Is The Copa 150,000 Bonus Mile Promotion Mileage Runnable?

Copa Airlines is about to launch one of the more interesting promotions we’ve seen in a while. They are apparently celebrating service to 12 “new” destinations and offering tiered bonuses for flying to those cities between October 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016. Those that fly to 10 of the 12 new destinations will be awarded 150,000 bonus miles.

Ben discussed the promo a bit last week where he concluded that this promotion might not be practical for those that aren’t based in Panama. He might be right, but he didn’t really provide any numbers to back up his conclusion — I guess that’s what I’m here for.

I will admit that I love these complex, convoluted, yet potentially lucrative promotions. I used to build massive spreadsheets to manage multiple accounts in the US Airways Grand Slam which once would have been gearing up right about now. Not only was it possible to earn a lot of miles and points, but it was also a good way to try new products and have new experiences. It was also a bit of a brainteaser as you’d try to figure out how to achieve all of the goals while minimizing the cost, the hassle, and perhaps most importantly, the risk. This promotion seems to fit that mold.

Although I probably won’t be able to do this promotion no matter how the numbers pencil out, having a newborn in the house has given me lots of time in the rocking chair to ponder how I would strategically play such a promotion. Here’s my back of the envelope analysis.

Copa ConnectMiles

The Latin Pass Mile-ionnaire

The first thing I thought of when I heard about this promotion was the Latin Pass Mile-ionnaire promotion from back in 2000 — which sadly was a few years before I got started in this game.  The top prize in that promotion awarded 1 Million miles to anyone who could:

  • Fly each of the 10 Latin Pass member airlines
  • Fly three flights on any of the four partner airlines, including KLM, TWA (RIP), US Airways (RIP), and National Airlines (RIP)
  • Stay three nights at two Latin Pass partner hotels
  • Rent a car for five days from Thrifty or Avis

It was estimated that 40-50 people chased the top prize, including the legendary Pudding Guy who had previously made his name by peeling the labels off 12,000 pudding cups and cashing them in for American AAdvantage miles. The Wall Street Journal story on the promotion is definitely worth a read, even just for the quotes from the era.

When would-be “mile-ionnaires” call to check on their status, Mr. Booth assures them that they don’t need to panic if a flight or hotel stay hasn’t shown up on their statements. “We have to tell these people ‘Bear with us, this isn’t live, you know,’ ” he says.

Can you imagine having to call someone every time you wanted to check your mileage balance? Then again some things haven’t changed much at all….

Earlier this month, Arthur Gross, owner of an import/export business in Tempe, Ariz., completed 10 flights in nine days. He and five friends — including two doctors, a lawyer and someone fluent in Spanish — flew from Los Angeles to Mexico City, and then on to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Miami, Costa Rica, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

“It was like night and day compared to U.S. airlines,” says Mr. Gross, who has spent nearly $3,000 on his quest so far. “The food was wonderful, the people were nice and every single flight left on time.”

Two doctors, a lawyer, and someone fluent in Spanish walk onto a plane….

How The Copa Promotion Works

Copa has launched service to 12 new destinations over the past three years. You need to visit 10 of them to earn the top prize of 150,000 miles in this (surprisingly nameless) promotion. Sounds simple enough.

copa promo 150k bonus

I’ve categorized the 12 destinations into US and non-US locations for simplicity.

United States

  • New Orleans (MSY)
  • Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
  • Tampa (TPA)
  • Boston (BOS)
  • San Francisco (SFO)

Non-US:

  • Belize, Belize (BZE)
  • David, Panama (DAV)
  • Villahermosa, Mexico (VSA)
  • Puebla, Mexico (PBC)
  • Santa Clara, Cuba (SNU)
  • Georgetown, Guyana (GEO)
  • Montreal, Canada (YUL)

So far so good. And my guess is that this is about the point that the Copa staff called it a day and went home.

It Depends Upon What The Meaning Of The Word To Is

While the premise is easy enough to understand, the devil is in the details. Just as Bill Clinton explained to the world the multiple meanings of the word is, we are left to ponder what exactly the word to means.

Grand Prize: 150k when flying to 10 or more destinations

Question 1:  Do one-ways count?

In the most literal interpretation, it would seem that you need to originate in Panama City and fly a one-way trip to each of the new destinations. I mean, that’s what most people would say “fly to” means, right? Nothing is said about how you get home.

Then again, maybe Copa just assumed that you would fly a logical round-trip, and didn’t bother to specify that because they thought it was obvious?

Question 2: Do you need to originate in Panama City?

Then I started to wonder if Panama City is really the center of the world. They are in fact quite proud of their big ditch canal and the amount of the world’s trade that passes through it. They also make a shipload of money off it.

