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What Happened to My Bonus Miles?

Dear Tim—

I am hoping perhaps you can help us work with Delta/Northwest in regard to a frequent flyer promotion.

In September 2009, Northwest offered a Europe bonus miles program. We registered our frequent flyer numbers for it as we were planning a trip to Rome. The promotion stated that we would earn 10,000 bonus miles each for the new non-stop route from Detroit to Rome. We were attracted to this promotion because of the miles and for the opportunity to fly nonstop. We live in Minneapolis and drove 12 hours to Detroit to take this flight.

Upon our return, we noticed that we were still not credited with our bonus miles. I called Northwest/Delta Skymiles and asked when we would be credited. We were told we would not be credited because only Northwest/Delta operated flights were eligible for award bonus travel. Our email confirmation from Northwest states: Flight: KL 6050/*NW 50 (*Operated by Northwest Airlines).

When we got to the airport, we boarded a Delta plane.

Since December, I have called several times inquiring about these additional miles. I was told originally back in December that we would not be credited with the miles because the flight number had KLM attached to it. I disputed this and was told we would be receiving the miles and it would take about one to two weeks to receive them. After still not having received the miles, I called last week and spoke with someone who blamed the merger and said she would expedite the request and that it would be 72 hours for the miles to be credited. Today, I still did not receive the miles. So I called again, spoke to two agents and a manager and was told my case was denied, that there was nothing in the records to show we were promised miles, and that we would not be receiving the bonus miles at all.

Do you think you can help us with this issue? This is misleading on the airline’s part. We booked the tickets through Northwest, thought we were doing everything right to get these miles only to find that their own internal bureaucracy denied us.


Dear Jennifer—

That’s quite a runaround! And I’m sure the havoc caused by the merger of Delta and Northwest further compounded the difficulty in getting the matter clarified and resolved.

If I’m following the rather convoluted storyline correctly, you booked your trip with Northwest and ended up flying on a Delta plane.

If you’d been flying on either a Delta or a Northwest ticket, you would have been eligible for the bonus miles. (The landing page for the promotion clearly shows that both Delta and Northwest flights were eligible for the bonus miles.)

But there’s a third ingredient in this murky stew that I think caused the problem. According to your note, your flight (KL6050) was technically a KLM flight, originally scheduled to be operated by Northwest (NW50), but ultimately operated by Delta instead.

What’s Going On Here?

At the nub of this problem is codesharing.

In your case, KLM sold seats on a plane flown by Delta—the two airlines shared flight codes on the same aircraft.

Codesharing has a checkered history precisely because consumers often find themselves flying on Airline X when they thought they’d booked a flight on Airline Y. While the airlines are required to make a token effort to disclose which airline will actually operate the flight (fly the plane, that is), such disclosures often go unseen or uncomprehended.

In some cases, it doesn’t much matter. Most airlines are more or less interchangeable. But in a situation like this, where there are significant frequent flyer miles at stake, it makes all the difference which airline’s code is on the ticket.

What Can You Do?

If my diagnosis is correct, and the bonus was withheld because KLM-ticketed flights were not eligible for the promotion, your only recourse is to fully explain what happened and throw yourself on Delta’s mercy.

Clearly, you thought you were complying with the terms of the offer. And there is a long history of consumers being confused by codeshares. In my view, airlines share some responsibility for that confusion as it’s partly a communications failure on their part.

So as a matter of good will and simple fairness, Delta should award you bonus miles for your Rome trip. Or so says this travel writer.

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