Continental revives 500-mile minimum awards for elite fliers

— -- Heeding protests by its most frequent passengers, Continental Airlines is changing a new frequent-flier policy before it goes into effect.

Continental said early this month that, beginning in mid-November, all members of its OnePass frequent-flier program would earn actual miles flown on short flights instead of the current minimum of 500 miles.

But the airline partially reversed course this week, sending e-mails to its most frequent, or elite, fliers informing them that the 500-mile minimum would still apply to their flights. To achieve elite status, a flier must travel at least 25,000 miles in a year.

"We've listened, and our elite members think this change unfairly dilutes the benefits of the OnePass program," wrote Mark Bergsrud, Continental's senior vice president, in e-mails. "Therefore, we are exempting you from this change."

Other OnePass members, though, will no longer receive the 500-mile minimum, starting with tickets bought on or after Nov. 15. Only elite members will get minimum-mileage credit because it is "extra recognition of their status and value to us," says Continental spokesman Dave Messing.

Faced with record fuel prices, Continental and other airlines have instituted a growing number of changes that make it more difficult for frequent fliers to earn free tickets. Other airlines have also stopped awarding a minimum number of frequent-flier miles for short flights.

United Airlines stopped giving a minimum of 500 miles in July, and US Airways eliminated its mileage minimum last year. Denver-based Frontier Airlines stopped awarding a minimum 250 miles on most short routes on Sept. 15.

The elimination of minimum-mileage credits is "infuriating," says Andy Hicks, an elite member of the frequent flier programs of Continental, Delta, US Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

Hicks, the president of an information technology company in Lexington, Ky., says he often flies 10 or more short flights per month. "With all the hassles associated with short connecting flights to hubs, which are required for 90% of my flying, receiving 120 or so frequent-flier miles instead of 500 miles is a real disappointment."