After using the Continental Airlines OnePass Plus Card as my primary credit card for personal and travel spending for the past year, and the resulting accumulation of miles in Continental’s frequent flyer program, I decided to cash in. For 35,000 points, I was able to upgrade the round-trip ticket from Newark to Chicago. I would have preferred to use points for a longer flight, such as one to California to visit family, but upgrading those fares from most economy fare classes require an additional payment (a co-pay) beyond the miles.
As a result of the recent merger with United Airlines, Continental has begun changing some of their frequent flyer benefits. For example, you no longer have to have earned a certain level (Silver Elite, Gold Elite, or Platinum Elite) to take advantage of a few benefits like expedited bag check lines, priority status for checked luggage (first on the carousel at arrival), expedited security check lines, and priority boarding. Unfortunately for me, my primary airport is Newark, where these benefits often mean little, especially during peak travel periods.
With a first class boarding pass, I was able to board in the second group of passengers, after military personnel. Being one of the first four of five people to board allowed me to quickly stow my carry-on and sit comfortably for the next 30 minutes as the rest of the passengers boarded. While boarding, a flight attended offered drinks (of any type; alcoholic drinks are complimentary in first class) to those already settled.
While the DirecTV entertainment system normally costs $5.99 or $7.99 (with a $2 discount to Continental credit cardholders), if this entertainment is available on the flight, it is free to first class passengers. Even when a meal isn’t offered in the main cabin, first class passengers receive a complimentary meal with a tray, a small tablecloth, and silverware (well, stainless steel, not silver). On the initial part of my trip, the flight attended distributed warm towels before the meal.
The seating arrangement was about twice as spacious as the seats in the main cabin, and the seats were slightly more comfortable. The seats reclined much farther which encouraged me to relax more, particularly considering how exhausted I was by the end of the conference.
All of these conveniences added up to a nicer travel experience, but even first class status can prevent delays, turbulence, and difficulties getting around in the airports. If I were to have money to spare or unlimited frequent flyer miles, I would travel first class all the time. The benefits may be minor and flying without the conveniences is often adequate, but it could be an advantage for longer flights, particularly if I begin taking overnight flights when traveling long distances.
Even the best first class ticket can’t prevent the annoyances of moving through an airport, so while the fares call for a higher price, traveling by air is still often a problematic endeavor.
Published or updated October 4, 2011.