A man a plan a canal. Panama
A man a plan a canal. Panama

But when it comes to airlines, Copa isn’t exactly Singapore, Emirates, or even Turkish, even if they think they should be the airline of choice for anyone wanting to transit between North and South America. Do they really care if you originate in Panama City? I want to believe that SFO-PTY-SFO would also count as one of the ten trips. I mean, it fulfills the spirit of the promotion, which is to put butts in seats on that new route.

Panama, the crossroads of the world, or at least the western hemisphere
Panama, the crossroads of the world, or at least the western hemisphere

Now that we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, we might as well keep imagining even more ridiculous possibilities.

Question 3: Can you get credit for more than one new destination on a single trip?

What happens if you fly SFO-PTY-BZE-PTY-SFO? That has one of the new destinations at each endpoint. Does that count as visiting two of the new destinations, and thus two of the 10 requisite flights? I’m a fan of killing two birds with one stone.

Question 4: Do (double) open-jaws count?

Then we get into the even murkier question of open-jaws. Say you fly MSY-PTY-BZE and then DAV-PTY-BOS on a double open-jaw ticket? Would that count as four new destinations?

Admittedly, this seems like a combination of Questions 1, 2, and 3 all rolled into one. If this counts, we can probably assume that just about anything touching one of the new cities will count.

I have no idea if we’re going to get answers to these questions. Maybe Tiffany has some cleaning to do and wouldn’t mind spending a few hours on hold trying to talk to someone at Copa…..

Analysis Of A Conservative Scenario

I first went with a conservative interpretation whereby I assumed that you needed to originate in PTY and then must fly a round-trip to 10 new destinations. That seems like it would be guaranteed to earn the bonus.

Assuming that you originate in Panama City, here are the prices I found for each of the destinations using Google Flights. I’ll admit I didn’t work very hard to optimize this — I pretty much just took the cheapest price for the months of October or November, without regard for how long you’d be spending at the destination or anything else.

Panama City to New Orleans round-trip on Copa can be cheap
Panama City to New Orleans round-trip on Copa can be cheap

Clearly airfares are volatile, so they might get cheaper, or more expensive.

I also included the round-trip base miles which will become important when we start calculating the total miles that we are poised to earn.

CityRound-trip priceRound-trip base miles
David, Panama (DAV)$1141,000
Puebla, Mexico (PBC)$3012,896
New Orleans (MSY)$3263,204
Villahermosa, Mexico (VSA)$3622,182
Fort Lauderdale (FLL)$4952,340
Boston (BOS)$5264,696
Belize, Belize (BZE)$5561,672
San Francisco (SFO)$5636,640
Tampa (TPA)$6022,632
Santa Clara, Cuba (SNU)$6721,848
Georgetown, Guyana (GEO) $1,0472,918
Montreal, Canada (YUL)$1,3875058

It is pretty clear that we don’t want to go to Montreal or Georgetown. So omitting those, the cost of flying to 10 cities is $4,517. If we did that, we would earn 29,110 miles from flying and then 150,000 bonus miles for a total of 179,110 miles. That boils down to 2.5 cents per mile.

Just About Everyone Is Elite On Copa Right Now

Copa has been status matching just about everyone and their brother recently to bolster the ranks of their elites. At one point, I think you could show them your Safeway shopper card and they would make you a Silver. (Though there are reports that they might be reigning in the status matching a bit of late.)

Although it seems to have been possible to get matched to top-tier Presidential Platinum, let’s assume that you are a Platinum which is what both Ben and I were matched to from our American Executive Platinum and United 1K accounts, respectively. Platinums on Copa earn a 75% mileage bonus.

Copa-Platinum-1

Assuming you have Copa Platinum status, you would earn an additional 21,832 miles as an elite bonus, bringing their total miles earned to 200,942 miles. That lowers the CPM to 2.2 cents.

Again, the assumptions here are very conservative such I would say that this scenario is guaranteed to earn the bonus.

Assuming You Can Hit Two New Cities On A Single Trip

Now let’s analyze the case where both the origin and destination count as new cities, meaning that you can get credit both for flying from a new city, and to a new city.

Without looking very hard, I found three combinations of cities that produced favorable prices.

  • BOS-PTY-BZE  $435
  • FLL-PTY-DAV $558
  • SFO-PTY-GEO $459

If, and this is a massive if, those end up double-counting, you would get six new destinations on three trips. Then you would need four more destinations, which I’ll assume you would do from PTY for simplicity. Doing this, I get a total cost of $3,113. The flown miles in this scenario are 25,096 such that with the Platinum bonus and the 150,000 bonus, you would earn 193,198 miles. The CPM in this case is a much more attractive 1.6 cents. 

But of course, this may not earn the bonus. 

Is This A Good Deal?

Mileage running to earn miles at 2.2 cents probably isn’t the greatest deal for most folks. You can typically buy LifeMiles straight-up for less than that. But then again, those purchases don’t come with a trip to David, Panama, do they?

