There are tricks and hacks in order to get the best value and save money with your Copa Airlines flight. This guide will walk you through these steps, and provide you with everything you need to know when flying with Copa Airlines and planning stop-overs in Panama City.
Copa airlines is based out of Panama City (PTY) and flies to many cites in North America, South America, and the Caribbean. Follow this guide and tips and tricks, and you will be able to save serious money on your booking. I’ll show you the tricks so you can spend free time in Panama City without paying hundreds of dollars more. My experience with Copa Air has generally been good, and it’s an airline I do use quite often when flying to South America. By no means is Copa Airlines a discount airline, however, they do have promo pricing, sales, hidden sales, and good prices on many routes quite often and can be quite competitive.
Where Does Copa Air Fly?
Copy flies only in the Americas, so that means Central America, Caribbean, North America, and South America. They fly as North as Toronto, and as South as Buenos Aires. This includes every country in South America (except for Surinam and French Guyana, but including 8 Brazilian cities), every country in Central and North America (with multiple destinations each in Canada, USA, and Mexico), and 12 destinations in the Caribbean Islands.
Panama City, Panama is Copa’s hub. So you will always have one stop over in Panama City if you are connecting before reaching your destination.
Their valuable flight map will give you an interactive map of where they fly. https://www.copaair.com/es/web/us/mapa-de-rutas
Booking Your Flight on Copa Airlines
The booking process on Copa Airlines is straightforward. As with other sites, it’s straightforward to search for and find your flight. The currency should default to your country of origin, but be sure you are paying in the right currency to avoid surprises.
Copa sometimes releases new promo codes via social media, so when DanCanTravel finds great deals with Copa Airlines promo codes we list them as part of our deal post along with discount pricing information.
If you have time, I highly recommend a few days in Panama City as a minimum, or if you are free on time, take a few months and really get to know the real Panama. However, there is a cheap way to do this and there is the expensive way. This guide will go over both options and explain to you how to get the right pricing.
Don’t Do It This Way:
Copa Air can accommodate multi-flight routes which allow you to create a custom route. You can use this to book a variety of different flights on a single ticket. Click on the ‘Go to multi-city flights’ link in order to get to this screen. This tool can also be used to book a layover in Panama City for a specific length of time. However, if the goal is only a bit of extra free time in Panama, then there is a better way to do it. If you do it using the ‘multi-city flight’ tool as mentioned above, you could actually end up paying much more money ($200 to $1000 or more depending on pricing) just to have that privilege as they will charge you by price for each flight. So, instead of charging you by route from Toronto to Buenos Aires, they will charge you by flight from Toronto to Panama City, and Panama City to Buenos Aires, although you will probably pay less than if you bought those two tickets separately, but you will still pay more than you should. We all know how sneaky airline pricing is. To get a free stop over of any considerable amount of time in Panama City, you must do it a very specific way.
Save Money! Do it this (the smart) way!
Stop-overs, generally, as per fare rules can be for a maximum of 365 days. There are two ways to do this in order to ensure you pay less money for your stop-over and that your stop-over is completely free. . Both of these approaches are a little bit tedious, but it’s Copa Airlines policy..
- Figure out what you want your itinerary to be using the Copa Air website, and then call Copa’s reservation centre and make the booking while ensuring you tell the agent that you would like the free layover for however long you want it for in Panama City. Tell the agent prior to making the booking and payment.
- Find your itinerary and book using the Copa Air website, but on the third page of the booking (summary page) you need to ensure you select “Reserve and hold my itinerary for 24 hours”. Then, you must call their reservation centre to complete the booking, and as per above, you need to indicate that you want a free stop-ver in Panama City. Tedious? Yes.
It does indicate that you will pay an administrative fee, but I do not believe that is the case in the case of getting the free stop-over in Panama City. If the agent indicates there will be a fee with the free-stop over, just explain this situation to them. Their rules are not clear, but from my experience you should not pay this fee.
The “Visit Panama” website has the following guidance on booking the free stop-over in Panama City.
