continental at newark For a fee, Continental lets you lock in a low fare without buying the ticket
Continental has launched “Fare Lock,” which charges you a fee to lock in a fare for anywhere from three days to one week. FareLock holds both a reservation and a fare, so you can reserve first and ask questions later.

The price is … vague:

Customers may choose FareLock when booking reservations at continental.com and opt for a 72-hour or a seven-day hold. They may return to complete the transaction at any time between purchasing the lock and its expiration, or they may choose an auto-ticketing feature which tickets at the end of the lock period. FareLock fees, beginning at $5 for a 72-hour hold and $9 for a seven-day hold, will vary based on a number of factors such as the itinerary, number of days to departure and the length of the hold.

So essentially, Continental is selling you a call option on an airfare, with the “call” expiring in either 3 days or 7.

(When Continental starts selling puts, as well as calls, call me… Can you imagine the secondary market?)

This could be useful for some people, if the fare is rock-bottom enough and worth buying insurance for. But remember, if you can figure out your plans within 24 hours, you don’t need such an insurance policy in the first place. After all, Continental still offers a 24-hour flexible booking policy, meaning that you have 24 hours from the time you purchase the ticket to cancel for a full refund, for any reason.

Interestingly, the press release reaffirms the existence of the 24-hour flexible booking policy, so the company is seemingly signaling that the courtesy-cancel isn’t going away. That’s good.

It’s not clear how much demand there really is for such a service. If the price is too high, that demand will disappear really quickly. For now, I’ll most likely rely more on the 24-hour courtesy-cancel, but it’s good to know there’s an insurance option available.

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Categorized in: airfare, Continental Airlines

Upgraded: Our understanding of why airline food sucks
Until now, I’ve always thought the dry cabin air, high salt content, and reheated-ness would have been the primary reasons for the typically underwhelming flavor in inflght meals, but apparently we should also take into account the level of background noise. The low rumble of flight apparently dulls the senses. If true, then, we should be able to test this scientifically. Taste-test the same food with noise-canceling headphones, and then without. Or taste it at the front of an MD-80, then again in the back, right next to the jets. (Maybe this is why food seems better in first class…)

Downgraded: Amex Platinum benefits
As readers have reminded me: Starting September 2011, American Express Platinum cards will no longer give you free access to Continental President’s Club airport lounges. (I thought I had blogged about this in the past, but a quick search proves that memory was fuzzy: I hadn’t actually posted about it, just written about it briefly in the comments to a post about American Airlines Admirals Clubs launching free drinks domestically.) With Continental cutting access to Amex members, I assume this means that United won’t be scrambling to join up, either…

Downgraded: Air marshals from first class
It’s historically been easy to spot the air marshal onboard a flight: The guy with the short hair in an aisle seat in the last row of first class. Maybe not much longer. “Airlines are asking the Federal Air Marshals Service to relax its policy of often seating undercover agents in first class because they say it has become a costly disruption that isn’t justified by current security threats.” Looks like your upgrade chances might improve!

Upgraded: The love of flying
Some people love flying. Really, really love it. Love it enough to build their own airplane in their backyard, even though they never had aerospace engineering training. While I fear for the test flight, I admire this gentleman’s moxie and truly wish him the best of luck.


United and Continental, though merged as a corporate entity, are still operating as two separate airlines, with two separate licenses from the federal government. And of more immediate importance to the frequent traveler, they still maintain two distinct frequent flier programs for now. So it is of some interest when the merged company announces that elite-level members of both airlines now have upgrade privileges on both airlines.

But much as merging airlines face internal strife over the seniority lists of pilots and flight attendants, who has the “seniority” among customers with similarly-fat elite-qualifying mileage balances? As of late yesterday, that’s been clarified.

For travel on Continental:

When seats are available, upgrades are automatically confirmed by elite level*. The chart below details when an upgrade may be confirmed, and if your benefit can be shared with one guest traveling with you on the same reservation.

Status

CO Presidential Platinum

CO Platinum

UA Global Services

UA Premier Executive 1K

CO Gold

UA Premier Executive

CO Silver

UA Premier

Prior to departure, confirmed as early as

144 hours

120 hours

120 hours

120 hours

72 hours

72 hours

24 hours

24 hours

Extend benefit to a guest?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

N/A

N/A



* Premier Associate® members are not eligible for Elite upgrades on Continental.

For travel on United:

This is an adaptation of what I’ve been able to glean from the United and Continental sites:

Status

UA Global Services

UA Premier Executive 1K

UA Premier Executive

CO Presidential Platinum

CO Platinum

CO Gold

UA Premier

CO Silver

Prior to departure, confirmed as early as

120 hours

100 hours

72 hours

72 hours

72 hours

72 hours

48 hours

48 hours

Extend benefit to a guest?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

It’s interesting that United is lumping all Continental elites with Star Alliance Gold status together in the same basket, while Continental is differentiating within the United-internal hierarchy. I suppose this indicates that Continental’s IT systems are more nimble than United’s which comes as no surprise. The end effect: Those on the very top of the United food chain come out slightly ahead of those on the Continental scheme.

In any case, United elites will still be favored on United aircraft, and Continental elites will be favored on Continental aircraft.

And best of luck clearing those upgrades, regardless of the color and design of your card…


Upgraded (sorta) and Downgraded: Continental’s in-flight food
For a few years, Continental has been the last holdout on the domestic airline scene, offering free meals in coach. That ends now. The airline is offering a new-and-improved menu in coach — that is, if you consider food on a stick an improvement. None of the food sounds particularly exciting, and in-terminal options are likely still better choices. And, in a departure from their recent practice, the food will no longer be free (thus, downgraded). Here’s what to expect: “The menu will include freshly prepared hot and cold mealtime selections similar to those served in casual-dining restaurants, such as Asian-style noodle salad, grilled chicken spinach salad, Angus cheeseburger, and Jimmy Dean sausage, egg and cheese sandwich. Snack and dessert options — including a gourmet cheese & fresh fruit plate, several types of snack boxes, a la carte brand-name snacks and chocolate-covered Eli’s Cheesecake on a stick — will also be available for purchase. Prices will range from $1.50 for Pringles Original Potato Crisps to $8.25 for the grilled chicken spinach salad.” See a fuzzy pic of the menu here.

Downgraded: Starwood’s top hotels’ redemption options
Gary Leff makes a great point in criticizing Starwood’s outrageous redemption rates for its most expensive hotel rooms. I like the Starwood Preferred Guest program generally, but 100,000 per night for some of those all-suite hotels in locations like French Polynesia? Come on, people.

Upgraded: Star Alliance Africa options
Star Alliance has invited Ethiopian Airlines to join the alliance. This is the third African airline in Star (South African Airways and Egyptair are the others). In the other alliances, SkyTeam has Kenya Airways, and oneworld has… no one. Africa is expected to be a major growth area for air travel — and for economic activity generally — so expect to see further invitations like this within all three alliances.

Upgraded: Las Vegas as a lair for supervillains
In a cross between the laser satellite run by a Las Vegas kingpin in “Diamonds are Forever” and the Death Star’s destruction of the planet Alderaan in “Star Wars,” we now have a Las Vegas hotel that channels the sun’s rays to create a “death ray” of sorts in the middle of the Vegas Strip. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) it’s unintentional… And if you’re a guest at the Vdara Hotel, it could be problematic: “[...] a visitor from Chicago tipped off [the Las Vegas Review-Journal] after having his hair singed, and his plastic shopping bag partially melted, while trying to lounge by the pool.” Here’s a diagram from the paper, via Minyanville:

las vegas death ray Upgrades and Downgrades: Continentals food, Vegas death rays, bad Starwood deals


continental at newark Business class deals trickling out now for holiday travel
Business class fare sales are like clockwork, at least in the northern hemisphere: You’ll see one fare sale for mid-summer travel, and one for December. In both cases, business travel slows significantly as people take time off and spend it with family. In both cases, airlines respond (often proactively) by slashing business class fares.

Take Continental’s latest fare sale to Europe, for example. It’s notable for being early. Summer isn’t over yet, and we’re seeing late summer and early winter biz sales.

The fares are solid, such as $1272 from Newark to London roundtrip, $1370 to Paris, or $1420 to Frankfurt.

Dates?

  1. Depart November 21 through 27, 2010, returning November 25 through December 1, 2010.
  2. Depart December 20, 2010 through January 7, 2011, returning December 24, 2010 through January 13, 2011.

The fine print has both good news and bad news. Bad news: fuel surcharges. Good news: You can fly airlines other than Continental, such as Lufthansa. (Continental is rolling out upgraded flat seats in their “BusinessFirst” class, but the rollout is far from complete as of this writing.)

Fares listed do not include fuel surcharge. Round-trip travel required. Advance purchase of at least 21 days required and must be ticketed within 72 hours of booking. A minimum three-night stay is required. Fares are nonrefundable and require a $400 change fee. Not combinable with any other fares. Other restrictions apply. Offers are only valid for flights on Continental, Air Canada, Lufthansa and United. December travel period excludes flights to Bristol, Delhi, Mumbai and Tel Aviv.

Continental may be early on this, but other airlines are bound to follow suit. And there’s always the all-premium class OpenSkies connection from Newark or DC to Paris, which is currently running $1530 roundtrip fares, but that’s likely to go lower as we enter fall…

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newark airport Good news for New York airfares: Southwest Airlines coming to Newark
Southwest has agreed to lease 18 take-off/landing slot pairs at Newark Airport from United and Continental. The deal is a function of the CO-UA merger, which, if it were approved without conditions, would solidify Continental’s grip on Newark.

Bringing Southwest into Newark is a big deal. Southwest hasn’t flown to a New York airport yet (correction: they have had flights from LGA to Chicago and Baltimore since June 2009… sorry about that!) — and no, their flights to Islip, NY are not New York City. It’s a major move into a huge market, and it’s to Newark, which is arguably the easiest and most convenient airport to access from Manhattan, despite being in New Jersey.

Especially if it goes above and beyond these initial slots, Southwest’s presence will mean lower fares at all the NYC airports, so New Yorkers can look forward to the greater competition.

No word yet on the specific routes Southwest will fly out of Newark, once it starts up.

Update: Just hours after the announcement related to Newark slots, United and Continental received clearance from the US Dept of Justice, paving the way for the finalization of their merger. Stockholder approval is still required, but the two airlines are expected to be merged into one company by October 1, 2010. Ta-daaaa.