Continental, Delta, Northwest Alliance Starts Up

Continental, Delta, Northwest Alliance Starts Up

Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines have announced that members of the three airlines frequent flyer programs will be able to take advantage of new program and lounge benefits starting back on June 18.

Among other benefits, members will be able to take advantage of reciprocal mileage, and elite members of the OnePass, SkyMiles and WorldPerks programs will be able to use the airport lounges of the other airlines.

These changes are the first step in a multi-phase implementation.

The alliance, which was originally proposed in August of 2002, was initially held up by Department of Transportation objections. After some concessions were made by the three carriers, the DOT announced it would not seek to block the implementation of the agreement, provided the airlines met with certain conditions, generally relating to competitive concerns. The carriers initially rejected the conditions, and announced they planned to move forward regardless of the DOT’s order. When DOT indicated that it would seek an enforcement action as a result, the carriers entered into informal discussions with the Department, until a new proposal was submitted to the DOT in February. On March 31, the proposal was accepted, again with conditions.

Members of the airlines’ respective frequent flyer programs will be able to earn miles on flights operated by any of the three carriers including flights operated by Continental, Continental Express, Continental Micronesia; Delta, Delta Express, Delta Shuttle and Delta Connection Carriers including ASA, Comair, ACA, SkyWest and Chautauqua; Northwest and Northwest Airlink partner airlines Pinnacle Airlines and Mesaba Airlines. (Delta’s Song and Delta Connection flights operated by American Eagle are not included under the terms of this program, but remain eligible for Delta SkyMiles accrual).

Frequent flyers of the three carriers can earn miles while traveling on any of the three airlines’ worldwide route networks, regardless of whether the flight is a codeshare.

Elite members will gain access to elite member check-in counters, priority boarding on all Continental, Delta and Northwest-operated flights, elite-tier bonuses for Silver, Gold and Platinum members and elite-status qualification mileage accrual.

Of course, the question on the lips of elite members of each program is, “How will Delta’s unique elite qualification system be integrated with the elite qualification standards of both Continental and Northwest?”

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the answer can be summed up in three words — Lowest Common Denominator.

For SkyMiles Medallion members, nothing much changes. They are still subject to the Medallion Qualification Mile criteria when traveling on Delta, and the qualification criteria will also be extended to flights on both Continental and Northwest (see the chart on the Delta Web site for details).

OnePass and WorldPerks elite members will also earn the same elite qualification miles they are accustomed to when traveling on either Continental or Northwest. But, when traveling on Delta flights they will be subject to the more restrictive Medallion qualification criteria — meaning discounted coach fares will only earn .5 qualifying miles, and some fares will earn zero qualifying miles. More details can be found on each airline’s Web site.

This is a glaring fault in an otherwise very positive alliance. While the vast majority of members of each program will enjoy a much larger network on which they can earn miles, elite members of both OnePass and WorldPerks are, in effect, limited in their ability to take advantage of the expanded network — at least when traveling in discounted coach.

Members of the airlines’ airport lounge programs will have access to each other’s worldwide facilities. The three carriers offer customers 94 lounges in 49 cities around the world.

Delta Crown Room Club members entering any of the Continental Presidents Clubs and Northwest WorldClubs lounges will need to present their same-day ticket or boarding pass on the carrier whose lounge is being accessed, their club membership card and government issued identification at the front desk. The same provisions apply to Continental and Northwest lounge members entering a Delta Crown Room Club. Presidents Club and WorldClubs members will continue to have full access to each club’s facilities without restriction.

In a conference call with reporters, executives from each of the three airlines emphasized that the alliance would not negatively impact consumers. Delta Senior Vice President, Alliances and International, Paul Matsen said, “The three carriers will continue to operate independently, and compete vigorously.”

Earlier reports had suggested that the implementation of the alliance had been stalled by concerns raised by airline partners, notably Holland’s KLM. The Dutch airline is currently in talks with a number of European airlines to determine its partnership future, and its current relationships with both Northwest and Continental remain unaffected at present.

“KLM is talking to a number of European airlines,” said Delta’s Doug Birdsall, Senior Vice President Alliances. “At the moment, KLM does not have a formal role in this alliance. I shouldn’t say they have plans, but they are discussing options. If they were to come to an agreement, then we would be putting together something to provide cooperation between U.S. carriers and all those European carriers.”

Further implementation of the plan, including reciprocal redemption, is slated to occur later this year, though no specific date was disclosed.

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