For your reference, this text can be found at http://www.visitpanama.com/what-to-do/copa-layover. This website is actually very useful for a lot of information on things to do and enjoy while in Panama City as well.
I have a Lay-Over in Panama City (PTY). What can I see?
Generally, if you want to leave the airport on a layover, consider the following.
- You will need at least an hour to leave the plane and clear customs
- You should be back at the airport at least two hours before your departing flight assuming you’ve checked in already.
- Buffer 45 mins to an hour and a half being in transit in Panama City in a taxi or shuttle
Therefore, subtract 3 hours (or 3.5 just to be safe) + transit time from your layover time, and that gives you a rough idea of how much time you have in Panama City. The closest tourist attraction will be the old ruins of Panama City (Panamá Viejo) which is 22km away. This isn’t open on Monday’s. Other options are, The BioMuseo or Amador Causeway (33km away), Casco Viejo (26 km away), and the Miraflores Locks (33km away).
Traffic is unpredictable and can be very busy especially at rush hour. You could easily be an extra hour in traffic in one direction, especially if you are coming off The Causeway, or you are in rush hour during the week.
If you don’t mind being in a rush and accept that there is a traffic risk which could cause you to miss your flight, 6 hours is possible if you want to visit Panamá Viejo only.
Panama Canal Tours offers a “Layover tour” which will pick you up at the airport and take you around the city for 5 to 6 hours. You will really need a full day layover of 8 to 12 hours. It’s pricey at about $600USD for two people. Other tour companies may have similar offerings, however, a taxi will take you to places you want to go and pick you up and drop you back off at the airport for cheaper if you arrange your schedule with the driver. However, a tour company will wait for you at each stop and work to ensure you get back to the airport on time.
Although do-able, a six hour layover isn’t a lot of time to see much of Panama City, and I’d probably stay in the airport. If it were me, I’d go by taxi as long as I had at least 8 to 10 hours. Anything less than that would be risky, and I’d need to be confident in the traffic timing and transportation before proceeding.
Save Money Directly to Panama City (PTY) with this Flight Booking Hack
Copa prices their flights competitively based on route. This means that a flight from Sao Paulo to Panama City on Copa Airlines could be two or three times the price of the same Copa Airlines flight that stops in Panama City before moving on to Miami. This is because there are significantly less flights operating from Sao Paulo to Panama City then there are Sao Paulo to Miami.
If you want to just get away and go to Panama City, but the flight prices are too expensive. Consider packing light and packing with carry-on only, and check out flights to Panama City with a connection to another city. You will get off in Panama City and possibly pay a much cheaper rate although you will need to buy two separate tickets (one for the departure, and one for the return). The airlines generally frown upon this, but people have been known to pull a scheme like this to save money and beat airline pricing. It’s up to your tolerance level if you think this is something you want to pursue.
This can work well with discounted sale pricing. Copa may want to fill up their flights to Santiago and may offer fare sales from North America to that city. Technically, you could capitalize on this and get the fare sale pricing for the Santiago route, but finish your trip in Panama instead. This works better when the fare going to Panama for the day you want is high.
Copa offers five ticket options you can buy via their website. After finding your flight, you will see the ticket classes for each leg. If your schedule is flexible it is worth to check the next and previous days for your departure and return.
Copa Fare Rules
There are multiple ticketing levels for each leg of your flight, and each level comes with specific privileges. Click the fare class letter link for each ticket option to see the details. This is the single letter written beside the fare price (ex: L, E, M, D, T, C, or others). This will bring up the full fare rules – it’s a little cryptic and a lot to read through. Note, there are multiple fare classes available for each type of ticket, so depending on the day, route, and ticket, you may be buying a different fare class from Copa even though you are buying the same type of ticket (ex: Economy Extra).
Each fare allows you to select your seat and one standard carry-on and one checked in bag free of charge. However, some routes may have some variations which are subject to change.
Generally, each ticket allows one personal item and one checked in bag. Business or economy class tickets allow a single carry-on bag unless you are business class along with Star Alliance Gold, ConnectMiles Gold, Platinum and Presidential Platinum; in this case you get two carry-on bags. (Oh, but if you are departing or arriving in the USA then you only get 1 carry-on no matter what. That’s just the way it is.)
