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NotiFlyer :: Late-Breaking News
Late-Breaking Program News Continental OnePass Announces Changes to Program for 2004
(Posted: Sep 16, 2003)

The times they are a changing, and there can be no denying now that the frequent flyer industry has entered a new era, one in which the focus has shifted from loyalty and is now aimed directly at revenue.

Continental today (Sep. 16) announced that, beginning Jan. 1, 2004, it will change the way in which members can earn elite status. The new policy will give preferential treatment to members who purchase higher fares, and will significantly diminish the ability of those flying on discounted fares to maintain their status.

Specifically, OnePass members flying in the higher fare classes will earn 150 percent of mileage flown, to be counted toward elite status, and/or two segments for each segment actually flown. Those flying on the lowest fares, however, will earn just 50 percent of actual miles flown toward elite status and will receive zero segments.

The following chart outlines OnePass' elite status earning criteria, as well as mileage-earning criteria for 2004:

Fare Class Flown Base Mileage Earned (%) Elite Mileage Earned (%) Elite Segments/Points Earned
J, C, A, D, Z 150 150 2
Y 100 150 2
H, K, B, V 100 100 1
Q, S, T, L 100 50 0

As was the case with SkyMiles, OnePass members will still earn full mileage to be used for redemption purposes on any fare class -- only elite status earning will be affected.

And the new elite-earning rules aren't the only changes that will go into effect in 2004.

Continental is also increasing the redemption cost of its one-way, one-class domestic upgrades by 50 percent, from 10,000 to 15,000 miles. And OnePass members who redeem for awards in K class, or in H class in BusinessFirst to Hawaii will now be required to pay a non-refundable service fee of $200, in addition to the miles.

To ease the blow somewhat, Continental has built in a sort of buffer period. Members who book a ticket online at www.continental.com for travel between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2004, will still earn full elite status, even when flying on a lower cost fare.

So, the big question is, how will members react? Obviously, the reduced elite earning ratios only affect those members who fly on Q, S, T and L fares -- the elite earning criteria for everyone else either remains unchanged or improves. The increased upgrade redemption cost impacts all members, but then again, how many are spending their miles on domestic upgrades in the first place?

It would seem that Continental has studied SkyMiles' members' reactions to the Delta changes closely. When Delta made its changes, members were upset about the diminished elite earning abilities for low fare flyers, but what really sent them into an uproar were the cuts Delta made to its elite Medallion program. Continental, on the other hand, has made no cuts to its elite benefits (at least not yet). OnePass members who are able to achieve elite status under the new guidelines will be privy to exactly the same benefits as are currently in place.

The question remains, will OnePass members see the changing elite qualification standards as a necessary evil and be content in the knowledge that the elite benefits themselves have been left untouched, or will there be a backlash similar to what has been experienced by Delta?

One thing that will significantly influence the degree to which the changes are accepted is the manner in which OnePass communicates the news to its members. Continental has an opportunity to shed the cloak of spin worn by so many others in the industry, and to address its members honestly and intelligently. If it takes this opportunity to say, in effect, 'Times are tough in the industry, this is what we need to do as a company to remain in business, and we are doing our best to provide great service to our most valuable customers,' it's our guess members, though disappointed, will be generally understanding and supportive.

Whatever the member reaction, it is clear that a paradigm shift has occurred in the frequent flyer industry. Revenue has officially dethroned loyalty, and only time will tell what shape the new kingdom will take. Continental's changes signal an acceptance of the policies Delta initiated nearly a year ago, and you can be sure others, namely Northwest WorldPerks, aren't far behind.

There is one more interesting aspect concerning these changes, and that is the very early release of the announcement. Typically, changes such as these wouldn't be announced until much later in the year, or even early in the next year. So why would Continental make the announcement when it did?

One theory is that the announcement from OnePass serves as a form of invitation to the other programs to make similar changes -- sort of like saying, 'Come on in, the water's fine.'

The response to this overture will be known in very short time.

Update (Sep. 18): Shortly after making this announcement, Continental extended the travel dates for which members can still earn full elite-qualifying credit when booking online at www.continental.com. Members will now receive full credit for lower fare class tickets booked for travel through Dec. 31, 2004.

