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Continental to Sever Frequent Flyer Ties With American Express

If you’re a member of Continental’s OnePass program and have an American Express card linked to the Membership Rewards program, the ability to convert Membership Rewards points into OnePass miles adds value to both programs.

And if your American Express card is of the Platinum or Centurion variety, the ability to use Continental’s airport lounges is also a win-win for both cardholders and Continental customers.

But, according to a news release issued yesterday by American Express, the Continental-American Express relationship—and the value that it delivers—will disappear on September 30, 2011.

The breakup is neither a surprise nor a game-changer.

Continental is in the final stages of merging with United, which has no relationship with American Express. In fact, United is joined at the hip with the issuer of its Mileage Plus credit cards, Chase, whose cards compete with those of American Express. So when the Continental-United merger firmed up, American Express must have realized that its tie-up with Continental was doomed. And the company has taken steps to plug the hole that would be left by Continental’s defection.

The addition of US Airways to the list of airlines that offer airport lounge access to Platinum and Centurion cardholders was almost certainly a move to preemptively add back some of the value lost with the termination of the Continental partnership.

And American Express will add two additional perks to the Platinum and Centurion card benefits packages, beginning December 1:

  • $200 Airline Fee Credit — American Express will reimburse cardholders up to $200 annually for such airline expenses as baggage fees, flight change fees, in-flight food, and airport lounge day passes.
  • 20 Percent Travel Bonus — Cardholders who use Pay with Points to pay for their travel will get 20 percent of the points credited back to their accounts.

In the end, this change will be minimally disruptive by the standards of frequent flyer program realignments.

But it serves as a reminder that frequent flyer tie-ups, and the value they provide, are temporary, dependent on variables that are beyond the control (and sometimes beyond the understanding) of consumers. Change is the only constant—plan accordingly.

  • Nutmegger

    No Need to panic! You will still be able to use your AMEX points to buy Continental tickets and get the miles on your Continental Frequent Flyer account once you have completed your flight so it is still a win win situation.

  • askmrlee

    Nutmegger, how is this a win-win when we lose the ability to COMBINE BIS miles with Amex MR points to make that business class reward ticket possible?