Reduction in Benefits Coming for the Continental Presidential Plus Mastercard

In a big week for credit card changes, United has announced details of what will become of the Continental Presidential Plus Mastercard, the high-end card that includes lounge access, no foreign currency transaction fees, and on which spending counts towards elite status.

This week we already learned that the combined United-Continental frequent flyer program will have expiring miles and that last seat availability for standard (additional miles) awards would be restricted to elites and credit card holders, plus that cardholders who are elites would be eligible for complimentary upgrades on domestic coach awards.

Now we know more details on the high-end card product, which incorporates all the benefits of the United Explorer Visa (aka Continental Onepass Plus Mastercard) and includes additional benefits.

As expected, the Continental Presidential Plus Mastercard will continue substantially in its present form.

However, while there are no new benefits exclusive to this card (new benefits are the same as those introduced for the cheaper Explorer card), some benefits are being taken away or restricted.

  • The card used to earn unlimited elite qualifying miles, 1000 miles for every $5000 in spend, those wouldn’t expire and you could drop them into a mileage account whenever you wanted. Now these qualifying miles earned from January 1 onward will expire “39 months after they are deposited.” Further, it appears from the card’s website that they’re now capping the elite qualifying miles earned at 5000 per year — perhaps the biggest gutting of benefits of this card:

    You now earn 1,000 Flex EQMs for every $5,000 spent on your Presidential Plus Card. Flex EQMs can be combined with the EQMs you earn when you fly to help you maintain your Elite status or move up to the next status level (up to $25,000).

    I’d love it if this was just a misunderstanding, especially because it wasn’t included in the official announcement.

    The other piece of the benefit being taken away is that these qualifying miles can’t “be applied beyond the 75K EQM threshold.”

  • No more additional elite mileage bonus for cardholders. Elites with the card were earning an additional 25% of flown miles, this was a benefit that encouraged members to get the card when elite bonuses were reduced a few years ago. The proposition was, “get the card and keep your full elite bonus.” Now that goes away. This is also a huge reduction, a 100,000 mile a year flyer loses 25,000 bonus miles.

  • The free checked bag benefit will be limited to one additional person on the same reservation, not everyone on the same reservation. A reduction in benefits for families traveling together.

No word yet on whether Hyatt Platinum and Avis Presidents Club status remain benefits of the card going forward. Both are still listed on the Continental website (which seems to have been updated with other changes) so there seems to be a strong chance that they continue. Hyatt Platinum is basically free internet and comes with the Hyatt credit card also issued by Chase, so it seems like an easy no-brainer. Avis Presidents Club is quite useful, it can’t be earned from rentals for most people and entails a two category upgrade (in practice it’s enough juice to do better) and guaranteed availability.

We (or at least I?) also don’t know what the card will be called in the future!

So many outstanding questions. The value proposition of the Presidential Plus Mastercard does decline come the beginning of 2012, and while I expected some of the special-ness of the card to go away (some unique benefits like double miles for shopping through the Continental online portal has already been pulled from all Continental credit cards) I’m rather surprised to see only takeaways from the premium product and not any new benefits unique to that product. This was one of the really great cards, which I think would have appealed to a whole base of United Mileage Plus elites in the new program, that now more or less remains a bundled Visa plus lounge membership, and it no longer provides meaningfully better elite status qualification earn than the United Visa Signature Platinum Class which is much cheaper and also even free to some grandfathered 1K members.

Update 1:00pm Eastern: Looks like a website snafu, apparently the language on the website which says there is a cap of 5000 elite qualifying miles per year is incorrect and needs to be updated, supposedly no cap is being introduced despite what the website says.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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  1. Disappointing indeed. With the mileage bonus gone and a limit on the EQM obtainable – I only see reason to cancel my card. And will likely do so before October when I am up for renewal.

  2. I have the PPlus card now, but will certainly close my account if this report is true. The flex EQM’s and the 25% bonus are what raise the value of this card (for me, at least) above the value of the SPG Amex or a simple 2% cash back card. If the 25% bonus is killed and the flex EQM’s are neutered, I can’t justify keeping the card.

  3. Although there is no cap on Flex EQM’s earned, the fact that they can’t be applied above 75k EQM and they expire after 39 months effectively caps them at 75k ($375k spend) per year if you continually use the card.

  4. @aussie: more to the point, it sounds like the flex EQM’s are *useless* if your intention is to reach 1K status. This doesn’t make any sense, since surely the airline wants their top-tier customers to consider this card. Hoping that this is just another sloppy mistake on the website, and that “the equivalent level in MileagePlus” is supposed to allow the possibility of using it to qualify for 1K.

  5. “every $5000 in spend which could be saved up and also dropped into anyone’s account any time,”

    I am not sure that is true. I was told that I could have it in MY account but not ANYONE’s, unlike the Delta Reserve. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  6. Also seems to be a change in the boarding priority. a friend of mine has the card (as I do) and was given boarding group 6.

  7. In checking the flex credits for this account, the 1,000 miles for every $5,000 spent is “per billing cycle”. Each billing cycle, the amount of charges is reset to zero, so if you charge $9,999 in once cycle, you get 1,000 flex miles with carryforward benefit to the next month. I thought this was an error but no, the airline representative said this is how the flex is computed. Feel a little cheated here because no where was this “per billing cycle” limitation disclosed.

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