Continental Will Join Star Alliance, Modify Mileage Program

On October 27, Continental will become a member of the Star Alliance, in place of its tie-up with the SkyTeam alliance which ends on October 24.

In addition to a major change in mileage earning and redemption partners—from the Delta-focused SkyTeam airline partner network to the Star group, anchored by United and Lufthansa, and including US Airways—the shift will be accompanied by a host of policy changes to Continental's OnePass program, most of which are designed to align OnePass with the programs of other Star airlines. The changes will be phased in over the next few months, as follows:

October 1

  • There will be no fees for Platinum Elite members for same-day ticket changes.
  • Elite upgrades will no longer be available on Northwest flights.
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October 27

  • A new award chart takes effect.
  • The current Saturday-night stay requirement for award travel will be lifted.
  • Members will earn 100 percent elite-qualifying miles and points for discounted fares regardless of where the ticket is purchased or issued. (Currently, full elite credit is only earned for tickets booked on continental.com.)
  • Members using miles to upgrade to BusinessFirst from B fares will no longer be charged a $100 co-pay.
  • Elite bonuses will be based on the minimum mileage earned instead of the actual miles flown.
  • OnePass members will no longer earn elite miles, points, or mileage bonuses for travel operated by Amtrak, Emirates, EVA Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Island Air, Kingfisher, and US Helicopter.

December 15

  • New award travel fees will apply for redeposits, reservation changes, and bookings made within 21 days of departure. Platinum Elite members will pay no fee; Gold Elite members will pay $25; Silver Elite members will pay $50; and non-elites will pay $75. The new fees will apply per customer instead of per reservation.

January 1, 2010

  • All members worldwide will earn 125 percent base miles on F, C, J, and D fare classes.
  • All members worldwide will earn 1.5 elite-qualifying points when they purchase and fly in fare classes F, C, J, D, Z, Y, and B on flights operated by Continental.

The Verdict

It's easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of upcoming changes, and the numbing details.

But the great majority of the changes concern elite status—how it's earned, and the perks associated with it. When all the pluses and minuses are factored in, the net effect is slightly positive for the majority of those who either already have elite status or have a realistic chance of achieving it.

For average travelers—most of us, in other words—the most significant of the new policies is the abolishment of the Saturday-night stay requirement for award travel. That was a particularly noxious restriction, and the program will be the better for discarding it.

Again, more important than the program changes may be the move from SkyTeam to the Star Alliance and the resulting changes in opportunities to earn miles and redeem them for award travel. With that in mind, following are lists of the SkyTeam airlines (current) and Star airlines (from October 27):

SkyTeam Airlines

Aeroflot, Aeromexico, Air France, Alitalia, China Southern Airlines, Continental, Czech Airlines, Delta, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Korean Air

Star Alliance Airlines

Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, bmi, Egyptair, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Spanair, Swiss, TAP Portugal, Turkish Airlines, Thai, United, US Airways

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