It is important to clarify the terms of this offer. Basically, a member who books a ticket at continental.com today for travel sometime before 2005 will earn full elite-qualifying credit, no matter the fare class booked. There is no guarantee that members will be able to earn the same elite-qualifying credit when booking the same ticket a day, a week, or a month from now.

Previous comments:

posted: Sep 17, 2003 at 1:05pm (MT)

Continental is making a big mistake in following Delta's lead (why any airline would want to follow them is beyond me, Delta's service is terrible). I am currently a platinum elite with Continental, but I will no longer support them (I have been a one pass member since 94) and only use them when it suits me.

Margo Porter
posted: Sep 17, 2003 at 10:40pm (MT)

Continental is out of their mind to take away Elite Qualifying segments on Q S T L fares. Is a once fine airline trying to drive away their loyalists???

posted: Sep 18, 2003 at 12:20am (MT)

like we have a say in what the corporate travel department is willing to pay. my travel department tells me when and how i'm going to fly. if a cheaper fare is available, they go for it. unbelievable. they're going to go from first to worst! yup, they're going the way of delta. god help us!

posted: Sep 18, 2003 at 12:52am (MT)

call the airline. tell 'em what you think. maybe if enough people call, they'll listen.

Vince Fredrick
posted: Sep 18, 2003 at 2:14am (MT)

Here is an email that I sent to CO yesterday:

Your newly announced OnePass program changes are totally unacceptable! Who was the brilliant person that came up with this idea? Do you think that it will result in your customers paying more for fares so that they can get full credit for (elite qualifying) segments and miles? WRONG!! That just won't happen. When your customers buy tickets, we look at the best fare available at the time we make the purchase. Do you really think that your customers are so dumb that we would pass up a lower fare and pay more for a higher fare just to get elite miles/segments? Your management really doesn't think that we are too bright, and I find that insulting.

Your approach of trying to get your customers to pay more for fares by penalizing those of us that spend our company's money as if it were our own will backfire on you. Lately, I fly primarily from IAH to MSY. If I purchase a ticket the day before I travel, I still can get a Q fare. However, a Q fare, along with the S, T, and L fares don't don't mean much to you. I guess you won't mind if we all take the drive to Hobby and fly Southwest, huh? They don't have elite status, but with your current policy, I won't have it much longer either. With Southwest, I can earn tons of free tickets (one for every three RT's when purchasing tickets on the web). That will mean more than the measly 500 miles per segment (one free ticket per 25 RT's or 50 segments for an EasyPass). You do the math -- which makes more sense?

Please tell me that there is someone working for Continental that has some business sense and can see how these program changes will backfire! I have been flying Continental since 1989 and have had Elite status most of this time. I have to tell you that this program change is the worst thing that you have ever proposed doing to your best customers. The person that came up with this idea needs to be fired, because he/she knows nothing about your customers. If you keep this program change, you will NOT get us to spend more on tickets to get Elite status -- you will chase us off to other airlines!

Additionally, as a subscriber of InsideFlyer, I don't believe that I could vote for OnePass for the Freddie award for best frequent flyer program with then newly announce changes. I am sure that others will feel the same, so don't count on getting it this time. JD Powers is probably also history.

Please wake up and see what you a [chopped]

G. Andersson
posted: Sep 18, 2003 at 8:23pm (MT)

I'll stop flying Continental.

The OnePass program was the only reason to fly this airline, with this new change in Elite policy, that one and only reason is gone.

They shoud re think this policy and it would not hurt to improve service

R. R.
posted: Sep 18, 2003 at 8:53pm (MT)

Elite qualifying was the only reason I ever flew this airline when I live in the US. I stopped flying them first because they have started to deteriorate, in the last 3 years or so. The International Service is one of the worst I have ever since, and since I mostly travel trasantlantic, they were not worth my penny. I don't see how this measure is going to help them at all.

James Murphy
posted: Sep 19, 2003 at 4:13am (MT)


First, I would like to thank you for a very informative web site without asking for
a subscription as Randy Peterson and his competitors do.

I have seen, living in Hawaii, the F.F. Programs go from Western Airlines (later Delta),
allowing Hawaii residents to use the domestic award schedule for awards and upgrades,
to the latest Continental "announcement" of the 50% cut in miles earned (for Elite status).

