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In March, Continental and United announced that members of each program would be able to link their frequent flyer programs together and transfer miles in between. They are doing this to get members comfortable with both programs because they will officially combine accounts at the end of 2011. I lauded this as a huge enhancement and just the other day I used this feature for the first time. I thought I’d share my experience so you all know what to expect.

Before you try to link your accounts, make sure your Continental and United profiles match exactly. Every single field in both profiles needs to be the same, or else the system will reject the request. I recommend pulling up both profiles in two side-by-side windows and cross referencing to make sure the information is the exact same.

Once you think the information is the same, try linking them using at this site. Note: you have to use your Continental 4 digit pin and not your online password.

I did that, but I still got an error. It turns out my middle initial was listed in my Continental profile, but not my United profile. I didn’t feel like calling Continental to get it changed, so I tried making a new United account, since my original one has 0 miles in it. No dice – United’s systems are pretty smart at recognizing attempts to create duplicate accounts. Instead I had to call United at 1-800-421-4655 to make manual changes, which they were happy to do after I verified a bunch of security information.

Once the changes were made, I let them take effect for 15 minutes and tried again and I was able to log-in and transfer the necessary points between the accounts. The transfer was instantaneous and I even got an email confirming it went through. However, I ended up needing more miles than I thought, but I had to wait 24 hours to do another transfer, which was really annoying. You can also only transfer 200,000 miles per day, so keep that in mind as well.

Overall, it was a bit of a hassle, but in the end it was worth it to be able to book a one-way Star Alliance award using my American Express points, since they transfer to Continental at an instant 1:1 ratio until September 30, 2011. On June 15, 2011 Continental will institute one-way awards, so I don’t anticipate having to do any more transfers to United after that date.

This also means that you can sign-up for the Sapphire Preferred 50,000 point bonus, transfer them to your Continental account and then onto your United account. The current United card bonus is only 30,000 points, so the Sapphire 50,000 with annual fee waived is a no-brainer if you like Star Alliance miles.

If you have United miles, you may want to consider transferring to Continental for a few reasons:
a) Their online award booking engine is far superior to and pulls in a good number of partners (including United, US Airways, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, ANA and Thai)
b) They are partners with Virgin Atlantic, which has pretty good award availability, even on peak summer dates
c) They allow a stopover (for example flying Chicago-Frankfurt- Prague, they allow you to stop in Frankfurt before continuing on to your final destination) and an open jaw (fly into one city, home from another)

Overall, I’m a big fan of flexibility, so I really like this feature, even though it did take me 30 minutes to figure out!

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

The standard sign-up offer for these co-branded cards is 30,000 miles after you spend $1,000 in the first three months, so the current bonus is a significant step up. TPG values United miles at 1.5 cents apiece, so this 50,000-mile sign-up bonus gets you $750 in value.

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More Things to Know
  • Special offer: 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $100 per roundtrip) when you use your Card to purchase your ticket
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Your miles don't expire as long as your credit card account is open, with no limit to the number of miles you can earn
  • Use your miles for any seat, any time, on any United-operated flight at the MileagePlus Standard Award level
  • $95 annual fee
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
16.49% - 23.49% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

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