At 1.6 cents, this becomes a bit more attractive, albeit a lot more risky. Even then, it still doesn’t drop below the typical price at which you can often buy LifeMiles.

I also haven’t considered any positioning or ancillary costs here, and clearly there would be a slew of them. Even if you flew from your home to Panama once and then nested all your other trips inside that one, you’d still need a month to get all these trips in. (not all of the have daily service.) In my experience lodging near the Panama airport is almost non-existent; if you miss your connection — which we did on our lone Copa trip — they put you up for the night downtown which isn’t exactly nearby.

But hey, if you wanted to tool around Latin America for a month (and make the occasional trip to exotic locations like Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, and Boston), this could be fun.

Oh and let’s not forget, this involves actually flying Copa. A lot.

When we consider that, I think I have to agree with Ben that this probably isn’t all that practical for those that aren’t based in Panama already. But at least I brought data.

Can you find a cheaper or more convenient way of earning the 150,000 bonus?

Comments

  1. FINALLY, a real travel hacker post. Some clarification from Copa would really help for this promotion, but I am leaning towards them being able to double-count. It’s about flying the new routes launched, not actually visiting the city (or even Panama), that Copa is concerned about.

  2. Travis –

    What about a circuitous route (or a very few) that simply “connect the dots” and include touchdowns/connections in 10 of the new destinations?

    We have been meaning to try and plot out an itinerary or two that maybe 6-8 segments each, but covers all ten destinations in say two, a maximum of three tickets.

    “To” in airline language is derived from the Latin “From/To” on old fashioned airline route schedules, paper boarding passes and current Gate signs, right?

  3. Now this is the type of post I love! The number crunching, the CPM, reading into the rules… keep these coming!

  4. I have spoken to CM contacts who have “promised” me answers this week (ha!) but at least verbally have confirmed:

    1. No need to originate in PTY.

    2. One-ways AND open-jaw(s) DO count — so this works for me (Central America based):

    MGA-PTY-FLL
    TPA-PTY-DAV
    DAV-PTY-BZE

    That’s four so far and it ties nicely with scheduled biz travel.

    Will post back when I hear from someone (ha!)…

  5. For the real travel hackers, you may want to use find a nice RT to pair with that DAV-PTY segment if you take it.

  6. Ah, real flying mileage promos. God bless Copa!

    As an alumni of the 1999 Oneworld promo; 450,000 miles from that for $1,750. And also the Lifemiles promo a few years later (cannot even recall how many I earned there but they were hard to use after). This warms my heart! I hope lots of people figure out how to do it cheaply.

    tfjim

  7. We are seriously going to begin computer crunching this…if no at the least for the sheer challenge of the execution.

    However, has anyone considered the implications of a flight to Cuba ??

    Travis, you stated “It is pretty clear that we don’t want to go to Montreal or Georgetown.” However, many flyers may choose to avoid Santa Clara (SNU) just to avoid any hassles with a return to the USA and customs / border protection. Not sure how that would work with just a connecting flight (Hmmm…have to research that…)

  8. Laptoptravel —

    Funny you mention computer crunching this. A lot of my day job involves building mathematical optimization models, LP’s, MIP’s, etc. to solve really hard problems, and I really had to resist the urge to start coding something up when I wrote the post!

    That is a very good point about Cuba. If you don’t include that, then yes, you’re going to have to replace it with YUL or GEO. Keep in mind, my crude fare list was just PTY-XXX. If you are doing YUL-PTY-BZE it might be a much different price. So perhaps if one-ways, etc. count, then maybe they aren’t the most expensive.

    So in some ways, the 2.2 cents is kind of a worst case CPM that you might expect — it was just a rough first cut at the problem, without any optimization. I would love to see what you come up with. I just hope it’s not to lucrative or else I’m going to have to go fly it…. 🙂

  9. laptoptravel — not sure I follow your thinking on the touchdown / connections in these destinations. CM flights are pretty much all originate or terminate in PTY, no? So going in a circle isn’t going to work it seems. You’re basically always going to an outstation, and then coming back to PTY, before going to another outstation. As Gringo points out, however, you could do PTY-FLL,TPA-FLL such that you just have a short ground segment.

  10. @Travis –

    Good to know. We’ll start by importing every flight segment they have. We weren’t aware of that initially.

    We’ll put it to our college interns friends…

  11. Nice writing style Travis! A shipload of money..! It made me laugh!

    I’m surprised to see Montreal in the list. I had no idea they started a flight to my home city!

  12. There’s now a promo also for 50% or 75% (depending on fare) extra bonus miles for business class as well. Not sure if it’s targeted or publicly available.

  13. Travis – great article/questions.

    Has anyone received clariifcation particularly whether you just have to fly the route in any direction? (ie one way MSY-PTY counts as would MSY-PTY or two destinations PBC-PTY-FLL)

    Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *