Continental Airlines has announced changes to its OnePass program, focusing on improved online booking tools and enhanced elite benefits.
A new feature at continental.com makes it easier for frequent flyers to search for and book online reward travel. Members may now search for standard rewards on a new calendar with reward seat availability displayed over a two-month period based on the date of the preferred flight.
Continental redesigned the search engine in conjunction with ITA Software, the company that designed much of the booking functionality for Orbitz and several airline sites.
Continental officials have said the move should make it easier for frequent flyers to not only redeem flights online, but also to see what options are available for upgrades and travel on other dates. The other major airlines, which are eager to cut costs by getting customers to conduct more transactions on their Web sites, are expected to follow this move.
To introduce members to the new reward calendar, Continental is offering a 10-percent discount for standard reward seats redeemed at its Web site for travel within the continental U.S., Canada and Alaska, ticketed before Oct. 31. Standard rewards seats that are regularly 25,000 miles will be on sale for 22,500 miles during this limited period.
To improve service for its most frequent customers, Continental has opened a dedicated Elite Priority Desk for elite members. Open seven days a week, the service has been welcomed by OnePass members who have hoped for something similar for years now.
In addition, Continental has extended indefinitely its promotion that allows OnePass members who purchase discounted economy-class tickets at continental.com to earn full credit towards elite status, regardless of fare class.
And effective Jan. 1, 2005, Continental will eliminate restricted travel dates for standard rewards, increasing the number of days available for reward travel. Capacity controls will still apply.
Not all the news is great, though: Effective Jan. 1, 2005, Continental will raise fees to upgrade to BusinessFirst on discounted economy tickets. One-way upgrade fees for tickets booked in B or O class will increase from $300 to $350. Tickets booked in V or U class will see upgrade fees go from $300 to $400 and tickets booked in Q, I, S, W, T, X, or L class will rise from $400 to $450 each way. There are no fees for upgrades for tickets booked in H class (except for flights to or from Hawaii which remain at $200 each way) and the fee for tickets booked in K class will remain unchanged at $200 each way.
On first glance, it would appear that Continental’s changes are almost entirely positive, and in line with the industry trend of increasing benefits for elite-level flyers. A word of caution, however: battle-tested members will remember that good news is often followed by less-than-exciting news. In Continental’s case, for example, the highly publicized release of the “EliteAccess” program preceded some less-well-known changes to the elite program last year.
As of yet, our sources at Continental have not indicated that any such changes are looming, and we caution against undue suspicion. OnePass, after all, rescinded or postponed a number of its unpopular changes last year in the face of member opposition. Awareness, not cynicism, is called for.