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ON THE SPOT / By Catharine Hamm

Good grief

March 11, 2007|Catharine Hamm

Charity begins at ... : We are having problems with Northwest Airlines. We have 2,005 and 2,505 miles in our individual accounts. We thought we might donate them to charity. Apparently, we can't do that because we have fewer than 5,000 miles and that's the minimum Northwest requires. We have written to Northwest three times, and nobody has bothered to answer. Why won't they take our miles?

-- Robert Matthysen and Martin Woodward

Sydney, Australia


Answer: Let's say you're the American Cancer Society, and I want to donate an odd amount of money -- say, $9.82, just for the sake of discussion -- to your organization.

Will you take it?

Unless my name is Philip Morris, you will.

So why wouldn't Northwest take your miles? Here's what Roman Blahoski, Northwest Airlines' media relations manager, said in an e-mail response to us:

"The minimum was instituted in a day when the donation process was more manually intensive. Northwest appreciates the efforts of its customers to donate to the AirCares program and would be happy to accept the 4,500 miles your readers are willing to donate. Readers interested in donating miles to the AirCares program, whether above or below the 5,000 minimum, should contact Northwest at regarding their donation."

So Woodward contacted Northwest and donated his 2,005 miles. Goal! Then he tried to get Matthysen's miles transferred and received this message from a Northwest rep: "I am sorry but the minimum donation amount is 5,000 miles and your account shows you have 2,505 miles. Unfortunately, I am unable to transfer your miles...." Then she thanked him for the "thoughful gesture," which must rhyme with "woeful."

Which pretty much sums up the state of much customer service. After another e-mail, Northwest said it would take the miles. In the end, the real issue isn't the miles. It's the blind adherence to policy. It's the inconsistency. And, most of all, it's the failure to acknowledge two thoughtful customers.

By the way, I just donated $9.82 to the American Cancer Society ( The donation was made in honor of Northwest Airlines.

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