It looks like we finally have an official date for Continental leaving SkyTeam. Via the Houston Chronicle:
Continental Airlines plans to exit the SkyTeam alliance with Delta Air Lines, Air France and others after its last flight Oct. 24 and join the rival Star Alliance shortly thereafter, CEO Larry Kellner said today.
This isn’t a surprise, although it’s good to have a firm date. I think it’s safe to assume that Northwest reciprocal upgrades will end on or before October 24. Also, I’m guessing SkyTeam awards can be booked up until that date, although I doubt changes will be allowed after that date, other than cancellation. Why on earth you’d want to redeem one last SkyTeam award before entering a much better alliance is beyond me, but still.
Anyway, the real question this raises in my mind is how Continental will approach Star Alliance awards, since Continental is notoriously stingy when it comes to award inventory. Not only is this the case on their own metal, but you can’t use Continental miles for three cabin first class travel on SkyTeam carriers like Air France and Korean Air.
So, what approach will Continental adopt when they join the Star Alliance? Will they join their friends at United in blocking partner award inventory, or will they play nice? Will they maybe restrict three cabin first class partner awards, like they’ve been doing in SkyTeam?
The most significant thing, in my mind, is that Continental Gold might be a good alternative to United Premier Executive status. I’m assuming they’ll both be Star Gold, they both earn 100% bonus miles, so it comes down to the other benefits. A Continental Gold gets unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades (in theory), while United Premier Executive members have to earn or buy upgrade instruments. Assuming they don’t block partner award inventory, it’s something to consider.
Lastly, Continental Gold and Platinum will be basically the same. It used to be that Platinum members received a 125% mileage bonus, while Gold members received a 100% bonus. Now that they’ve reduced the Platinum bonus, it’s the same for both levels. Also, in SkyTeam, only Platinum got you lounge access while traveling internationally, while both Gold and Platinum should (in theory) get one lounge access through the Star Alliance. The only difference I see is higher upgrade priority.