Early last year, the Panama-based airline Copa rolled out a new frequent flyer program, and subsequently offered a status match to well, pretty much everyone.
Most of us were matched to the Platinum PreferMember level, which includes several benefits (such as Star Alliance Gold status), along with three regional upgrades.
The expiration date of these upgrades has just been extended to December 31 of this year, but the big news is that the functionality is now in place to use these upgrade certificates on United flights, not just on Copa.
Connect Regional Upgrades
If, like me, you primarily fly an airline that offers systemwide upgrades, the concept of regional vs. global upgrades can be a bit confusing. There are also plenty of restrictions, so you’ll want to have a solid understanding of the rules to avoid frustration later.
Where can I use Copa Regional Upgrades?
Regional upgrades are now valid on all flights operated by Copa or United, within North and Central America (including Hawaii and the Caribbean), and within (but not to) Oceania.
The “Oceania” option is a holdover from the Continental days, and doesn’t include all of what most geographers would consider as Oceania. You can upgrade on the short Island Hopper flights, but you can’t use regional upgrades for say, Tokyo or Honolulu to Guam, or Los Angeles to Sydney.
I have three upgrades, does that mean three trips?
No, unfortunately. These Copa upgrades are highly restrictive, and each certificate is good for one segment. Not one direction of travel, just one individual flight.
So if you have a connecting itinerary (which most of us will), make sure to specify which segments you want upgraded.
Can I purchase any fare?
According to the terms, Copa regional upgrades are not valid on the following fare buckets:
- L and T fares on Copa Airlines and Copa Airlines Colombia-operated flights
- Z, P, S, T, K, L, G and N on United-operated flights
This means you can’t use Copa upgrades on the cheapest fares, which is a bit disappointing, but not unexpected. You also can’t use Copa upgrades to move from Business to First on 3-cabin aircraft.
Finding upgrade-eligible fares
For United flights, the lowest upgrade-eligible fare bucket will be “W.” You can easily search for W fares on united.com by specifying the fare class under Fare Preferences when you’re searching for a new reservation on united.com.
When you specify the fare class, you’ll still see the lowest economy fare, along with whichever fare bucket you requested:
In some cases W fares are only a bit more, and in others you’re looking at a few hundred dollars in order to have the privilege of upgrading. So you’ll have to consider whether or not that is worth it to you.
How do I know if a flight has upgrade space?
Copa upgrades confirm into “R” inventory, so you’ll want to make sure that’s available before you purchase your tickets. The best way to find R space is to enable Expert Mode on United.com.
To activate Expert Mode, you’ll need to login to your MileagePlus account, then select “Search Preferences”
Then scroll down to select the box for Expert Mode, and hit submit:
Now when you search fares, expanding “Details” should show you the inventory “buckets” for the flight:
If that doesn’t work, try using another browser. United IT is….something.
Remember, you’re looking for R space (R0 means there isn’t any). RN isn’t accessible to Copa elites, so you can ignore that as well.
How does the upgrade process work?
While it’s ostensibly possible to request upgrades through the Copa site, in practice it seems if you’re upgrading United flights you’ll need to call the number on the back of your membership card. As this is a relatively new process, you might even need a supervisor to get it done.
Once the agent confirms “R” space is available on your flights (which seems to be done by actually calling United) they will apply the upgrades and reissue your tickets.
Because we’re dealing with United, Copa, and SHARES, it’s really important to follow up with United to ensure your ticket is synced correctly. This doesn’t always happen automatically for some reason, so if you’re not used to dealing with United’s quirks this is especially important to remember.
Do I have to purchase my tickets from Copa to use Copa upgrades?
Nope! United doesn’t have plating restrictions, and it doesn’t seem to matter if your ticket is on United or Copa ticket stock.
When you call Copa to process your upgrade they will ask for your United confirmation number, so their system seems to be set up for handling United-issued tickets.
Can I use my upgrades for someone else?
Sure! However, there seems to be a system limitation that prevents Copa from upgrading more than one passenger at a time.
That means if you want to upgrade both yourself and your travel companion, your records will have to be split before the upgrades can be applied. This creates the opportunity for even more potential troubles with SHARES, and is probably best avoided.
Best practice? Purchase individual tickets for each passenger to start out with. It’s more to keep track of, but will save you a headache later on.
If R space isn’t available on United, can I waitlist?
Not using Copa upgrades, unfortunately. They don’t seem to have that capability (and I’m not sure I’d trust it if they were advertising it, honestly).
So you’ll want to make sure space is available before purchasing your tickets.
Can I use these on lie-flat routes to Hawaii, or on the PS transcon routes?
In theory, absolutely, as long as you’re meeting the other restrictions above.
In practice, however, R space is heavily restricted on those routes, and very inconsistent. United elites know how dynamic that inventory can be, and if you’re new to the situation, well…I wouldn’t get your hopes up for confirming space on these routes, though you could luck out.
But other routes have generally decent availability, and you should be able to find upgrade space if you have a bit of flexibility.
Connect Global Upgrades
If you’re one of the handful of people who are also Copa Presidential Platinum Members, you also receive six Global Upgrades.
- Global upgrades have the same fare restrictions as the regional upgrades
- The same rules about searching for R inventory apply
- You’ll still want to book passengers on separate itineraries if you’re upgrading multiple people
I’m unclear as to whether the global upgrades are also for single-segments, and don’t have a way to test it out personally. In general though I would assume these function the same as the regional upgrades, but without the geographic restrictions.
Copa’s regional upgrades aren’t the best thing ever, for sure. But given that most of us matched to Copa Platinum with zero expectations, the upgrades are a nice surprise perk.
Being able to use these certs on United flights expands options dramatically, and even with the restrictions can still be useful. I used mine to upgrade already-planned flights for my in-laws, and they’ll be thrilled to have a bigger seat and “free” bags on their 3 hour flight.
Has anyone else used their Copa upgrades yet? How did it go?