Major Enhancement: United and Continental Miles and Status Now Combinable

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If you’ve been waiting to merge your United and Continental miles, your time has come. Starting today, you can link your Continental and United accounts and transfer miles (both redeemable and elite qualifying) between the airlines. Note: You’ll need to designate one account that will be the primary elite status earning account (you can’t keep switching back and forth). I suggest choosing the carrier you fly the most, because your upgrade priority may be higher (although if you have Global Services/1K on United, I recommend staying with that program).

Transfer redeemable miles (note: use your Continental 4 digit pin, not your online password): Continental, United
Transfer elite miles: Continental, United

Why this is a big deal:

1) Combining your Continental and United miles allows you to redeem for better awards. If you have 12,000 United and 13,000 Continental, you can combine to have enough miles to book a domestic round-trip coach award.
2) United allows one way awards (even on Star Alliance partners), while Continental does not. If you need to book a one way award and you have Continental miles, simply transfer them to your United account.
3) Continental is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, so until September of this year, you can transfer Amex -> Continental -> United, allowing you to book one way awards, even on Star Alliance partners
4) Emirates is a partner of United and they allow first class awards for 210,000 miles, business class for 150,000 and coach for 90,000. While Continental is also a partner, they don’t allow first class redemptions and their partnership with Emirates ends on March 26, 2011. However, Continental only charges 75,000 miles for economy and 115,000 for business, so book through them until March 26 if you want coach/business awards.
5) United blocks some partner awards (Starnet Blocking), while Continental does not. While United has gotten better about this recently, award availability and routing rules are generally more lenient with Continental.
6) Continental.com allows more Star Alliance partners to be booked online, thus saving you time and money from having to call United (who may charge $25 per ticket for booking with a phone rep). Continental’s online engine is a better booking engine with more Star Alliance partners. While it doesn’t show international first class (only economy and domestic first/ international business), it does load a lot of Star Alliance partners like Lufthansa, ANA, Thai, TAP, US Airways, United, Air Canada, bmi, Spanair, SAS, Brussels Air, EgyptAir, and Aegean (let me know if I’m missing any).
7) Take advantage of double the amount of partners and promotions. For the time being, Continental and United have different credit cards, though they are both issued by Chase, so you should wait at least 6 months after applying for the first. Their current offers are pretty generous- 50,000 miles and no fee for the Continental card and 30,000 miles and no fee for the United card. Add in a 50,000 point sign-up bonus for the American Express Platinum card and you’ve got more than enough miles for that business class trip on Emirates (or first class on Star Alliance to Europe) – all without stepping on a plane and for only $450 in fees (for the Platinum card).
8 ) Take advantage of other airline partners. United’s are Aer Lingus, Emirates, Hawaiian, Island Air, Jet, Qatar and Taca.
Continental’s non-Star Alliance partners are: Copa, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, EvaAmtrak, Cape Air, Hawaiian, Aeromar and Island Air.
9) United members can take advantage of Mileathon.

I’m sure there are more benefits, but I thought I’d get those out right now so you can start thinking about how to take advantage of this new enhancement.

From the Flyertalk announcement:

“Hi Everyone, as most of you know, United Mileage Plus and Continental OnePass will continue to operate separately until we until they’re combined in 2012. As a result, we’ve received requests from members to be able to transfer miles and combine Elite earnings between accounts. Today, we’re pleased to give you, our power-users, a sneak preview of our new self-service tools that do just that.

Specifically, you can:

  1. Transfer redeemable miles between your OnePass and Mileage Plus accounts. Give it a spin at united.com/transfermymiles or continental.com/transfermymiles (both take you to the same place).
  2. Match Elite status and combine Elite earnings for your OnePass and Mileage Plus accounts. For those of you who have Elite Qualification miles and segments/points in both OnePass and Mileage Plus, you can now combine these earnings to earn Elite status, Regional Upgrades and Systemwide Upgrades. Go to united.com/combinemyactivity or continental.com/combinemyactivity for all the details. “

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