As protection against an airline's suddenly disappearing from the scene -- as did Midway, Pan Am, and TWA over the past several months -- and taking your accumulated free trips with it, a new form of travelers' insurance guarantees repayment. (This new insurance covers more than traditional travelers' insurance does: normally, tickets obtained through frequent-flier bonuses do not qualify for accidental death and dismemberment coverage.) For $79 a year per individual, Frequent Flyer Club (FFC), based in Colorado Springs, Colo., guarantees it will redeem worthless bonuses from most domestic carriers and certain hotels and charge-card companies. Backed by a $250-million reimbursement plan from London underwriters, FFC, through its Award-Guard Plan (800-487-8893), converts the defaulted bonus into any award proffered by the original plan, paying for tickets and other accommodations outright as necessary to fulfill the terms.

Since the average traveler can easily spend $10,000 retail per airline per year, paying less than 1% each year to secure the bonus may well be worth it -- especially these days. Among other airlines facing the prospect of collapse, according to FFC founder Randy Petersen, are America West and Continental. By comforting fliers, five-year-old FFC may be helping such troubled lines stay aloft a bit longer. Before, as soon as big-mileage travelers sensed their favorite carrier was in trouble, they would switch allegiances. Now, says Petersen, they won't have to worry. -- Robert A. Mamis

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