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Sunday Reader Question: What Should I Do With My Continental Credit Card?

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Update: The current offer for the  United Explorer card is 30,000 points with $1,000 spend in the first 3 months.

TPG reader Eric writes:

“What should I do with my Chase Continental Airlines OnePass Card? Cancel or hold on to it?

The annual fee doesn’t come due for another 4 or 5 months, but I’m unsure as to Chase’s plans for the card.  Will Chase convert my Continental card into a United card, thus making me ineligible for future United Chase credit card sign-up bonuses?

With the devaluation of BA Adios miles, United miles are a strong player for building in a lot of stopovers on our mileage tickets.”

I agree that United miles are very valuable and I ranked them the highest in my recent post on frequent flyer program rankings. Since the Continental OnePass program will technically cease to exist as its own entity when it gets merged into United MileagePlus on January 1, 2012 Chase is going to eventually phase out the Continental credit cards. My guess is that they will switch you over to the new United Explorer card at some point in 2012.

To maximize this situation, I would do the following:
1) I’m assuming you have the old Continental Onepass credit card, so I’d get the new Continental OnePass Plus card which was launched this summer. It currently gives 25,000 miles with first purchase, 5,000 for adding an additional cardholder and then 10,000 every year you spend $25,000. Additional benefits are primary auto insurance when renting cars, a free checked bag, priority boarding, 2 lounge passes, upgrades for elites on award tickets and access to Anytime awards. They were supposed to run a special 60,000 mile bonus for this card, but those plans have been indefinitely pushed back. They may decide to do it in January, so if you can wait, it may make sense to hold off. Though you also take the risk of them pulling the card off the market – I mean it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to be issuing Continental OnePass credit cards when that frequent flyer program doesn’t even exist.

2) Then, at least a month later, I’d get a Sapphire Preferred card if you don’t already have one. United/Continental are instant 1:1 transfer partners and the current limited time offer is 53,500 points (50,000 plus 3,500 for the yearly 7% bonus you get as a cardholder on all points earned every year). This should be your go-to card since it offers 2 points per dollar on all travel and dining. The OnePass Plus and Explorer cards are decent if you don’t have elite status and value the perks of checked bags and priority boarding and award upgrades (elite only). However, if you already get a lot of those benefits  through your elite status, then I’d recommend just focusing on keeping the Sapphire Preferred card as your main workhorse card – especially since it has no foreign transaction fees and the United cards do.

3) Here is where it gets a little trickier. The T&C of the offer for the United card state

“United MileagePlus Explorer cardmembers will only receive one 25,000 bonus miles award if they apply for both the United Explorer Card and the Continental OnePass Plus Card after 7/19/2011″

However there have been reports of people getting both cards and both bonuses- if anyone has any experience, please comment and share your thoughts so we can all get a better understanding. For the less risk averse, I’d hold off applying for the United Explorer card until a new offer comes out in 2012 that may not have this exclusion. What is said in the rules and what happens in reality is a huge aspect of the points and miles world, so if you are feeling lucky you can sign-up for the United Explorer card bonus which currently has the same 25,000+ 5,000 + 10,000 offer. The only reason why I could see doing this is because you want to get this card as a new member to get the sign-up bonus before they automatically turn your OnePass card into the Explorer product. I don’t have timelines for this, but I suspect nothing will happen in the first half of 2012. A safer bet might also be getting the United Explorer Business Card, which has less restrictive terms and conditions

“This one-time bonus offer is valid only for first-time United MileagePlus Business Card cardmembers with new accounts. Previous and existing United MileagePlus Business Card cardmembers/accounts are not eligible for this bonus offer.”

Chase will allow you get 1 credit card a month (sometimes more if you have a compelling reason and very good credit) and there’s no limit to the number of cards you can have with them. However, they do set a total credit line per customer, so you may max out after a couple cards if they give you large credit lines. What you can then ask them to do is take credit lines from your older accounts or close them all together, in order to get new cards. You will likely get automatically rejected after your first application, but the great thing is that Chase has smart humans staffing their reconsideration line. So don’t cancel that old Continental card- use it as a negotiation tool with the reconsideration line. If you preemptively cancel it, you lose that as a bargaining tool- plus your credit may take a hit for having a lower available pool of credit vs the amount of outstanding balances you have.

So for three credit inquiries, which is a temporary 6-15 point hit on your credit score, you can rack up 113,500 United miles. If you can hit the spend thresholds to trigger the 10,000 mile bonuses on the OnePass Plus/Explorer cards, you can add another 20,000 miles to that total. That’s more than enough for a business class ticket to Asia or 5 coach roundtrip domestic awards- and the great thing is that the annual fees are waived on all three of the cards for the first year!

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