Specific baggage and carry-on rules are also subject to route. So, double check the rules on Copa’s website for the route you are flying.
Max carry-on bag weight is 10 kg (22 lb) and within 58cm x 35cm x 22cm (17in x 10in x 9 in) (including handles and wheels).
Checked in bags generally can measure up to 158 combined linear centimetres (62 in).
Fees can be $100 to $200USD or more for excess baggage, oversized, or overweight baggage. This depends exclusively on your route, ticket class, and frequent flyer status. Check your route’s specific rules on baggage here: https://www.copaair.com/en/web/gs/baggage-policy
Copa is a regular full-service airline, so unlike ULCC (ultra low cot carriers) you are free to select your seat upon purchase and check-in.
Check In Online
Check in within 24 hours of your departure and either print your boarding pass at home or, my favourite, add it to your Apple/Google wallet on your iPhone or Android.
Checking in at the ticket counter at the airport is a mistake. It takes longer, and there are big lines, and once you are there you are at the mercy of the airline agent. This means they take the time to weigh your baggage, and will force you to check it in if necessary by measuring and weighing your carry-on bags. This catches some people by surprise, so be careful. I’ve been able to relentlessly negotiate with the airline to let me bring in an over-weight carry-on on to the plane, but it’s difficult, and not a situation you want to be in.
Moral of the Story?: Save the hassle. Check in online. Always. You don’t want surprises at the airport!
Flight Connections in Panama City
All connections with Copa Airlines are made through Tocumen International Airport in Panama City (PTY). If you are staying in Panama City and you have checked-in your baggage then you will need to collect your baggage as usual. If you have a connection in Panama City, but you are required to stay overnight in Panama because your connecting flight leaves the next morning or day then you will have to collect your baggage as well, and re-check your baggage when you arrive at the airport again the next day.
The good thing about connecting in Panama City is that generally you can have a short connection time (let’s say 45min or less) with absolutely no problem making your next flight not including unexpected delays.
If you are only connecting in Panama City then you will never need to leave the secure area or go through customs in Panama. While it’s possible that your plane will land at one side of the terminal and you have to make your way to the other side, quite often, and especially every time I’ve had a short connection, my arriving flight landed with a gate or two of my departing flight. Easy.
Tocumen International Airport (PTY)
Tocumen International Airport is a large international airport and is the busiest in Central America serving 37+ airlines and as a major hub to Central America, North and South America, and the Caribbean. It’s most popular flight routes include flights to Colombia, Mexico, United States (specifically Miami), and Cuba.
Within the airport, and inside the secure area (airside), you’ll easily find duty free, cosmetic stores, electronics, and places to eat, including Dunkin Donuts and Subway, as well as airline lounges.
The Ecuadorian “Panama Hat” can also be found here, if you aren’t planning on visiting Panama, but want an “authentic” Panama Hat. (Note: Ecuador is the true creator of the real “Panama Hat”)
Copa Airlines accepts Visa, Mastercard, and American Express as payment. They will also accept bank transfer from some countries, including, Brazil, Canada, and The United States.
Rewards Programs and Partners and Redeeming Aeroplan for Copa Air flights
Copa Airlines is part of Star Alliance which also includes airlines such as Air Canada, United Airlines, Lufthansa, Avianca, and many more. Airlines as apart of Star Alliance can generally cash in points for reward flights on Copa, and that includes Air Canada’s Aeroplan.
Copa’s points reward system is Mileage Plus. Mileage Plus is United Airlines’ points program, and Copa Airlines exclusively shares this points program with United.
YQ as it’s known in the airline industry (or “fuel surcharges” to the common person) can be expensive when redeeming points. Often a $1,000 flight could cost you $1,000 or (60,000 points + $650 fuel surcharges). YQ is a scam, but many routes will have this fuel surcharge added in the case of flights booked with reward miles – and this tax is much more than the normal tax applied when you buy with money instead of points. However, PTY in Panama City is not one of those airports in which you will pay the fuel surcharge. This means that redeeming points for flights which fly to Panama City is a great use of reward points.
A return flight from Toronto to Panama City using Aeroplan points will cost you 40,000 Aeroplan points and about $217CAD in taxes (one way for 20,000 points). However, a funny thing I’ve noticed is that departure flights from Toronto to Panama City with Copa Airlines are redeemable via Aeroplan, the return flight will likely need to be direct with Air Canada (rouge), or connecting with United Airlines in the USA. I’ve never seen a Copa Air flight from Panama City to Toronto to be redeemable via Aeroplan. It may be due to technical glitches (Aeroplan has had those before with Copa), or Air Canada and/or Copa is protecting this segment and not allowing points redeemed for those flights. Flights may become available in the future, but I haven’t seen it so far. Please let me know if you do find this option. If the return flight is with United and you are travelling to Toronto, you will pay about $150CAD in taxes.
If you do happen to find a return flight redeemable via reward points with Copa Airlines (YYZ to PTY) total taxes you need to pay will be significantly less at just over $100CAD maximum. One way flight rewards with Copa is $55CAD.
Copa Airlines with their Panama City hub situated right in the middle between North and South America and the Caribbean caters to all types of travellers travelling between The Americas and Caribbean.
AeroMexico has their hub in Mexico City, and they are competitive on routes in North America, and do make connections between North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, however their options in South America and The Caribbean are less than Copa’s available destinations.
American Airlines, United Airlines, and Air Canada fly to many of the same destinations as Copa Airlines. However, for long haul flights, Copa Airlines offers flights throughout the day. You can leave early in the morning from North America and land in Rio De Janeiro, Santiago, Buenos Aires, or Montevideo, and other destinations late at night and into the first hour of the morning. The other North American airlines will take you on an overnight flight to get to the central and southern cities of South America.
Each of these airlines are competitive with Copa Airlines. I can’t predict if they will be less expensive of more expensive, but I’d say that when Copa offers promo pricing, they often beat the other airlines, but 2 out of 3 times, I can find a better deal flying to South America if I fly Air Canada, AA, United, and other major carriers.
Flights to the northern cities in South America can be done during the day on the major North American carriers.
Ultra low cost carrier, Spirit Air, also takes you into South and Central America for cheap as well. They do not service Canadian cities directly, so if you live in Toronto, let’s say, you’ll have to make your way across the border to Buffalo/Niagara Falls, NY to make that flight.
Fly During the Day with Copa (Long Haul)
As mentioned above, Copa is the only airline that will get you from North America to the southern and central cities of South America during the day. You’ll leave early in the morning and arrive late at night, but you won’t miss a night’s sleep. If you are the kind of person who likes to work all day while flying and getting a good nights sleep when you arrive, then Copa gives you that advantage. The last thing I enjoy doing is getting a mediocre sleep on the plane and arriving at 6am, 7am, or even 10 am at my destination waiting to go through customs.
For most airlines, any flight purchased, regardless of class or ticket, can be cancelled free of charge within 24 hours of purchase if the ticket departs or arrives in the United States. This is as per “U.S. Department of Transportation Customer Service Plan” regulations (14 CFR Part 259.5). However, Copa Airlines doesn’t publicly state that they follow this policy, and they do offer customers the option to put a 24 hour hold on ticket purchases while they await payment. Due to the fact they offer the 24 hour hold option, they legally don’t have to refund the customer’s flight purchase if it qualified under 14 CFR Part 259.5. I’ve never tried to get Copa to cancel a paid ticket within 24 hours, so you may have to argue with the customer service centre if you want to try this.
If you purchase your Copa Airlines flight with an OTA such as Expedia, Cheaptickets, and others, they may give you a guaranteed 24 hour cancellation policy. Check service terms before purchase.
Otherwise, this all depends on the fare rules of the ticket you purchased. Always check the fare rules prior to purchase if you are concerned about refundability.
- Promo and Business Promo fares are non-refundable.
- Flex and Business Flex fares are sometimes refundable depending on the fare rules of the purchase.
