Today Continental Airlines officially joined Star Alliance. They defected over from SkyTeam. Their coming over to Star Alliance makes Star Alliance the predominant airline alliance there is, especially in North America. Continental has become the fourth North America based Major Carrier in the alliance. The other three being United (a founding member of Star Alliance), USAirways and Air Canada. Overseas too they have massive presence with a total of 25 members worldwide. The list of airlines which will be joining them soon includes Air India. Rumored future members may be Jet Airways (also of India) and Virgin Atlantic, which already partners with several of the Star Alliance members. I would even go as far as to say that their sheer global coverage makes it difficult for someone who travels a vast array of countries to justify using any other alliance. More thoughts on that in another article.
For us based in North America, Continental’s joining Star Alliance really changes the Airline Miles math. Until last year, the alliance that boasted the largest North American coverage was SkyTeam as it had Delta, NorthWest and Continental in its ranks. NorthWest got gobbled up by Delta and Continental was lured to Star Alliance by United Airlines. Today, it would be difficult to find a route not served by Star Alliance in North America. Continental also brings with it extremely good coverage across Central and South America. The demise of Varig (of Brazil) had created a big hole South of the border for Star Alliance. There is still very little coverage on intra-south and central american routes for Star Alliance, but routes from North America are now solidly covered.
Continental also has some unique routes so far not served well by Star Alliance. It has a hub in Guam, serving several cities in Japan and Manila in the Philippines. Continental has some long haul non-stop interesting routes originating in the US, not served by any other Star Alliance airlines, including Newark (EWR) to Delhi (DEL) and Mumbai (BOM).
Another benefit Continental brings is its lounges. Star Alliance Gold members on International trips and paying members of United or US Airways lounges now have full access to every Continental lounge across the world. This is indeed good news, increasing the lounge footprint significantly.
Impact on United and USAirways:
Continental’s arrival has already started having an impact on the offerrings of both United and USAirways. Some for the better, some for worse though. United has introduced free unlimited upgrades on domestic routes for Elites a-la Continental, at the same time doing away with Confirmed Regional Upgrade coupons (CR-1), a superb perk for United 1K Elites. USAirways has improved its lounge offering by re-introducing free beer and wine, somethings you had to pay for till now even as a paying lounge member.
Continental is one of the last US based airlines to still have free food on its domestic routes. Hopefully they will not get influenced by United or USAirways and rescind the benefit.
As a United Premier Elite (which makes me a Star Alliance Gold), I welcome Continental to the fold and can’t wait to fly their friendly skies. More Elite Status Miles for everyone!