Continental announces new top tier and system-wide upgrades

Continental announced two new benefits this evening: a new top-tier status – Presidential Platinum – that will be invitation only and System-Wide Upgrades (SWUs) for some elites.  Neither of these announcements should come as too much of a surprise based on the ongoing alignment of the Continental OnePass and United Airlines Mileage Plus programs.  But the details are out and they have some notable nuggets in them.

System-Wide Upgrades

The new SWUs are truly system-wide.  They are valid on any flights operated by Continental, Continental Micronesia and Copa Airlines.  No matter how many connections or hops it takes to get there, one certificate is valid for one direction of travel.  The upgrades will book into the same buckets as mileage upgrades book into today.  The SWUs will be valid through the entire following elite year which is a pretty long life.

Even better, they are valid on all published fares.  Every single published fare.  With no cash co-pay.  No W or better like UA.  No Y/B/M only like Delta.  Every fare.  Members who fly 100,000 EQMs in a year or 120 EQPs will get 4 SWUs.  Not as generous as AA, Delta or United in quantity but the value is arguably better.  Like everything else in life there is a trade-off.  And there are no current plans for additional SWU earnings for more flying, but the door has been left ajar for that possibility in the future.

Presidential Platinum Status

Unlike the other elite status levels that Continental offers the Presidential Plus level will be invitation-only.  Of course, the metrics for receiving an invitation are published so it actually is going to be rather well known what it takes to get there.  And the numbers are somewhat staggering, at least for a guy who pays for all my own tickets and flies for fun.  To be invited to the P.Platinum level one must hit the standard Platinum qualification numbers of 75K EQMs or 90 EQPs and also have $30,000 in revenue spend annually with Continental, Continental Express or Continental Micronesia.  The earning calendar for this level will be annual starting January 1, similar to the regular elite earning calendar.  Additionally, the spending threshold for 2010 is $30,000 but this may change in future years “in order to preserve the exclusivity of [the] program.”

The P.Platinum benefits are pretty nice.  Members at this level will be prioritized at a new, higher level for the free upgrades covered by the EUA scheme.  They will be added to the list at 144 hours/6 days prior to departure rather than at 120 hours/5 days like current platinum elites.  Additionally they will be prioritized ahead of United Premier Executives when in line for elite upgrades on United flights when that program begins, though still behind United’s Global Services and 1K members.  Members will have an exclusive phone line with dedicated representatives to handle their “unique travel needs” and the number will be accessible from around the world (implied that this access will be toll-free, though that is not explicit).  Finally, the P.Platinum members living in the United States (except Hawaii) will be eligible for a fee-waived Presidential Plus MasterCard from Chase.  This is the top level card that Continental offers and it includes a Presidents Club lounge membership and some other benefits as well.  Members who are not eligible for the PPlus MasterCard will receive 25,000 OnePass miles instead.

Finally, the Continental Million Miler lifetime status program has been updated to grant members with 4 Million lifetime EQMs Presidential Platinum status for life rather than just “regular” Platinum for life.  That’s quite a nice bump up for the carrier’s most frequent customers over the years.

Like everything else in life there are pros and cons of this program versus United’s Global Services and Delta’s new Diamond Medallion level.  But it is definitely a strong entry into the space, and attracting the high spenders and very frequent fliers seems like a pretty good thing for the airlines to be doing.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. So you're aiming for the 4MM status? 🙂

    Considering that I have just passed 1/10 of that on UA (with all but maybe 30k on my own dime), I find that target mind-boggling. At 100k miles/year, it would take 40 years to get there. They should give those flyers a friggin' personal jet 🙂

  2. Yeah…4MM is definitely out of my league. I've got over 500K and getting the 1MM seems a reasonable target but I'm on my own dime so it may take a while. I'm glad that they are making such an option available, however. Having a nice target out there is fun to dream about.

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