This completely depends on your specific fare class. Upon purchasing your ticket, read the fare rules and understand the level of refundability and if and what the penalty is.
You cannot change the name on the ticket once the ticket has been issued. If you honestly made a mistake with the name, call Copa anyway, and they will hopefully still help you sort it out. Often, if it’s a minor inconsequential change like not including your full middle name, you will still be able to board. However, you should call Copa to confirm.
Tickets can be changed and Copa airlines will charge you the difference between the old fare and the new fare.
You can change your flight to another flight leaving the same day to the same destination between 24 hours and up to 3 hours before your original flight departure and up to two hours before your new flight departure all depending on availability. On some fares (again see fare rules for your particular fare) passengers can purchasing a seat on an alternate flight for a set price of $25USD.
To make changes, you must call Copa, or drop into once of their reservation offices or ticket agents at the airport.
Other changes can be made to your flight as well with restrictions and extra fees. Call Copa airlines to see your options if you need to change your flight to another date. Generally, they will not allow you to change your route.
Comfort / Entertainment
Like airlines such as American Airlines, some of Copa’s planes are decked out with in-flight entertainment with monitors on the back of every, but many are not. On some major routes such as Panama to Sao Paulo or to Buenos Aires there is a higher likelihood of this in-flight entertainment. In 2018, Copa has introduced Copa Showpass which is in-flight entertainment available on your own devices through WiFi. Some of their planes are decked out with this system, yet most are still without it.
Make sure to download the Copa Showpass app before take-off, as you will not be able to get the app mid flight, however they do promise that they offer this service via web browser as well.
Copa has stated that all of their new planes delivered in 2018 will be decked out with Copa Showpass, however, as a consumer, you will not know if the flight you are taking is a brand new plane or not. Sites like flightaware.com will allow you to search the plane regularly used for certain flight routes, but there is no way to know how old the plane is.
Copa Club Lounge in Panama at PTY
Priority Pass is a membership program that gives you access to 600+ airport lounges around the world. There are different membership tiers, and some credit cards such as the American Express Platinum card give you an added benefit of Priority Pass membership.
There are two lounges in which priority pass membership will allow you to enter. One Airside, and one Landside. The airside lounge is called “Copa Club“. These lounges are ok, but don’t expect gourmet hot meals. The time I spent in this lounge, I was able to work for a few hours, and consumed free coffee and beverages and light snacks as that was what was available.
Copa Club is also accessible to those flying business class on an international flight, ConnectMiles PreferMember Gold / Platinum / Presidential Platinum members, Star Alliance Gold members, United Club members, Aeromexico premier members, Iberia Plus Elite / Infinita members.
You can also pay to enter the lounge, but unless you really need quiet space to work with WiFi it’s not worth forking out the roughly $60USD it will cost you.
If you are flying KLM or Air France, you also have access to the Copa Club if you are flying business class or you have Flying Blue Platinum and Gold Elite Plus membership.
There are no lounges accessibly, specifically, for American Express card members.
Buying Copa Flights From Venezuela
If you plan to be in Venezuela and have future plans to buy a flight ticket from there, read this. Ir’s very important. Unfortunately, Copa Airlines charges a $1,500USD surcharge when buying a flight on Copa Airlines from within Venezuela. Copa’s fare rules for all of their fares seem to have this restriction.
All of Copa’s fares as far as I can find indicate tickets may not be sold in Venezuela and if they are are subject to a $1500 penalty, whereas, other fares just indicate the $1500 surcharge for buying flights while located in Venezuela. This does for tickets leaving Venezuela, arriving in Venezuela, or any other ticket. An example of the fare rule:
“GENERAL RULES TEXT ORIGINATING VENEZUELA – TICKETS MAY NOT BE SOLD IN VENEZUELA. NOTE – A USD 1500.00 PENALTY APPLIES IF SOLD IN VENEZUELA. ORIGINATING AREA 1 – TICKETS MAY NOT BE SOLD IN VENEZUELA. TICKETS MAY ONLY BE SOLD IN AREA 1/AREA 2/AREA 3. NOTE – A USD 1500.00 PENALTY APPLIES IF SOLD IN VENEZUELA.”
