Lonely Planet Writer

How the United/Continental merger affects travelers

United airplaneUnited's merger with Continental for about $3 billion will make the new, expanded edition of 'United' -- as the two airlines together will be known -- the world's biggest airline. It not only will be a king of the US domestic fly space, serving 10 major hubs, but will pool United's reach of Asia with Continental's reach of Latin American and Europe in one big airline bucket.

Fine, but what does it mean for travelers?

  • Things stay the same until end of 2010. Until the merger's complete by end of the year, there will be no changes. So don't expect to be able to use your Continental ticket on United, for now.
  • All frequent-flyer miles are still good. At least through 2010. Per its site, miles in both programs continue to be value 'according to existing program rules,' and that a new program will 'blend valuable features of OnePass and Mileage Plus' after 2010. One can only assume that lingering miles will remain 'valuable' to the new 'United' program in 2011. (But I can't help but wonder if it's about time to cash in some of my stockpiled Continental miles before December 31?)
  • 'Fewer routes, higher prices and more fees,' per Scott Sonenshein from the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University, who told the New York Times that consumers will have fewer choices than before. On routes where both airlines currently run the show, travelers could see a ticket-price bump.
  • Planes will say 'United,' but look 'Continental.' Of all things, the Continental logo and color scheme will be kept! -- but planes labeled 'United.' (I always preferred the United logo, alas...)
  • Bad editing. Christopher Elliott took a red pen, hilariously, to United/Continental's website (UnitedContinentalmerger.com). Elliott notes the site claims 55 flights serving Delaware, but that actually none -- as in zero -- fly into the country's first state. (Only making it to airports in nearby Philadelphia and Baltimore.)