Thursday, July 01, 2010

Continental Screwing Its Platinums

Continuing what appears to be a coordinated campaign to annoy the hell out of its elite-status members, Continental Airlines today reminded them by e-mail that the date is looming to "deliver the redemption and fulfillment" of what Continental calls new "OnePass Elite benefits."

"Last year we announced several OnePass Elite benefits and their intended implementation in mid-year 2010. We’re working as quickly as possible through some technical issues and expect to deliver the redemption and fulfillment of these benefits to you by September 2010," Continental said.

The main "benefit?" Well, Continental is starting a new invitation-only level of Platinum Elite that has priority over the existing Platinum Elite. That means, if you faithfully patronized Continental last year to the tune of at least 75,000 flown miles, achieving Platiunum status -- well, guess what: Assuming you didn;t spoend at least $30,000 to do so, they're moving a whole new group of people ahead of you in line for those diminishing rewards such as free upgrades.

And of course, those in the mid-level Gold and lowest-level Silver niches also move down in priority.

As of September, here are the "benefits" Continental touts, "once you qualify" for invitation to the new Presidential Platinum Elite level. Boldface is mine:

"Presidential Platinum is an invitation-only Elite benefit designed to reward Continental’s top Platinum Elite members. Members who achieve this level will be given all the benefits of a Platinum Elite member, plus top priority in Elite Upgrade recognition and flight standby, a dedicated VIP phone line and an annual fee waiver on the Continental Airlines Presidential PlusSM Card subject to credit approval. ..."

Forget the fee-free offer for some crappy credit card, as if any of us needed another affinity credit card. It's the priority on the already diminishing pool of available upgrades that counts.

How does one get this coveted "invitation" to the new elite level? Well, one flies a minimum of 75,000 miles in a year and one spends a lot of dough doing so, meaning one's booking cheaper nonrefundable fares won't count all that much.

"To keep this program exclusive, our Presidential Platinum Elite level requires you to both earn Platinum Elite status and spend the minimum threshold required for a Presidential Platinum invitation." Which initially will be $30,000 a year, Continental says.

I have said this before, and it is becoming more clear by the day:

Airline mileage programs are already in a state of Weimar Republic-style hyperinflation. And airline elite-status programs within those mileage programs are increasingly not worth the effort.

Airlines are betting that customers will have no place else to go as mergers and capacity cutbacks make the system smaller. Take it or leave it.

Can we spell S-O-U-T-H-W-E-S-T? How about J-E-T-B-L-U-E? Or V-I-R-G-I-N A-M-E-R-I-C-A? ... E-T-C.



Anonymous said...

Just because a Platinum elite spent over $30k in 2010 doesn't mean that Silver and Gold elite get bumped lower. Your chances of getting an upgrade as a Silver or Gold are exactly the same. Platinum (regardless of revenue) go first anyway. All they did was split the Platinum elite into two tiers based on revenue.

Difference is the Platinum flier with 120,000 miles in 2010 that spent $15k will get bumped for the guy with 75,000 miles that spent $30k.

Quite frankly, I think the guy who goes to Asia on BusinessFirst 10 times a year at $8,000 per flight should outrank the guy who flies from Houston to Chicago every week for $198.

Anonymous said...

As a platinum level traveler for over 10 years who spends well over $30k each year I thought the Presidential program was great and am enjoying both my free lounge access and priority over other Platinum elites. Just like any other aspect of a free market economy, you spend more money you get more in return. I never buy non-refundable travel so am happy to finally get rewarded for all these years of spending more than folks who reach elite status on the cheap.