Continental Increases Pricing for Unrestricted Awards

Continental posted several changes to their frequent flyer program today:

    You can now receive your BusinessFirst upgrade rewards until 24 hours prior to your scheduled departure. Previously, 72 hours were required.

    Effective February 1, 2006, you may redeem reward travel within the 48 contiguous U.S., Alaska and Canada on round-trip flights of 1,500 miles or less for only 20,000 miles.

    Effective April 1, 2006, some Easy Pass BusinessFirst reward mileage requirements will change:

    Routes between: Miles required
    before 4/1/06
    Miles required
    4/1/06 and after
    N. America and Asia 240,000 250,000
    N. America and Europe 200,000 250,000
    N.Amer & India/Africa/Mideast 240,000 250,000
    N. America and Tel Aviv 200,000 250,000
    Hawaii and Europe 220,000 270,000
    Hawaii and Tel Aviv 220,000 270,000
    Asia or Europe & S. Amer. 240,000 280,000


The introduction of 20,000 miles for flights under 1500 miles is a response to United and American offering 15,000 mile awards for shorter flights.

The change to upgrade redemption rules is a good one. Continental is afraid that customers will upgrade instead of buying full fare, so they make it difficult. Previously if there were empty business class seats 3 days before the flight you still won’t be able to redeem for them. But whether this change is ultimately an improvement depends on whether the airline releases some of these unsold seats in the period between 24 and 72 hours from departure. A better change would be to allow frequent flyers to use points for any seat eventually unsold, including at the airport.

The increase in miles required for EasyPass awards is especially problematic. A 25% increase for flights between the U.S. and Europe! These are the awards folks are stuck with when regular awards aren’t available, and they’re becoming even more expensive. 250,000 miles for business class to Europe is absurd. And while a valuable award to the extent it provides full flexibility and nearly unlimited availability, Continental’s pricing is out of this world. United charges 150,000 miles for the same award, and for that price will even take you unrestricted in business class to Australia.

This points to something else I’ve been worried about, perhaps the United chart is too lucrative relative to its competitors. I’m afraid that United — which really hasn’t increased its award pricing over the past three years while in bankruptcy yet has printed tons of miles — will start to hack away at their chart.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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