Northwest has announced changes to its program for 2005, and your reaction to them will likely depend on your focus as a WorldPerks member. Folks who primarily value the perks that come with elite status are pleased. Folks who simply look forward to free award flights? Not so much.
On the plus side: Northwest is leaving its rules about elite qualifying miles untouched. Members will still earn at least 100-percent EQMs on all paid fare classes, and requalification levels have remained the same. (Side note: On Continental Airlines flights, Q, I, S, W, T, X and L classes will continue to earn just 50-percent EQMs. On Delta flights, L, U and T classes will earn 50-percent EQMs.)
On the minus side: Award levels have gone up.
Effective Jan. 1, there is a change to the number of miles required for travel to South America. And beginning March 1, WorldPerks awards will be booked using a revised award chart. Revisions will include restructured award zones, international upgrade pricing increases, and modified mileage requirements for award travel.
The change in zones amounts to a further breakdown of the Asia and South America zones into northern and southern regions. Naturally, the award levels to those regions are adjusted accordingly.
The specifics of the changes are too lengthy to mention here, but in essence, award levels increase 25 percent to Europe and 33 percent to Asia in coach, and 50 percent to Europe and 20 percent to Asia in World Business Class. In addition, the cost of mileage upgrades to Europe and to North and South Asia jump from 10,000 and 20,000 miles to 15,000 and 30,000 miles from full-fare economy and discounted coach, respectively.
The award level increases represent a significant devaluation of miles to some flyers, and their frustration should not be summarily dismissed.
At the same time, however, Northwest certainly deserves kudos for leaving its elite-level qualification rules alone. It remains perhaps the only major U.S. program that allows short-hop travelers to earn elite status quickly through segments, not just miles, and despite its alliance with Continental and Delta, it has shown no interest in changing that.