A few years ago Continental got 10,000 miles for an upgrade to the mainland. Last March
they got 35,000 miles (I could fly Hawaii to Puerto Rico for that in coach, FREE), plus
$200.00 each way, to upgrade to first class, and go on a wait list. And, this is for someone
that they feel is "Elite".

At the same time, once I get to the mainland, I have always been upgraded to first class
(automatically), without any miles deducted. Continental is a top notch way to fly and
I will miss that, however, I don't need a calculator to figure this out.

The other airlines are waiting for the fallout. I spoke with several while shopping
for my company's new carrier, and they will extend to us their elite, gold, or medallion
status for those of us that choose to switch to their airline, at the beginning of the year.

There can be 'spin' about the necessary fiduciary belt tightening due to the
World being changed, however, Boeing Aircraft Co. produces the most efficient
(profitable) airliners that the world has ever known. Hawaiian Airlines profited,
for years, flying DC-3s on 50 and 100 mile hops, on gasoline (not Jet A) that was
shipped to the most remote place on Earth.

The problem with the airline down turn is management, nothing more. They just got
a fistful of money, from US taxpayers, and they continue to pinch the steady customer,
not to mention the pension funds of the people who ARE the company.

Finally, here is a micro managed revenue generating idea:

A couple of days before Continental's 50% elite mileage cut, I noticed on their web site:
"Continental Airlines' Win on the Web Sweepstakes". After further reading I found
it only for those "residents of the 48 contiguous United States". The only prize that
made a difference to the airline was the 1st Prize, a trip for two to Europe. And, they
didn't want to risk someone from Alaska or Hawaii actually winning the 2556 extra miles.

Excluding anyone in the United States from entering a sweepstakes should be
against the law, [chopped]

Mark Whiteman
posted: Sep 19, 2003 at 1:51pm (MT)

I like it myself. I am a multi-year Platinum and I just reveiwed my YTD activity against the new rules and actually come out with more cushion above the Platinum requirment. This will be good as it will clear out the not so elite elites that fly a lot of cheap short hops to build up segments. Ever noticed that they call for Elite pre-boardingand half the plane lines up? It's a joke. The folks spending the real money to support Continental should get the benefits. Now Elite will really mean something again. Continental, stick to your guns. If you lose a few people buying $99 tickets to SW, let them go. That's where they belonged anyway.

posted: Sep 19, 2003 at 1:57pm (MT)

I have to agree with fellow Elite members. I would never be able to justify paying a higher fare just to earn Elite miles or segments. I mean, if they want to raise revenue, why not charge $20 for a beer in coach? Then you probably wouldn't have to ask for correct change. Continental's Elite is headed for the dumpster.

posted: Sep 19, 2003 at 3:16pm (MT)

Of course the top management of the airlines are the worst and the stupidest. We all know that. When it comes to their customers, these guys are all clueless. Remember, they were all going into the tank months before the 9/11 tragedy and I , for one, am deeply upset with Congress and the President giving BILLIONS of our tax dollars to these terrible organizations. Slapping their frequent travelers in the face once more should be expected. The only and best thing we can do is take our unappreciated business elsewhere. Just picture the F class cabin of a CO 757 with only 3 seats occupied with "Elite For A Day" travelers who had to make last minute reservations and pay thousands of bucks for their seats. Sorry I won't be one of them.

posted: Sep 19, 2003 at 8:48pm (MT)

Continental is starting to see profits again, but now they're getting greedy. Adapting DL's elite FF policy is going to be the torpedo in their side. I hope the ship sinks too.

posted: Sep 20, 2003 at 2:05pm (MT)

Doesn't Continental get it? Most elites obtain their status at the expense of their employers. Yet, when an elite wants an upgrade to Europe or Hawaii he/she has to first of all purchase a more expensive ticket and then be hit with a $400 penalty.

I obtain Platinum by taking some leisure trips at my own expense. With these changes there is no longer an incentive for me to spend these extra dollars.

Continental you've lowered your standards to Delta's.

Mary Wallace
posted: Sep 20, 2003 at 3:32pm (MT)

For all of us waiting for "the other shoe to drop" in 2005 ---Continental will STILL lose customers they cannot retrieve by not admitting the mistake re: NO SEGMENTS EARNED IN Q S T L.
What is a one-year reprieve - and who wants an airline who can't say "Sorry, we goofed".

