For about a year now it has been possible to transfer miles freely between Continental OnePass and United Mileage Plus accounts in the same name. While that’s nice in order to be able to combine miles, people tend to overlook the usefulness of transferring United Mileage Plus miles to Continental OnePass in order to book awards through Continental, even if you otherwise have no miles with them. Why, you may ask?
- Continental lets you book Star Alliance awards online, which saves you $25. United charges a phone ticketing fee of $25 for non-1Ks, which is unfortunate since most Star Alliance awards can’t be booked through United’s website. By transferring the miles to Continental you can book through them and save money.
- Continental partners with Virgin Atlantic, while United doesn’t. Virgin Atlantic has surprisingly good award space in Upper Class, and for the time being they’re still partners with Continental OnePass, while they aren’t partners with United Mileage Plus.
- Continental’s computers auto-price award tickets. Don’t underestimate the beauty of this. Try booking an award ticket through United from the US to Asia, one way via the Atlantic and one way via the Pacific. Most United agents will say that’s a round the world ticket, and needs to be priced as such. Continental’s computers correctly price this as a US to Asia award. All the time I’ll book ten segment itineraries that sound crazy to agents, and United agents almost always question me. Continental agents almost never do, since the computer will tell them if an award isn’t permissible.
- Continental lets you book mix cabin itineraries on the same records. Say you want to fly from Los Angeles to London in business class and London to Los Angeles in first class. That would cost you 117,500 miles (50,000 miles for the outbound, 67,500 miles for the return). United would make you book this as two one-way tickets, meaning you potentially have to pay two booking fees and two cancellation or change fees if you were to make a change or cancel. Continental, on the other hand, will allow you to have mixed cabin itineraries at different price levels on the same record. So that means that with United, if your outbound is in business class your return has to be as well. With Continental, on the other hand, if your outbound is in business your return can be in coach, business, or first class, either at the standard or saver level.
- Once ticketed, Continental will let you change the type of award you have. Say you book an award ticket in business class roundtrip from Los Angeles to London for 100,000 miles. Say, then, that a week before departure Continental opens up award space from Los Angeles to London in first class, and you wanted to switch the outbound to first class. United would require you to cancel your reservation and start over (meaning you would lose your award space on the return), while Continental would be able to reprice the itinerary and charge you the mileage difference, while not messing with the return portion of your itinerary.
- Continental has more liberal change rules. Up until 21 days before departure both airlines now allow free “simple” changes to itineraries. The difference is how the airlines define simple changes. For Mileage Plus, the origin, destination, carriers and routing would have to remain the same. For OnePass, on the other hand, the change would have to be made at least 21 days in advance and the origin and destination must remain the same. The routing and carrier, however, may change. That means that Continental lets you change the routing for free up until 21 days before departure, while United charges you for that.
So do the smart thing and always book through Continental when ticketing your awards.