the COVID-19 crisis in better financial shape than many U.S.-based peers.

The pandemic has been airlines’ sharpest demand shock in history. However, border reopenings offer Air Canada a pathway for recovery.

Management intends to fly about 66% of 2019 first-quarter available seat miles during the first quarter 2022. “The firm will finally be able to redeploy long-haul capacity at some scale in 2022,” asserts Huey who puts the stock’s fair value at $28.

The carrier’s frequent flier program, Aeroplan, which it reacquired in 2019, has been popular with frequent fliers and “provides a high-margin income stream to the airline,” Huey says.


Delta Air Lines (DAL) is one of the world's largest airlines. Its network spans to more than 300 destinations across more than 50 countries. Delta operates a hub-and-spoke system network, where it gathers and distributes passengers across the globe through key locations such as Atlanta, New York, Salt Lake City, Detroit, Seattle, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

“Delta is the highest-quality legacy carrier because it has been able to attract high-yielding business travellers through its product segmentation and credit card partnerships, primarily with American Express,” says a Morningstar equity report.

Delta-cobranded cards alone account for about a fifth of American Express’ loan book.

The legacy airline’s five-cabin segmentation strategy allows high-spending travellers to purchase premium options. “Frequently, business travellers use miles from a cobranded credit card to upgrade flights when their company is unwilling to pay a premium price,” says Huey, noting “Delta can continue expanding this higher-margin business after the pandemic.”

Delta will continue to target high-yielding business travellers, even though the market may remain difficult for the time being, he adds.

Huey forecasts a full recovery in capacity and an 80%-90% recovery in business travel that subsequently grows at GDP levels over the medium term. “We think that Delta is well positioned to withstand the pandemic, but its strategy of extracting value from business travellers will be challenging in a lower-fare environment,” says Huey recently lifted the stock’s fair value from US$54.50 to US$57, prompted by the pace of the recovery in air traffic and midcycle operating margin.


The largest domestic carrier in the U.S., Southwest Airlines (LUV) operates over 700 aircraft in an all-Boeing 737 fleet. Despite expanding into longer routes and business travel, the airline still specializes in short-haul leisure flights, using a point-to-point network. 

“Southwest’s customer-friendly tactics benefit the firm by providing the closest thing to a brand asset in the airline industry,” says a Morningstar equity report.

More than 85% of Southwest's sales are through its own distribution channel, while other carriers have a higher reliance on third-party distributors to earn customers.

In the leisure market, Southwest will have to contend with competition from ultra-low-cost carriers, “but we think that Southwest's customer-friendly tactics allow it to target higher-income demographics,” says Huey, who expects commercial aviation to recover on the back of leisure travel, “reflecting customers' greater willingness to visit friends and family and go on vacation in a pandemic than to travel for business.”

That said, Southwest is also courting higher-yielding business travellers to support growth. A structural lack of transoceanic routes and premium options may limit Southwest's ability to attract the highest-yielding business travellers, but the airline’s “focus on providing low fares and its relatively new global distribution system, which enables bulk purchases of reservations, ought to allow it to take business travel share while business travellers are looking to cut costs,” argues Huey, who recently raised the stock’s fair value from US$63 to US$65, prompted by a rebound in air traffic.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Securities Mentioned in Article

Security NamePriceChange (%)Morningstar Rating
Air Canada Class B17.61 CAD-2.92Rating
Delta Air Lines Inc49.90 USD-0.76Rating
Southwest Airlines Co25.51 USD-3.81Rating

About Author

Vikram Barhat

Vikram Barhat  A Toronto-based financial writer specializing in investing, stock markets, personal finance and other areas of the financial services industry, Vikram also writes for CNBC, BBC, The Globe and Mail, and Toronto Star.

© Copyright 2024 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved.

Terms of Use        Privacy Policy       Disclosures        Accessibility