Using a United RPU to Upgrade a Copa Flight – Guide

by Sam Roecker

Copa logo. Go to Copa homepage

Using a United RPU (Regional Premier Upgrade) to Upgrade a Copa Flight

✅ Relatively easy process

✅ Full mileage credit, including PQM and PQD

✅ Excellent value for an RPU redemption

⚠ Mileage did not post and required five requests

Copa allows confirmed upgrades to business class the time of booking using a United RPU. The process can be tedious, but it’s entirely possible** – and worth it considering one RPU can be used on a U.S. to South America itinerary with a stop in Panama City (PTY).

**Disclaimer: requesting an upgrade is still a manual process that requires calling – patience required  

I booked a roundtrip flight on for just over $500: Chicago (ORD) to Bogotá (BOG) via Panama City (PTY); and a return from Cartagena (CTG) to Chicago (ORD), also via PTY. All flights were operated by Copa Airlines and its subsidiaries.

Confirmed Business Class Upgrades on Copa

I redeemed two United RPUs (Regional Premier Upgrades) to confirm all four segments in business class at the time of booking. While the experience was far from flawless, a ~$500 roundtrip flight in business class to South America is an excellent deal and totally worth the hassle.

🌟 More on RPU redemptions below

Search for Copa Flights with Saver Award Availability

Confirmed upgrades on Copa require Z class availability, a highly discounted premium fare class. expert mode is not a reliable source for fare inventory on Copa, but Z class availability generally correlates to MileagePlus business class Saver Award availability (I Class).

Translation – if your flight(s) has business class Saver Award availability your RPU should clear upon request.  Another way of checking is to run an advanced search with specific fare parameters for Z class.








Neither search option guarantees availability – you still have to call – but it’s still a good indicator and definitely worth doing before you wait to speak to a United reservations agent.

Book Copa-Operated Flights on

I generally recommend booking and ticketing through United, as you’re likely to earn more award miles if you have Premier status – more on that in the next section. The discount economy fare I purchased (E class) would have only earned 50% mileage if booked through Copa.

Call United Mexico City Reservations

Yes, it’s that specific! Call United (regular 1-800 number or Premier line) and ask to be transferred to Mexico City Reservations. The agent I spoke to was quite puzzled but happily honored my request.

I asked the Mexico City-based agent to apply two RPUs to four segments. Even though I confirmed all four flights had Z class availability, the process still took about 20-30 minutes. Other than the time spent, the whole process was fairly straightforward.

Minutes later, I received a new email confirmation with business class seat assignments – sweet!

Roundtrip Fare: $532

RPU Clears into Z Class








Earning Premier Qualifying Miles (PQM) on Copa

Premier qualifying miles (PQM) is earned based on 1) flight distance and 2) purchased fare class. Note that Z fares – the fare class for RPU-upgraded flights – technically earn 0% Premier qualifying miles (PQM) and Premier qualifying segments (PQS).

Earning United Miles on Copa

United Premier Qualification Earnings on Copa

I had to contact United several times (five, to be exact) about requesting missing mileage credit. Since my original purchased fare was E (Economy Promo), I should have earned 100% Premier credit. Instead, United thought I purchased a Z fare and decided to give me 0 PQMs. Make sure you request missing mileage credit if United makes that same mistake.

United eventually honored my original itinerary and credited 100% of my earnings. As a Premier Platinum, here’s what I earned for my Copa itinerary:

Premier Credit and Award Miles on Copa
Earning United Miles on Copa Flights

United MileagePlus Earnings on Copa Flights | Sam Roecker

Earning MileagePlus Award Miles on Copa

Tickets booked through (016 tickets) earn MileagePlus award miles based on Premier status: 5 x fare for general members and up to 11 x fare for Premier 1K members. Had I booked on Copa, I would have only earned 50% of miles flown, or ~2,600 miles total. 

Copa logo. Go to Copa homepage

Copa Airlines Flies Everywhere

Copa flies to almost every major city in the Americas, including some 7-hour flights to deep South America. Here’s a sample itinerary for Los Angeles (LAX) to Montevideo (MVD). Just one RPU is required for an upgrade to business class on two ~7-hour flights – not bad!

Sample Copa Itinerary Connecting in PTY

Copa also has an extensive route map to the U.S., including some secondary markets like New Orleans (MSY) and Tampa (TPA). Texas is an obvious gap, although Houston travelers have two options: United flies twice daily from Houston Intercontinental (IAH) and Star Alliance partner Air China flies twice weekly on a Boeing 777-300ER continuing from Beijing (PEK).

Copa Airlines U.S. Route Map

Copa Airlines U.S. Destinations | Image: Great Circle Mapper

In addition to extensive coverage throughout Central America and northern South America (Copa is a great option to Colombia, for example), Copa flies some of the longest narrowbody flights in the world: seven hours on a 737 to cities like Buenos Aires (EZE) and Montevideo (MVD).

Copa Airlines South America Routes

Copa’s 5+ Hour South America Flights | Map: Great Circle Mapper

United Regional Premier Upgrade RPU on Copa

United Regional Premier Upgrade (RPU) Eligibility

The following regions are eligible to use a United Regional Premier Upgrade (RPU):

  • The U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam
  • Premium transcontinental routes: EWR – LAX/SFO and BOS – SFO
  • Caribbean
  • Canada
  • Central America
  • Mexico
  • South America (Copa-operated flights only)

The value of an RPU ranges quite significantly given the fairly broad definitions of regions. For example, you could redeem an RPU for a one-hour United Express flight to Canada or one RPU for a one-way itinerary: Boston (BOS) – Chicago (ORD) – Maui (OGG) with a flatbed seat.

If you value RPU redemptions strictly by journey length, Copa offers one of the best values, allowing United Premiers to use one RPU on almost-longhaul itineraries to South America (with a connection in Panama City). If you value RPU redemptions based on the overall quality of the product, check out my mini-review at the end of the post. Bottom line: Copa is far from wonderful, but competitive economy fares and the ability to confirm an upgrade at the time of booking are both reason enough to consider using RPUs on Copa-operated flights.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


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