This is my latest installment in a series about the best time to buy tickets on individual airlines.
I kicked it off with the “”Best Time to Buy Southwest Airlines Tickets”, followed up with similar analysis on the best airfare deals for AirTran, and most recently, took a crack at American Airlines ticket purchasing strategies. Today, I’ll tackle Continental.
Continental – Historic Airline Merging with United
Continental is a grand old airline that got its start back in the 1930′s (see last year’s “Continental’s 75th Anniversary” video below, which includes lots of great historical photos).
However, the carrier’s reign will come to an end soon; in May it was announced that Continental would merge with United – and there won’t be much left visually except for Continental’s logo (the familiar stylized globe image will live on as the emblem of the “new” United ).
However, I suspect the folks from Houston will be an integral part of the airlines operation.
The soon-to-be-merged airline will become the largest in the world – a spot briefly held by the recently merged Delta/Northwest, now called just “Delta”.
Meanwhile, Continental appears to be rebounding — along with other U.S. carriers — from last year’s losses (2009 was a grim year for most carriers) and is expected to announce a 2nd Quarter profit later this week.
Continental’s Hubs and Planes
The future of the carrier’s hubs, frequent flyer program and more, is a bit up in the air at this point, but at the moment Continental has four major hubs: Newark, Cleveland, Houston (George Bush Intercontinental), and Guam.
The airline has more than 300 aircraft around the world.
Lesser known fact: Continental introduced the 747 jumbo jet to domestic travelers in the U.S. back in 1970 (and yes, it was a big hit).
Continentals’s Sales and Airfare Deals
Despite the upcoming merger, Continental continues to offer its customers a wide variety of deals to U.S. destinations as well as Europe, Africa and Asia.
Continental doesn’t use the “we have a weekly sale” method preferred by a few domestic carriers, as they tend to focus domestically on business travelers on whole more than leisure .
However, they tend to be very aggressive on prices to Europe using their hub in Newark as a main artery connecting point — many times I have seen them undercut competitors by hundreds of dollars on popular European routes especially at seasonal price change points in the fall and winter.
Let’s be clear — no airline wants to be one dollar more or less than their competitor and Continental is no exception — when other airlines launch sales, they are quick to match (or beat) prices on overlapping routes – as they did in a recent Fourth of July airfare sale.
They also offer a weekly smorgasboard of website deals, as well as numerous vacation packages.
When to Fly on Continental
The cheapest day to fly on most U.S. airlines is Wednesday, and Continental seems to be no exception; other cheap days to fly Continental are often Tuesday and Thursday (morning). This varies according to route and destination, which is an excellent reason to use our “flexible calendar search” (on the homepage) – so you can see, at a glance, the cheapest dates to fly.
Saturday is also typically discounted by low cost airlines which have overlapping routes with Continental in which they match (and undercut from time to time).
Shop for Tickets on Continental (and others) Tuesday Afternoons
For months now, Tuesday at 3pm Eastern has been the best time to buy airline tickets, no matter what the carrier. The reason: an airline will begin a sale late Monday evening (typically), and during the following morning and afternoon, other carriers – including Continental – will jump in with matching prices.
An Airline’s “On Sale” Seats are Strictly Limited
On average about 10% or less of airplanes’ seats are sold at the rock-bottom sale prices, and that’s true for Continental and all the others. This is why, when you see a good deal, you have to act fast; the very cheapest prices simply aren’t available for long — so don’t procrastinate if you find a good deal be ready to whip out your credit card as cheap seats disappear quickly.
Know the Ins-and-Outs of Continental Sales
As is the case with other legacy carriers, Continental sometimes requires a 14 day advance purchase to get the cheapest sale prices, but this can vary depending on the deal; check the requirements and blackout days (which are usually around the holidays).
And remember that sales often require you to fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday which are generally the cheapest days to fly.
Follow Continental on Facebook, Twitter and Email
Stay in touch with Continental Airlines on Facebook or become one of the airline’s 57,000+ followers on Twitter (@Continental) – the carrier is quite active on both (lots of chatter about the pending merger as you might imagine), and sometimes offers special deals to its social media community (and we can show you how to follow your favorite airline – it’s easy).
It’s also a good way to contact the airline if you have a problem; Continental has PR people watching social media closely, and they can be quite helpful.
Bottom Line for scoring Good Deals on Continental
Start with FareCompare: sign up for real-time email airfare alerts – follow the airfare deals – shop Tuesdays at 3pm – and don’t forget to involve yourself in Continental’s world of social media. You will find savings. Maybe not all the time, but you increase your chances significantly.