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What to do with your Continental and United frequent-flier points

Consumer Reports News: May 03, 2010 05:19 PM

If you’re a Continental or United Airlines loyalist, you’re likely wondering what the proposed $3 billion merger of the two airlines will have on your frequent flyer miles. There is a chance the Justice Department’s antitrust division will put the kibosh on the deal.

The two airlines, however, appear to believe the deal will go through, and have already taken steps to combine their rewards programs. Continental recently switched to the Star Alliance reward group; United is also a member, so flyers can now earn points on either airline’s flights. And Chase runs both credit-card reward programs, so if you use plastic to rack up your miles you won’t have to monitor your account as it’s switched to a new issuer—a headache experienced by Northwest customers when Delta took over. 

But using your points may already be tougher, too. The two airlines have also already consolidated flight plans, so there are likely fewer reward seats available to book. 

Here’s what you can do as you wait to see if the deal will be struck:

• Make sure the info each airline has on you is consistent. If you are a member of both United and Continental programs, you’ll end up with a fatter points total—if the two properly combine your accounts. “This procedure is done by computer, so if you have your work email listed with United and your home email account on record at Continental, they may not be merged,” says Linda Young, managing editor of Inside Flyer, the magazine tip sheet on travel deals.

• Make your voice heard. In the next few months the two companies will decide which goodies to keep from each plan. “One thing I know about the people who run reward programs, they want to know which benefits their loyal customers like best,” says Young. Are you a big fan of the extra legroom of United’s Economy Plus seats? Then let a customer rep know it. Young also suggests you vent your feelings on, the popular extreme road warrior forum.

• Consider cashing in some miles before the deal goes through. Après merge, the cost of flights and the number of points needed to earn freebies could go up.

• Stay tuned. Leading up to the merger, which could be final by the end of the year, there will be more changes made to each program as they’re melded together.

ShopSmart magazine offers more tips here on getting discounts on air travel.–Mandy Walker

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