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Continental Airlines and Amex Membership Rewards Are Parting Ways

Sept. 15, 2010
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[Update September 28, 2011] AmEx’s option to convert Membership Rewards points to Continental miles expires in two days, but it wasn’t all that great to begin with. Because of an airline excise tax, AmEx charges you $0.0006 for every point you transfer. It doesn’t sound like much, but that’s 6% off your points’ value. In our opinion? Not worth it, especially now that Continental miles expire in 18 months.

This seems to be a big week for travel rewards announcements. Yesterday, Marriott announced the first ever Ritz-Carlton rewards program, and today American Express announced that Membership Rewards Points will no longer be transferrable to Continental OnePass frequent flyer miles.

The change doesn’t go into effect until September 30, 2011, so members have a year’s head start to get everything they can transferred over. But starting this time next year, that will no longer be an option. That doesn’t mean that all Continental benefits will end, however. According to the press release,

Other American Express benefits relating to Continental Airlines will continue. Even after the airline scales back its offerings, enrolled Cardmembers can redeem points for travel on Continental through the Membership Rewards® Pay with Points ( program. Using this service, Cardmembers can book any seat on any airline anytime, without blackout dates or restrictions. Cardmembers can, of course, also continue to use any American Express Card for tickets and fees at Continental.

Plus the Membership Rewards site still lists 16 other airlines to which members can still transfer points, including Delta, Airtran, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and jetBlue, as well as a number of hotel rewards programs.

Why the change?

Ron Lieber at the New York Times conjectures that Chase is responsible for the change, since they already offer OnePass Miles through their own Continental credit cards. I would have to agree, though I’m a bit surprised it took Chase this long to muster the negotiating leverage required to stage such a coup. Chase has been offering Continental-branded cards since 2006, and as the biggest credit card issuer in the US, you would imagine they would’ve pulled the plug on their competitors years ago.