Eric K
posted: Sep 20, 2003 at 7:49pm (MT)

Well..looks like American for me...what CO doesnt realize is that many of us make elite status by taking personal trips to supplement what we can get from our corporate trips...AA is what we are supposed to fly and I will take the AA challenge and go there....I am sure they will gain some people but if you live in an area with Jet Blue, SW, AirTran...why spend the extra $$ with them?

Jim O
posted: Sep 21, 2003 at 11:26pm (MT)

I have been a Continental Platinum elite member for 6 years now. While I have understood the need to cut some meals and have noticed the change from actual "meals" to "snacks," I can not understand why Continental would want to affront the exact people who have helped them in those hard times. Many of us are now required to fly the lowest fares available with business. I can't justify flying Continental to earn more elite qualifying miles if its 200, 300, $400 more... Since I reside in Phoenix, Southwest is clearly coming out as the true winner here. If I am not going to get upgraded, why not fly an airline that gives you some more legroom, accomodating schedules and redemption policies, and the friendliest people in the sky. I admit that I have preferred Continental in the past for the exact reasons that they are betraying now - their loyalty to ALL of their frequent customers. I have no idea why they would follow the lead of such an awful airline as Delta. Please wake up and reconsider your options!

posted: Sep 22, 2003 at 7:54pm (MT)

I talked to a person at OnePass service center and asked questions. Though not clearly stating it, it become obvious to me that this is driven by the breakup of the Wings alliance (CO NW KLM) and it being folded into Skyteam. It is the cost of admission. I asked what NW will do and was told to just wait. CO fully expects NW to do exactly the same thing. CO can't change their mind and go it alone. They are too small by themselves. They will be an unofficial division of Delta just like USAir is now one of United. CO/DL/NW/KLM/Air France will still be the best. United/US are both bankrupted. AA expires miles and has flight attendants with an average age of 60. The cheap guys don't get you off the continent. No where else to go.

Patrick Greenough
posted: Sep 22, 2003 at 8:25pm (MT)

I stopped flying Delta when they changed their elite qualification status and as a OnePass Gold Elite, I will stop flying Continental if these changes go through. A few extra miles are not worth the hundreds of dollars one spends. In the end you are buying your so-called free ticket. I am looking into United or American. What the majors are doing will drive everyone to the cheapest ticket and the end of frequent flyer programs as we know. I may even give up my subscription to Insideflyer if the major airlines keep this up!

Scott Zaban
posted: Sep 23, 2003 at 9:49pm (MT)

I had been a Gold Medallion flyer with Delta since 1998 and last year when they changed their policies I changed airlines. What these airlines don't seem to understand is that sometimes the people flying with lower ticket prices sometimes end up buying higher priced tickets. When the planes are only 60-75% full how can you rightfully give up 10 to 15% capacity on a flight to another airline? As long as United and American are smart they will keep their programmes just the way they are and welcome those other passengers. If they each pick up an additional 5% capacity they can rightfully charge a little bit more for each passenger. I'm sure DL/CO frequent fliers wouldn't mind paying $15 more than a DL/CO flight if they know they are going to get full elite mileage credit for it. The passengers buying lower cost tickets are going to go somewhere, and if the majours don't want them, then say hello to expanded networks on Southwest, ATA, Airtran, and Jet Blue. I have flown over 110,000 miles this year with United and I have 3 months left, those are all flights that would have been on Delta if they had not made the change.

Continental is making a big mistake following in Delta's footsteps. I understand what the one person wrote about everybody getting up when elite boarding is being called, but that is mostly because of the segment issue. What Continental should do is penalize the lowest fares by not giving them segments but still continue to accrue miles at a normal basis, it solves some of their problems and keeps passengers generally happy.

posted: Sep 25, 2003 at 7:13pm (MT)

I check American and they also give 50% for cheap fares such as Q. In addition, they do NOT give 150% for full fares such as Y or Business.
Then they let the miles expire.
Not a viable option.
United is the only one with a plan like Continental's old plan but my guess is most CO people don't live in cities served well by United or they don't want to fly a bankrupt operation.
Face it. There are no options except complaining, but that won't work.

posted: Sep 27, 2003 at 9:32pm (MT)

I find it inconsiderate and insulting when I think about the nature of this program change and why it would be implemented. Essentially, if I were to patronize Continental Airlines with the same frequency as I have over the past several years, the only thing that changes is that I will be demoted in Elite status. I don’t understand what Continental serves to gain in this move; as far as I’m concerned, it just means I have less on an incentive to remain loyal to the program. It makes me feel as though I’m being viewed more as a dispensable commodity and less as a loyal customer.

