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UPDATE: Continental is now part of United.
Of all the US legacy carriers, I think Continental.com is the best when searching for award tickets. It’s a pretty shrewd engine that smartly searches award availability on United and US Airways as well as a host of other Star Alliance carriers like Lufthansa, Air Canada, LOT, TAP, BMI and Virgin Atlantic (note: Virgin Atlantic isn’t a Star Alliance partner, but a special Continental Onepass partner).
While Continental has a great award search engine, my single main issue with the program is that it charges the same price for a one way award as it does for a roundtrip. However, they are very flexible with award pricing, which you can use to your benefit. Continental’s award system prices an award based on two portions: outbound and return, whereas unfriendly engines, like US Airways, will charge you for a first class award, even if the return is in coach. NOTE: Sometimes continental.com will code a multi-stop option as business class when the longest portion is actually in coach, so read my post on “sneaky” pricing before you do any continental.com bookings.
For example, if you only needed a one way North America to Europe award in business class, instead of paying 105,000 for a round-trip business class award (which is what a phone rep would quote you), you could book a multi-city itinerary that looks like this:
Leg 1- The trip you want to take, for ex JFK-FRA in business class (105,000 /2 = 52,500
Leg 2- FRA- MUC This leg would be included in the pricing of leg 1 because it would count as a stopover
Leg 3- MUC- LHR This leg is your “return” so choose a coach level intra-continental award (25,000 / 2)= 12,500
Total price of itinerary: 65,000 miles. While not 52,500, its definitely better than paying 105,000. Below is a screen shot of my fake example. While I included “fake” intra-european legs, you can also tack on domestic US flights that you may actually use in the future. I’m pretty sure Continental wouldn’t support this method of ticketing, but until Onepass merges with United, or Continental decides to allow one-ways, it is an effective way to create your own quasi one way awards (at least for international trips).