Continental and United just got a whole lot closer!

More great news for top tier elites (and if you’re not a top tier elite, then, well, it’s not all good news). Starting in mid-2010, Continental and United will be offering reciprocal unlimited domestic upgrades for their elites. Via CO Insider on FlyerTalk, the upgrade priority will be as follows:

For travel on United, the clearing order will be:

1. United Global Services
2. United 1K
3. United Premier Executive
4. Continental Platinum Elite
5. Continental Gold Elite
6. United Premier
7. Continental Silver Elite

For travel on Continental, the clearing order will be:

1. Continental Platinum Elite
2. United Global Services
3. United 1K
4. Continental Gold Elite
5. United Premier Executive
6. Continental Silver Elite
7. United Premier

Interestingly enough, United elites seem to have the better end of the deal here. Those of us that are Global Services, 1K, and Premier Executive have nothing to worry about when flying United, as all Continental elites clear after that. On the other hand, when flying Continental, Global Services and 1K members clear right after Platinum members. The shocker there is that United Premier Executive members clear before Continental Platinum members when flying on United, even though the qualification tier for Continental Platinum is higher. I’m betting that was part of the arrangement thanks to the other huge advantage OnePass members are getting with Economy Plus access.

All Continental elites will have access to Economy Plus, while United elites will have access to “preferred” seating on Continental and Premier Executive members and above will have the ability to pre-reserve exit rows.

All that having been said, is this really smart from the perspective of Continental and United? There were reciprocal upgrades back when Continental and Northwest were together, but they only offered 50% elite qualifying miles on most fares in order to encourage passengers to be more loyal to one carrier. In this case, you’re earning full miles (including bonuses) and getting full benefits on either carrier. It’s great for the customer, but not necessarily so great for the airlines.

Of course that brings me to my next prediction, which is that Continental and United will merge in the next 18 months. šŸ˜‰

Comments

  1. CO preferred seating is a joke. This is good as it will encourage people to keep flying UA!

    The upgrade priority order for the UA flights is a small comfort. For those tough years I am a UA Premier Exec, it looks like my chances will remain the same for the upgrades on UA metal. I will have to keep working hard to keep my 1K…mostly on leisure travel.

    IF UA and CO do merge, will the SWU go on “life support”?

  2. don’t forget the issue that on CO, platinums on high fares often don’t get the upgrade – so UA flyers will almost never clear. Of course this varies by route – but on transcons I just don’t see even a UA GS member EVER getting the upgrade!

  3. If this arrangement succeeds in bleeding DL elites onto UA and CO (and at this point why anyone who is top tier on any US-based airline would not go to UA is beyond me), then it shows that the NW/DL merger was a mistake, and thus a UA/CO merger would be too.

  4. @ Tom — I actually think Continental will adopt SWU’s in one form or another soon enough. It’s something United just can’t get rid of because their biggest competitor is American.

    @ HunterSFO — Absolutely correct, Hunter. There are some routes that are easy upgrades, though. I’m looking forward to flying Continental to New York from now on. TPA-EWR upgrades have always been quite easy based on what I’ve seen, and they even frequently fly BusinessFirst equipped Boeing 757-200s on the route!

    @ mre5765 — Interesting. While FlyerTalk members frequently switch their loyalty based on the best program, I’m thinking most others choose airlines based on schedule, convenience, etc. I’m sure we’ll see a substantial number of elites switch to United, but probably not enough to see Delta change their policies.

    @ whakojacko — Good plan, as 1K’s are the real winners here.

    @ TonySCV — Very true, although upgrades on A319’s were tough to begin with.

  5. Love the annoucement, especially for my New York to/from South Florida travel.

    Now I can fly PBI/FLL/MIA to EWR with excellent upgrade opportunities!

    It ‘s a million year better than having to transit through IAD to get on the UX to fly into Miami only or go through DCA/CLT on crappy UA AIrways (with no upgrade opportuntiy)

  6. What about CO companion upgrades? they are not in the new list. Does this benefit still exist, or will it go away?

  7. Frankly, it seems like it sucks now to be Continental Gold Elite. Before the merger, I was upgraded frequently. Now, there always seems to be enough people ahead of me who get upgraded. The only explaination I can see is that previously I would have been in the second group on a continental flight, not I am number 4. As I am in Houston, I typically flew CO, but this is making me think twice.

  8. @BigBabba: No merger–yet. In fact, the reciprocal upgrade program mentioned above does not start till later in the year. If anything, upgrades should be a bit easier right now on CO since all the NW folks are no longer competing with you for upgrades.

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