As Continental OnePass and United MileagePlus work to fully integrate in March, the next month and a half will be tricky for those elites looking to take full advantage of reciprocal benefits but who never linked accounts.
Last March, as one of the first steps of the merger process, United and Continental set up a website where travelers could link their Mileage Plus and OnePass accounts and freely transfer miles between accounts. That "Combine My Activity" page has been replaced with this:
Notice in the last paragraph it states that miles can still be transferred from account to account, even if your accounts are not linked.
Enter my client, who asked me to book him a last-minute award to Asia yesterday. He's a longtime United 1K but never created a OnePass account, let alone linked accounts before that option was curtailed. The only outbound availability was via London on Virgin Atlantic and the client liked the itinerary, so I set him up with a Continental account and attempted to transfer miles from United to Continental. Despite the assurances above I could still do this, I encountered the following error message:
Make no mistake--the names matched. Soon, I was on the phone with Continental...or at least on hold. Continental does not have a special elite line at their OnePass Customer Service Center (that I am aware of) and even when you call elite reservations and ask to be patched through to the OnePass Service Center, you still find yourself in the back of the queue.
To cut a long story short, I was on hold for over an hour before I finally reached an agent. In a grumpy and disinterested voice, she asked me what I wanted. I explained the situation and she sighed and said, "Well you had more than six months to link accounts and you never did. There's nothing I can do for you. Is there anything else I can help you with?" I referred her to the website (unlike UA, Continental agents have internet access on their computers, which I suspect the UA agents will see as one small upside to the transition to Continental's SHARES reservation system in the weeks ahead...) which clearly stated, that mileage transfers could still be completed even if accounts were not linked. Nope--that was a mistake, she claimed. I asked to speak to a supervisor and she transferred me to the United Premier Line...I kid you not.
I hung up and called Mileage Plus and spoke to a wonderful agent who listened to my concern, affirmed that mileage could still be transferred even if accounts were not linked, and then placed me on hold to find out why I was experiencing a problem.
Let me pause for a moment to highlight the differences between Continental and United phone agents. I've tried to give Continental agents the benefit of the doubt, but they consistently disappoint me--whether it be reservation agents spelling names wrong on tickets, wanting to charge me over $ 700 to get on a US Airways flights during irr/ops, or just handling calls like the one above incompetently. And the difference between Continental and United Customer Relations could not be more stark. Let's hope that with the completion of the merger, at least the phone agents will be a little sharper and friendlier. United isn't perfect--not even close--but I prefer to deal with them any day over Continental, even if that means dealing with an Indian Call center for web-support issues...
So back to United. They were able to sort out the issue and transfer the miles over from Mileage Plus to OnePass, though it took another 40 minutes on the line. At least the agent profusely apologized for the wait.
But now came another problem--because the accounts were not linked, the client was only recognized as a general member on Continental, meaning a $ 75 close-in processing fee and a $ 25 call-center telephone booking fee was added to the award reservation. Getting those erased was no easy feat. The first agent I spoke with told me there was absolutely nothing that could be done and no possible way to waive the fees. Pure baloney, as agents can waive the call center reservation fee in a few keystrokes. The second agent was more sympathetic and put me on hold. She checked back every few minutes, but ultimately I waited over 30 minutes before I got an answer--according to her support desk, the fee could not be waived.
I held my ground and stressed that as a matter of fairness it was essential that the fee be waived because the system could not recognize my client's status. I asked her to verify my client's status with United and she put me on hold and did, coming back to say that I while I was correct, my client was still only a general member on Continental. She asked if I wanted to speak to a supervisor and I said that would be fine, but why don't you suggest first to your supervisor that we dispense with trying to get the system to recognize his status and instead just waive the $ 100 in fees. Whether the supervisor just did not want to talk to me or I said the magic words, it worked--the fees were removed and I ticketed the reservation.
Why didn't I just pay the $ 75 close-in processing fee and $ 25 telephone booking fee, then pass it on to the client? That would not be going the extra mile for my client and I fundamentally felt that Continental had no right to charge these fees when they have boasted for months that Continental elites will be considered United elites and vice-versa.
I trust the client will keep the trip as booked, because if he does not, it will be another fight to change or cancel the trip and refund the taxes and miles without paying the associated fees.
In conclusion, we are now in a "zone of twilight" as the OnePass/MileagePlus integration process enters the final stages. If you never took the time to link accounts, that option has passed and it may be difficult to transfer miles now between accounts. Reciprocal elite upgrades will continue, but those United elites trying to take advantage of many fee waivers offered to Continental OnePass elites may face frustration over the next month and vice-versa. You've been warned.
* * *
If you found there to be too much text above, here's the abridged version--
1. You can no longer link Continental and United accounts, meaning no status match from United to Continental or vice-versa until the FFP integration is complete in March (when only MileagePlus will survive).
2. You can still transfer points between United and Continental, but if you never linked your accounts, you may have to call up United or Continental to have them manually transfer the points.
3. If you did not link accounts and need to book an award through the carrier you do not have status with, your status will not be recognized unless you fight for it. Once booked, you will still be treated as a general member and will have to fight again to have fees waived should you need to cancel or modify your award reservation (and anything else requiring fees).