Merge those miles

Like many newly married couples, United and Continental have merged all their assets. The latest child of their union: combined frequent flier programs.

So what do you get for being loyal to either or both programs? Will you even notice a difference when Continental OnePass becomes a quaint artifact?

“It’s a mixed bag,” said publisher Tim Winship. “It protects the benefits of the higher-level elites, the more profitable consumers, at the expense of some of the perks enjoyed by lower-level elites.”

Here are some of the biggest changes, according to Winship:

The new MileagePlus program, to be introduced in early 2012, adds a fourth status level to the previous three. The quartet is Premier 1K, Platinum, Gold and Silver.

Continental loyalists, previously spared an expiration date on their miles, must now keep their accounts active over an 18-month period or risk losing their bank.

Entry-level elite members, aka Premier Silver in the new regime, will no longer be guaranteed upgrades to Economy-Plus at booking. They’ll have to wait until check-in to acquire the premium seats, based on availability.

For Premium Silver members, the the number of free checked bags goes from one to two. The other status levels can check three free bags.

“People in this category will have to considerably lower their expectations,” said Winship. “This is going to degrade the elite status.”

Bonuses will increase on the more expensive tickets.  For instance, full-fare coach (Y, B) will earn a 25 percent bonus; discounted business class (Z, P) will receive a 50 percent bonus; and full-fare business (J, C, D) and two-cabin first class (F, A) garners a 75 percent bonus.

For program details:

Share and share alike

Fodor’s and TripAdvisor are going to share content on certain popular destinations.

TripAdvisor reviews will be incorporated into 20 Fodor’s guidebooks starting with the 2012 editions. The guidebooks will continue to include recommendations from professionals. Links to Fodor’s content have started to appear on TripAdvisor.

Busy, busy BWI

During the summer travel season, BWI Marshall set an all-time monthly record.

In July, more than 2.2 million fliers passed through the airport. That bested the previous record, set in July 2010, by almost 35,000 people.

Southwest ushered more than 1.2 million people through BWI in July, also a monthly record for the airline there.

How you get a room

Despite the proliferation of online booking sites, most travelers go straight to the hotel to reserve a room, according to TravelClick.

Information collected from 25 North American markets during the second quarter of 2011 shows that about 25 percent of guests booked through a hotel Web site, with an additional 27 percent calling the hotel directly.

Traditional travel agents helped about 20 percent of travelers reserve rooms. About 17 percent of guests used 800 numbers, and about 12 percent went with online travel agents.

Ryanair: Plus-one fee

Ryanair, the European airline that takes low-fare to its lowest point, has tacked on another fee. Starting Nov. 1, passengers must pay about $9.30 per leg on all bookings paid by credit card.

Travelers can avoid the fee by — no surprise — using the Ryanair Cash Passport, the airline’s new prepaid MasterCard. The card, available Oct. 4, exacts a purchase fee of about $6.30, which the airline will reimburse as a travel voucher. Info: