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Delta Bulks Up With Acquisition of Northwest’s Mileage Program

SmarterTravel

In the early morning hours of October 1, Northwest Airlines pulled the plug on its frequent flyer program. After a 23-year run, the WorldPerks program had issued its last frequent flyer mile and become a footnote in the history of commercial aviation.

WorldPerks wasn’t the first airline loyalty program, or the most innovative. But over the years, it played its part in the evolution of mileage program to the massive marketing schemes they’ve become.

It was WorldPerks, in conjunction with MCI, that first offered frequent flyer miles for phone service, in June 1988. Miles-for-dining were first offered by WorldPerks, in March 1993.

Although Northwest wasn’t the first to allow members to combine frequent flyer miles and cash, their periodic Miles and Cash promotions helped establish the practice as an industry standard.

And while, again, the original concept wasn’t Northwest’s, WorldPerks has been a leader in deploying multi-partner promotions, such as “Miles to Go” and “Mountains of Miles.” (Although these promotions had their fans, some, myself included, found them annoyingly convoluted.)

Northwest Miles Transferred to Delta

WorldPerks may be gone, but WorldPerks members’ miles live on.

As former members of that program should know, all their miles have already been transferred to Delta, or will be by the end of October. Depending on their situation, WorldPerks members will experience one of the following three consolidation scenarios:

  • 1. WorldPerks members who were not already members of the SkyMiles program will find that instead of a WorldPerks membership number, they now have a SkyMiles number. The number of miles—both redeemable miles and elite-qualifying miles—in their accounts will not have changed.
  • 2. WorldPerks members who also have SkyMiles accounts and already manually linked their accounts should now have a single account, with a SkyMiles membership number, combining the miles from both programs.
  • 3. Lastly, and potentially most problematically, WorldPerks members who also have SkyMiles accounts and did not manually link their accounts will find that their accounts have been merged automatically, provided the names and other contact information in the two accounts matched. However, if the account information did not match, the computerized merger process will be stymied, resulting in the creation of a second SkyMiles account. In that case, the member will have to manually consolidate the two accounts.

Even given Delta’s best intentions and the airline’s considerable technical wherewithal, there are bound to be glitches in such a massive project.

To this day, I still receive emails from members of TWA’s Aviators program, which was folded into American’s AAdvantage in late 2001. That’s in spite of the fact that American and TWA made a good-faith effort to seamlessly integrate the programs and continued honoring transfer requests for 18 months after the programs were officially merged.

Action Items for WorldPerks Members

There are several steps WorldPerks members should take to ensure that their miles are properly transferred to Delta and that they are positioned to get the most value from the SkyMiles program.

First and foremost, they should check to confirm that they do indeed have a single account, with a SkyMiles membership number, that includes all their Delta and Northwest miles, and correctly reflects their elite status.

Delta expects to complete the conversion process and notify customers by the end of October. Anyone who still has unresolved issues after that should contact Delta or Northwest by phone, using the contact numbers shown on his membership card.

While WorldPerks and SkyMiles are different programs, they have been brought into closer alignment in the run-up to the merger, so today they’re more alike than they are different. Still, a review of the SkyMiles program’s rules and policies would be appropriate for new members.

One major difference: Whereas Northwest miles expired after 36 months, Delta miles disappear if there’s no account activity for 24 months.

Another housekeeping tip: WorldPerks members who have elected to earn Northwest miles for stays in one or more hotel programs should be sure to change their account options to reflect a new choice.

Finally, there’s the matter of which program-affiliated credit card to consider. Former WorldPerks members who plan to earn Delta miles for charges will have to sign up for the American Express SkyMiles credit card, or another card that awards points that can be converted into Delta miles.

Consolidation Resources

Both Delta and Northwest have detailed FAQs on their websites addressing most of the questions that are likely to arise during the merger process.

The Future Belongs to Delta

Change is rarely painless, and there has been grumbling by some WorldPerks members who view the transition to Delta’s program as an involuntary downgrade.

One source of discontent is Delta’s shorter mileage-expiration policy, mentioned above. Another is the loss of PerkChoice—the ability to pay for half of a round-trip with cash and use miles to pay for the other half.

Encouragingly, however, Delta has shown some resolve in capitalizing on its new status as the world’s largest airline and operator of the largest airline loyalty program, backing up its promise that SkyMiles aspires to be nothing less than “Best in Class” with some real enhancements to the program, including, most recently, rollover elite miles.

While there are obvious differences between the two situations, there is one notable similarity between Delta’s absorption of Northwest’s program and American’s acquisition of TWA’s.

In both cases, there was consternation on the part of members of the programs being terminated. Ultimately, however, members of TWA’s program were comforted to find themselves participating in what was then the largest and one of the world’s most robust loyalty programs. When the smoke clears, members of Northwest’s program may find themselves feeling the same about their unplanned participation in Delta’s program.

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