I was traveling when this was announced, and quickly all the news sources and blogs picked up the story. So I’ve been pretty silent.
Continental entering a codesharing, marketing, and potentially revenue sharing (on certain international routes) agreement with United. They’re leaving Skyteam and joining Star Alliance. There will be reciprocal frequent flyer earn and burn, and lounge partnerships. But all the details remain to be seen, in particular, what about reciprocal upgrades for elites of each program as Continental currently offers to Northwest elites and vice versa. Of course all this will likely take until mid-next year to come to fruition.
The bottom-line, though, is this: the move is strongly positive for Continental frequent flyers, with little upside and some risk for United frequent flyers.
Continental offers perhaps the best domestic premium product in the U.S. but one of the stingiest programs for award redemption. Continental miles will become worth a whole lot more because they will be able to be used on Star Alliance airlines — which means premium class award redemption across the Atlantic and Pacific, something that is next to impossible now with Continental (and with their partners in Skyteam, the stingiest airline alliance for award redemption).
United flyers don’t get a whole lot when it comes to redemption, Continental doesn’t make it easy to get award seats. But they do get competition for those Star Alliance redemption seats from all the Continental flyers with large mileage balances who now have an opportunity to cash out for much more valuable trips.
For Continental folks who occasionally find United flights more attractive or affordable or the opposite, this will help claw towards elite status. So if you fall in this camp it’s a positive.
And sure, United flyers can earn Mileage Plus miles on Continental under the proposed partnership. And those miles will count towards status.
But the upside doesn’t really outweigh the risks if you’re a United member. On top of award redemption competition, there’s just all of the consumer-unfriendly practices of Onepass to be afraid of — stingy award redemption, especially for premium cabin travel; required co-pays for international upgrades; exorbitantly high award charts (United generally requires fewer miles for the same award); and a lack of confirmed upgrades for top tier elites. These things scare me and my large stash of Mileage Plus miles.
Bottom-line: For Continental flyers, this is good. For United flyers, the future is unknown, perhaps little will change, but there’s some risk out there.
Of course, my entire opinion could change depending on the details of reciprocal upgrades that ultimately emerge. The unique selling proposition of Continental’s program is unlimited complimentary upgrades. Other programs have copied it, but they pioneered it — and they maintain a domestic first class cabin worth upgrading into. If Continental elites suddenly have to compete against United elites for advance upgrades to the front cabin on Continental flights, then Continental flyers could be disadvantaged and there would be an actual benefit to United elites to be gained from this partnership.
I don’t expect things to work that way, however. First, because United and Continental have incompatible upgrade schemes — different tier levels (United top level requires 100,000 miles while Continental’s requires 75k) and different upgrade structures (unlimited for Continental, earned- or purchased-certificated based for United), so I don’t see an easy way for them to integrate advance upgrades. Second, because United and US Airways provide a model for expectations — reciprocal upgrades at the airport on day of departure. That would be my guess about where this partnership goes, at least over the next couple of years, and in that case my estimation of the winners and losers stands — not much for United flyers to gain, and a whole lot of upside for Continental’s members.