Northwest, Inc. v. Ginsberg 572 US 273 (2014)

United States Supreme Court


At [A]:

 Like many airlines, petitioner Northwest, Inc. (Northwest), established a frequent flyer program, its World-Perks Airline Partners Program, to attract loyal cus-tomers. Under this program, members are able to earn “miles” by taking flights operated by Northwest and other “partner” airlines. Members can then redeem these miles for tickets and service upgrades with Northwest or its airline partners.

Respondent became a member of Northwest’s World-Perks program in 1999, and as a result of extensivetravel on Northwest flights, he achieved “Platinum Elite” status (the highest level available) in 2005.

In 2008, however, Northwest terminated respondent’s membership, apparently in reliance on a provision of the WorldPerks agreement that provided that “[a]buse of the .  .  . program (including . . . improper conduct as determined by [Northwest] in its sole judgment[  ) ] . . . may result in cancellation of the member’s account.” App. 64–65. According to respondent, a Northwest representative telephoned him in June 2008 and informed him that his“Platinum Elite” status was being revoked because he had “ ‘abused’ ” the program. Id., at 35. In a letter sent about two weeks later, Northwest wrote:

“[Y]ou have contacted our office 24 times since December 3, 2007 regarding travel problems, including9 incidents of your bag arriving late at the luggage carousel. . . .

“      Since December 3, 2007, you have continually asked for compensation over and above our guidelines. We have awarded you $1,925.00 in travel credit vouchers, 78,500 WorldPerks bonus miles, a voucher extension for your son, and $491.00 in cash reimbursements. . . .

“      Due to our past generosity, we must respectfully advise that we will no longer be awarding you compensation each time you contact us.” Id., at 58–59.

Respondent requested clarification of his status, but a Northwest representative sent him an e-mail stating that “[a]fter numerous conversations with not only the Legal Department, but with members of the WorldPerks department, I believe your status with the program should be very clear.” Id., at 60.


Alleging that Northwest had ended his membership asa cost-cutting measure tied to Northwest’s merger with Delta Air Lines, respondent filed a class action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California on behalf of himself and all other similarly situated WorldPerks members. Respondent’s complaint asserted four separate claims.[1] First, his complaint alleged that Northwest had breached its contract by re-voking his “Platinum Elite” status without valid cause. Second, the complaint claimed that Northwest violated the duty of good faith and fair dealing because it terminated his membership in a way that contravened his reasonable expectations with respect to the manner in which Northwest would exercise its discretion. Third, the complaint asserted a claim for negligent misrepresentation, and fourth, the complaint alleged intentional misrepresentation. Respondent sought damages in excess of $5 million, as well as injunctive relief requiring Northwest to restore the class members’ WorldPerks status and prohibiting Northwest from future revocations of membership.


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Useful for

Treaty provisions considered

No treaty provisions considered.

Legislation considered

US Airline Deregulation Act 1978/

Key subjects or concepts

Exclusivity/ Preemption/