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.
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.
I’ve categorized the 12 destinations into US and non-US locations for simplicity.
- New Orleans (MSY)
- Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
- Tampa (TPA)
- Boston (BOS)
- San Francisco (SFO)
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
|City||Round-trip price||Round-trip base miles|
|David, Panama (DAV)||$114||1,000|
|Puebla, Mexico (PBC)||$301||2,896|
|New Orleans (MSY)||$326||3,204|
|Villahermosa, Mexico (VSA)||$362||2,182|
|Fort Lauderdale (FLL)||$495||2,340|
|Belize, Belize (BZE)||$556||1,672|
|San Francisco (SFO)||$563||6,640|
|Santa Clara, Cuba (SNU)||$672||1,848|
|Georgetown, Guyana (GEO)||$1,047||2,918|
|Montreal, Canada (YUL)||$1,387||5058|
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.
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?