The frequent flyer programs of United and Continental won't be consolidated into a single program until next year.
But in the long run-up to merging the programs, they have been brought gradually into alignment, accentuating their similarities and toning down their differences.
And now, members of the two programs may freely transfer their miles from one program to the other. And back again.
Delta and Northwest did somewhat the same thing, allowing members of either program to move their miles into the other, well in advance of fully merging their operations in late 2009. There was even a bonus offered for doing so.
While United and Continental aren't breaking new ground with mileage transfers, what they've done with elite miles is new, and newsworthy.
Travelers with accounts in both programs may make one mileage transfer every day, in 1,000-mile increments, up to a maximum of 200,000 miles per transfer, in either direction. Both accounts remain active after transfers, even if one account is zeroed out, so there's always the option to make future transfers.
In addition to transferring redeemable miles, members may combine their elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) or segments in Mileage Plus with their elite-qualifying miles or points in OnePass. And whatever status is earned with the combined EQMs will pertain to both programs.
When registering to combine EQMs, you'll be required to designate either Mileage Plus or OnePass as your primary program. That's the account in which Regional and Systemwide Upgrades earned in 2011 will be deposited.
The Transfer Payoff
This is more than a matter of convenience—the transfer function adds real extra value to miles earned in either program.
Program members with too few miles in either program may be able to reach an award threshold by combining them. Or they may be able to redeem more miles for a more expensive award.
And combining EQMs will give some members just the mileage boost they need to qualify for elite status, and allow others to upgrade from a lower elite tier to a higher one.
Of course, these benefits don't take effect automatically. You must act to take advantage of the miles' transferability. Hence the following checklist for travelers who have miles in both programs:
- Check to ensure that account information (name, address, etc.) is the same in both programs.
- Review account balances—both award miles and EQMs—in both programs, with an eye to award and status opportunities.
- Transfer miles and/or combine EQMs accordingly.
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.