Continental OnePass & United MileagePlus are merging. What does it mean for you?

Continental & United Airlines merged late 2010. Continental and United are about to complete their integration to become a single operating carrier – United. On December 31st, Continental’s OnePass frequent flyer program will become part of the United MileagePlus program. There are many implications for OnePass & United flyers.  It is an opportunity to capitalize on this transition.

Short-Term Implications

  • Two months ago, Continental OnePass members gained the ability to claim one-way award redemption. That is a positive.
  • On September 30th, 2011, the ability to transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points to Continental OnePass will no longer exist. If you have an award in mind, transfer now. If you do not, losing Continental does not mean an end to having access to Star Alliance partners for redemption. American Express Membership Rewards Points can still be transferred to Air Canada and ANA, both Star Alliance partners for redemption.
  • By December 31st, 2011, OnePass members without a United MileagePlus account will be assigned a MileagePlus number and then will be migrated over to MileagePlus.

Long-Term Implications:

  • Mileage expiration. While Continental had an official 18 month expiration policy, it was never enforced. The new MileagePlus program will have an 18 month mileage expiration and will be enforce. For infrequent flyers, this can be problematic. For Continental OnePass customers, basically they went from customer friendly to unfriendly.
  • Star Alliance award availability. Continental had access to the entire Star Alliance inventory. In contrast, there has been numerous reports of United blocking award seats once an internal quota has been met. This is called “starnet” blocking. Agents will not see awards that are clearly available on other Star Alliance carrier reward sites. If the new MileagePlus go down the route of “starnet” blocking, it would be a huge negative for Continental OnePass members.
  • The United award availability. The new combined carrier will have less flights than the two standalone entities. Less flights = less seats = less award availability. If history is any guide, the last large airline merger of Delta and Northwest definitely resulted in more members vying for less seats. Reward tickets potentially will be more difficult to obtain.
  • Elite status qualification. Elite status will most likely transition from a mileage-driven qualification to more of a revenue-based qualification. The rumor is 8 cents per mile — e.g., a minimum of $2,000 spent plus 25,000 miles flown for Silver Status. The current qualification metric is purely miles.
  • Long term = basically negative.

Opportunity to Capitalize:

  • Both Continental & United offers their own branded credit card. This will go away on December 31st. If you only have a Continental or United credit card, time to apply for the other to capitalize on the signup bonus mileage. The current promotion for both cards is up to 40,000 miles for signup. Here are the United and the Continental offers — both cards are issued by Chase. Chase allows up to 3 cards to be opened concurrently per person. If you have 3 and the miles are worth something to you, cancel one before applying. If you do not apply, you are leaving up to 40,000 miles on the table.
  • If you have accounts with both Continental and United, they probably want you to link the accounts. Unless you want to transfer points between the program, we recommend that you do not link the accounts yet. Why? There are no real benefits of linking today vs tomorrow. However, tomorrow they may run a bonus mile promotion to link the accounts. That was the case with Delta & Northwest. You should always take advantage of any opportunity for free easy miles.

There are still many “features” of the new combined frequent flyer programs yet to be announced. But based on the “enhancements” that have been announced (rumored to be announced), the trend for Continental OnePass members is negative.

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