Midwest to Lose Delta, Its Largest Frequent Flyer Partner

Members of the frequent flyer programs of Midwest and Frontier are in limbo.

Republic, which now owns both airlines, has signaled its intent to merge them into a single carrier, with a single name and a single frequent flyer program. (On a light note: There's already a movement to save the Frontier name and iconic animal-themed tail art.)

It is expected that Republic will make an announcement in mid-April with more details of the consolidation of Midwest and Frontier. But whatever Republic's plan turns out to be, it will take a lot more than a strong brand name and a herd of cuddly animal mascots to keep an airline healthy and flying.

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As I suggested in another blog post, there are signs that Republic understands the key role that mileage programs play in maintaining customer loyalty, and will act accordingly.

But there's at least one development that will be widely perceived as a step in the wrong direction. This is from Delta's website, describing its frequent flyer partnership with Midwest: "Relationship Terminates June 7, 2010."

Those few words are big news, and bad news, for members of Midwest's Miles program.

While there's no similar caveat on Midwest's website, yet, my assumption was that the Delta-Midwest relationship was being reciprocally terminated. And that was confirmed this morning by Delta. So: Effective June 7, Midwest Miles members will no longer be able to earn or redeem miles for Delta flights.

For an anemic program like Midwest's, the loss of its largest earning and rewards partner is a severe body blow, if not a knockout punch.

What's behind the change?

So far, there's been no public comment from Republic, Midwest, or Delta. And there may never be. But we know that Frontier has a frequent flyer relationship with AirTran, Delta's arch-rival. Clearly, if Midwest and Frontier are merged, the program of the new airline could retain either AirTran or Delta, but not both.

For whatever reasons, it appears that either Republic has chosen AirTran over Delta; or Delta has opted out of a marketing partnership that will include Frontier.

In either case, all things being equal, a program with Delta's extensive flight network would be a larger, stronger program than one with AirTran's lesser contribution. So the loss of Delta is a negative for members of the current Midwest Miles program, and for members of the new program, when Midwest and Frontier are combined.

Action Items

In the short term, members of the Midwest Miles program who are interested in redeeming their miles for an award flight on Delta have until June 7 to make their award bookings. Once issued, award tickets will be valid for 12 months.

Longer term, it is almost certain that when the two airlines are merged, their programs will be as well, just as the programs of Delta and Northwest were combined when those two carriers merged. That means travelers with accounts in both programs would find themselves with a single account, in which all miles from both programs had been combined. That's actually a good thing—more miles in a single program should translate into more awards, and a better chance to earn elite status.

For travelers who are vested in either Midwest or Frontier's programs, this is very much a developing story. There may be further partner changes. And there may be action required to merge accounts and combine miles when the programs are consolidated.

The fact that there's no information regarding the upcoming Delta pull-out on Midwest's website doesn't speak well of Midwest's communications abilities. So during this transitional period, Midwest customers should stay tuned to a variety of sources for news and advice. Yes, including this blog.

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