With the sluggish economy and sundry challenges confronting the airline industry these days, I’m rather surprised that Continental would implement a program change that effectively alienates its most loyal customers, a contingent whose perpetual patronage has helped maintain Continental’s viability in a fragile marketplace where the ubiquity of less-expensive carriers is expanding.

How they are so quick to forget that those Freddie Awards are earned for providing services that they now want to take away...

posted: Sep 27, 2003 at 10:16pm (MT)

I maintain my top-elite status on another (not-to-be-named!) airline for around $4000 a year in leisure travel alone. Yup, 100,00 miles a year for 4 thousand bucks, 4 cents a mile.

Meanwhile my airline, like others, is bleeding cash, paying 10 cents plus per mile to fly me so far. Yet they treat me just as well as their big dog $10,000+/year customers.

Do the math: as a benefactor of market conditions that are great for discount flyers yet are wretched for the airlines, I'm bringing them down! (Here's hoping the good times last...)

And I make no apologies for taking advantage -- I'm extremely proud of being the cheapest elite in business class. But Continental's move -- putting them more in line with relatively solvent foreign carriers like Singapore Air -- just might prove salutary. And I'm sure Southwest et al will gladly welcome converts; welcome back to steerage, folks!

posted: Oct 1, 2003 at 10:49pm (MT)

I have been an Elite traveler for 4 years. Like many other companies, mine expects me to fly in the most reasonable manner. I have always been able to justify Continental versus SW with the fares and like many others have always scheduled my leisure (not ff) trips with Continental. I fly almost every week of the Year and concur that Continental is making a big mistake in pushing away lots of loyalty. Even though I book cheaper fares, with schedule changes I am also adding $100 change fees to many tickets. Very disappointed in what was a good Program.

posted: Oct 21, 2003 at 6:02pm (MT)

I have been an Elite member for 5 years, I switched from DL to CO when they changed their program of segments/price, etc. I know that CO is making a big mistake, so please write CO and tell them what you think... I am starting to research other airlines.

Continental Airlines
PO Box 4607
Houston, TX 77210-4607

posted: Nov 18, 2003 at 7:30pm (MT)

Hold on, folks, this table is in error! I too am leaving Delta because of this boneheaded policy, and have chosen Continental specifically because they *will* continue to give status on discounted tickets through 12/31/2004, but only when purchased online.

See the first footnote:

This really needs to be updated on the NotiFlyer page!

posted: Dec 10, 2003 at 3:15pm (MT)

I'm Gold Elite in the UK. I've only just found out about these stupid changes via the Dec statement. A bit more notice would have been welcome!! Unfortunately I've just booked 2 return trips to the US in the wrong class, via a tour operator.

What really pisses me off is that Continental won't let me change these tickets for free; They want me to pay $90 per ticket as an 'Admin fee', in addition to the higher costs. They really seem to want their best customers to find a new airline... The changes are idiotic, and their so called 'Customer care' doesn't seem to extend to the UK...

posted: Jan 31, 2004 at 3:10am (MT)

I have written two letters to One Pass; answers were generally vague and useless; for one year those of us flying budget airfares are being given a break if we book on line, but the reality is Conmtinental just doesn't care anymore. I have been Platinum Elite since they merged with Northwest, gold for several years before; my opinions and those of thousands of others just don't matter. I will continue to fly Continental for one more year while the web deal is in effect but the moment they institute the 50% for budget fares, they've lost me forever (except for using up my 800,0000 plus miles with them).
Continental just doesn't get it, doesn't care, and deserves to lose much of the business from companies and from leisure travelers for being so bone headed and unwilling to admit it is wrong. Gordon Bethune, their president, must be off in a cloud somewhere to not see the potential loss for this one great airline.

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