To be sure, Continental has won quite a number of awards for its customer service and frequent flyer program. But, from my perspective, it is often hard to match the myth created by these rewards with the reality.
The reality is that American and United have more or less cornered the market on the premium frequent traveller. By all accounts, this kind of traveller remains quite content with American and United. United's most frequent-travellers even put up with its "summer from hell."
Why are all of these frequent flyers content, and why would they never think of jumping ship to Continental? One need only review a couple months of discussion on webflyer.com to realize that AA and UA's frequent flyers have certain expectations, expectations that Continental could never meet.
As just one example, let me point to a current discussion on webflyer.com. Same topic on two different boards, Continental and American. Topic - travel to Hong Kong (HK). If you take time to read the two threads, you will note that the frequent flyers on American are discussing future award travel on Cathay in First Class, and the amenities to be found in Cathay's famous Wing Club. Meanwhile, on the Continental Board, they are discussing what to do in HK, and the bad experiences of one passenger on the newly-inaugurated Continental flight from JFK to HKG. The difference in content could not be more telling. Frequent flyers on American have become accustomed to a program that rewards them with certain luxuries and amenities for all of their miles of travel. They don't think twice about it; it is simply what they expect. And, American with Cathay and BA, and United with Singapore more than meets their expectations.
Perhaps, because the frequent flyers on United and American have become innured to the high level of the rewards, they are not as motivated to participate in the voting for the Freddy Awards or the other award balloting. Frankly, I have never figured this out. Yet, I know many frequent flyers who would never question that AA or UA is the best program for them, because of the benefits of using miles for award travel on some of the world's most premiere airlines and to some of the world's most exotic destinations.
As I said, this is just one of the many expectations that distinguishes the Continental frequent flyer from the American or United frequent flyer. There are others. For example, American's most frequent-flyers, its Executive Platinum members, avail themselves of a dedicated group of personnel, known as the EP desk, to request upgrades, to make changes in their itineraries, and to problem solve missed connections, etc.. Granted Continental claims it has something similar for its highest elite members, but in reality it does not as has been reported in another recent thread on webflyer.com. Again, the EP desk is reality at American, and it is something that its top-tier frequent flyers consider a benefit of EP status, and now more or less expect to function as advertised. It does and American knows it could not fulfill their expectations with anything less...
So, there you have it. American, and United in its own way, meet the expectations of a large number of their frequent flyers who would never seriously consider flying on Continental, given the latter's meager list of partners, award opportunities, and real elite benefits. In view of this reality, it is my belief that the balloting for these Frequent flyer awards somehow never targets the frequent flyers who select American and United, and therefore the awards never accurately recognize the preemience of American's and United's programs and service, despite the recent emergence of Continental.