welcome to economy plus Economy Plus seating: United to keep it, Continental to adopt it
Exhale, United frequent fliers. Your Economy Plus isn’t going anywhere.

Rejoice, Continental frequent fliers. You’re getting Economy Plus!

After United merged with Continental a few months ago, and Continental’s management effectively took the helm, travelers had every right to fear that the extra legroom in the Economy Plus section might go the way of Continental Lite.

So it comes as some relief that the merged United-Continental announced their retention/expansion of the extra-legroom zone in economy today:

Today, United offers Economy Plus on all 359 mainline aircraft and more than 150 larger regional jets operated by United Express(R) carriers. When the multi-year conversion process is complete, the company plans to offer Economy Plus on more than 700 mainline aircraft, including all Continental mainline aircraft, as well as larger regional aircraft. When fully deployed, the new United’s fleet will include more than 40,000 Economy Plus seats, providing more than 122,000 Economy Plus seats each day, the largest amount of extra legroom economy seating available to customers of any airline in the world.

Details on where that extra space is coming from, and a specific timetable for the changes, are still forthcoming, but if you’re even an entry-level traveler with either United or Continental, this is good news. Not everyone upgrades to first, so at least you’ve got a fallback position with extra legroom.

It’s a win.


hotel ukraina moscow Upgrades and Downgrades: Moscow hotels, Tokyo flights, $5 rental cars, and hot cheese
Downgraded: Moscow
For the sixth year in a row, Moscow has the most expensive hotel rates in the world for business travelers. The average Moscow rate fell 12 percent to 13,250 rubles ($452). Fell.

Upgraded: Flights from NYC to Tokyo
American Airlines is launching flights from New York JFK to Tokyo Haneda Airport. Haneda, which is closer to downtown Tokyo, not Narita, the primary international airport.

Downgraded, then Upgraded: United grounds, then fixes, its 757s
United grounded all 96 of its Boeing 757s yesterday, to perform required emergency updates to all the planes’ air data computers. A day later, the airline reported that only 15 flights were nixed, and that all planes were back online.

Upgraded: One-way rentals out of Florida
If you’re in Florida and looking to leave the state between April and June, Hertz is serving up one-way out-of-Florida rentals for merely $5 a day. Rates are good for a limited range of destination states, and for a max of 14 days, but $5 is cheap. No one-way drop-off fees, either. Snowbirds bring the car in, you bring it out. This isn’t necessarily something for everyone, but if it meets your needs, go for it. (via)

Downgraded: Hot cheese
Beware of hot cheese when you travel. Seriously. The headline: “Disney in Hot Cheese Lawsuit.” It’s quite sad, actually, for the kid who got hurt. Poor child, but wow, what a sentence: “[Walt Disney Parks and Resorts] has just received the lawsuit from a Californian couple who say their four-year-old Isaiah Harris was injured at Cosmic Ray’s Starlite Café [at Orlando's Magic Kingdom] when he toppled into a scalding hot cup of cheese that had been prepared for pouring over nachos.”

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United has offered up an innovative new spin on cashing in frequent flier miles: “Weekend Saver” discounts. But is it worth spending your miles on this?

The concept is essentially the same as their e-fares: For last-minute reservations on flights from their hub cities, you pay less than the normal walkup rate. Your travel dates are limited, and you never know more than a week or two in advance which cities will be in the mix. It’s all determined by supply and demand.

For cash fares, this can be a good deal if your travel plans align with the e-fare rules (typically a Saturday departure and a Monday or Tuesday return). But for fares “paid” with miles, the discount isn’t as enthralling. You’re getting a discount on the mileage cost, but the product you’re buying is already discounted.

For example, the e-fare for Chicago to Los Angeles this coming weekend is $135 each way, plus taxes. (That comes to $291.40) The Weekend Saver fare: 19,000 miles, instead of the typical “saver” rate of 25,000 miles. That comes to about 1.5 cents per mile. That’s better than the 1.1 cents per mile you’d be getting if paying 25k miles, but it’s still not great value. But if you’re in a gotta-go, low-on-cash but miles-rich state, this could come in handy.

Nonetheless, it’s nice to see an airline offering discounts.


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…


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.


united continental United and Continental, closer to merger, offering free drinks & glimpse of future
So United and Continental got an unconditional green light from the European Union to merge their operations. This was hardly a surprise — the antitrust review by the U.S. government is far more relevant, given the greater domestic competition between the currently-separate carriers.

It’s not clear if it’s coincidence or providence, but United is “celebrating” by offering a free alcoholic beverage to each passenger in Economy Plus from August 6 to 16.

But don’t let the free drinks distract you. The real issue is the merger going forward, and what that means for customers. And while there are no concrete changes being announced, there are telegraphed changes through the shifts in the management lineup.

While the Continental CEO will be at the helm of the combined firm, the frequent flier program will be managed by a United executive. United execs also take the COO and CIO position. (I just hope that the CIO adopts more of continental.com than united.com…)

So, in all likelihood, the mileage program will look more like MileagePlus than OnePass. Gary Leff has speculated some on the direction that the program will take under the merged airline, and I agree fully with his assessments. Most importantly, during a transition period immediately following merger, the two programs will likely feature the best of both worlds.

Check out Gary’s comments for a glimpse into what will likely happen on the mileage front.

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