Thursday, June 21, 2007

ClubAcela: An added benefit of Continental's Presidents Club

You may already know the benefits of airport clubs (and if you don't, I discuss the pros and cons of club memberships in my article, "Join the Club? The Case for Airport Lounges.") So let's say you do decide you want to belong to an airport club, at an annual cost of around $400.

Sure, it makes sense to join the club operated by your favorite airline. All things being equal, though, SkyTeam lounges--including those operated by Continental, Delta, and Northwest--are better than Star Alliance lounges, which include United and U.S. Airways: the SkyTeam lounges provide free Internet access and complimentary alcoholic beverages, while United's Red Carpet Club and the U.S. Airways Club charge for both.

Savvy travelers looking to extend that value further may be aware that they can get complimentary access to the Delta, Northwest, and Continental lounges by presenting an American Express Platinum Card along with a same day ticket. At $399 per year, the Card has a hefty fee, but it's the same fee you'd pay for Club membership anyway, and you get more benefits. Case closed, right?

Not so fast. Aside from the potentially annoying twist that the American Express benefit is limited to the three domestic SkyTeam airlines listed and not to the overseas carriers that belong to SkyTeam, there's another benefit the members of Continental Airlines' Presidents Club in particular get that no one else does: access to Amtrak's ClubAcela facilities when traveling on a same-day Amtrak ticket.

True, not everyone travels Amtrak, and ClubAcela is only available at four locations on the Northeast Corridor (Washington-Union, Philadelphia-30th Street, New York-Penn, and Boston-South). But if you are an Amtrak traveler, this benefit can be tough to top. That's because Amtrak doesn't offer a way to buy ClubAcela access; other that Presidents Club members, the lounges are open only to passengers traveling First Class and those who have attained Select Plus status in Amtrak's Guest Rewards program.

So, if you find yourself taking the train on the Northeast Corridor and have been weighing the benefits of an airport club membership, take a close look at Continental's Presidents Club. It might be the best way to go.

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