Joe Sharkey is Snarky… and Completely Wrong (about Continental OnePass)

I get that Joe Sharkey is really just trying to be snarky about a rumored United-Continental merger, but he still strikes me as pretty far off base when he says:

Oh great. There goes the remaining value of my Continental elite status and miles.

To be clear, Sharkey is saying that both his status and his miles would be worth less after such a merger. Now it’s possible that a combined program could take the worst features of both programs and leave everyone worse off. But that’s not really what Joe seems to be saying, rather he thinks his Continental miles and status are worth more with Continental than they are with United. And that’s just silly.

The Mileage Plus program is head and shoulders better than Continental OnePass for redemption. United miles are worth substantially more than Continental miles. Redemption is easier. Better partners. Better availability on those partners. Lower mileage prices in most cases, too.

But if Sharkey thought his miles were going to be devalued he could…. redeem them. If he could find any availability with Continental or his partners, that is. The best hope for Continental mileage redemption is a merger with United, the chance that the merged entity adopts the Mileage Plus program and remains in Star Alliance.

Continental’s status, on the other hand, is quite worthwhile for the exclusively domestic flyer. It’s terrifble for international (or even Hawaii) upgrades. But if you fly all domestic and you’re a top tier customer you’ll fly mostly in front with a pretty good domestic first class product. United is outstanding at the top tier, but mid-tier flyers only earn upgrades at a rate of 2,000 miles per 10,000 flown. Continental Gold’s may do better up front than that. So if all you care about is the upgrades, all you fly is domestic (except Hawaii), and you fly 50,000 (but not 100,000) miles, then Continental might be the better option.

The other scenario in which Joe’s statement could make sense is if he flies 75,000 miles but not 100,000 miles and a combined program takes on United’s elite qualification rules. Continental’s top tier is earned at 75,000 miles, and such a flyer would not be at the top of United’s program. On the other hand, with United all published, paid flights (regardless of where they are booked) earn full status miles so that 100,000 miles might be easier to reach.

Bottom-line for any sort of Continental/United combo, for frequent flyers, is that we have to hope the United Mileage Plus program survives intact. And if it does, the value of banked Continental miles will go up. Way up.

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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