Generally, if someone in Venezuela wants to buy a flight ticket with Copa Air, they have to have a friend, family member, or travel agency, purchase the ticket for them outside of the country with a foreign bank account or credit card.
Copa Reservation Centre
Copa’s reservation centre is available to make changes or cancellations to your flight as well to make new reservations.
USA and Canada: 1 (800) FLY COPA (359 2672).
Mexico: 01 800 265 COPA (2672)
Panama: (507) 217 COPA (2672)
Brazil: 0800 886 COPA (2672)
Argentina: 0810 810 COPA (2672)
For the full list of numbers see: https://www.copaair.com/en/web/us/reservation-center
Stop-Over in Panama City (PTY). What to do?
Regardless if you are stopping over for a few days, or staying longer term, these hints will get you started in Panama City.
Panama is generally a safe city, and due to the development boom and incoming money from offshore it feels like a wealthy first world city in many regards. Panama is a hotbed for money laundering and secret offshore bank accounts, and along with that, many of those fancy apartments that you see will actually sit empty.
Taxi’s are safe, but keep in mind that the taxi’s in Panama do not use Taxi Meters, so prior to getting into the taxi, tell the driver where you would like to go, and negotiate a fair rate before entering the taxi. Do not enter the taxi before establishing the rate. Keep in mind that because you are a tourist, the taxi’s will try to take advantage of that. Ask your hotel or a local what the expected taxi fares should be to any given part of the city, but remember this, the taxis will try to charge you taxi prices as if you were in Miami. This is Panama, and when the driver is trying to negotiate $8, $10, or $14 for the fare, the true value of the fare should be closer to $2 to $4. If you don’t speak Spanish, the driver may be persistent you pay his or her rate. If it’s a possibility, ask someone from the hotel, or a local, to negotiate the taxi rate for you.
Hotels will offer you day drivers to take you around the city for a day and wait on you. It’s generally pretty expensive, but it may save you sone time.
Avoid the Hop on Hop Off buses – they are old and run like turtles. After you make your first stop, you will never want to get back on. Go for it if you want, but, you’ve been warned.
What to Do in Panama City
- The Panama Canal (Miraflores Locks) – spend a couple hours seeing a short film about the canal and watch the ships and yachts moving across the canal through the locks.
- Biomuseu – The Museum of Biodiversity in Panama City. I skipped this due to time constraints, but I plan to go there next time I get to Panama.
- The Amador Causeway – From the Biomuseu, you can cross a bridge that connects you to Isla Naos and Isla Flamenco. I like to walk, so it took almost an hour to walk each way, but there were many interesting spots to take pictures. I walked across during the day and back in the evening without problems. From the bridge and the islands you will have the best possible views of the Panama City skyline as well as being able to see hundreds of boats sitting and waiting for their chance to pass through the Panama Canal. There are many good restaurants here as well as some opportunities to hike to the peaks of the hills on the islands. (Much of the hiking will be on roads, unfortunately, but there are some trails mixed in there as well). If you do plan to catch a taxi once you reach the island, it can be very difficult at times with the slow moving traffic to catch one. Arrange it in advance to pick you up at a certain time, if possible.
- Casco Viejo – This is the oldest part of Panama City and is the colonial old town. It has recently been restored, but during the day you may find it’s energy lacking, but it’s a beautiful place to take pictures. It also has a vibrant nightlife Thursday to Saturday nights.
- Avenida Central / Santa Ana – From Casco Viejo, you can rake a stroll up into Avenida Central and get a feel for the real Panama City. Bustling markets, people out and about, police, business people, workers, and families. Here is where you will find very decently priced groceries and clothing in Panama City. It can be rough, but I walked around with my camera full out with absolutely no problems. Parts of the Santa Ana neighbourhood can be a little barren, so depending on your risk tolerance you might want to avoid those areas. I personally didn’t have any problem here during the day, but I did not venture around here in the evening.
- Panama Viejo – Ruins of the old Panama City. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it as it was closed when I tried to go. (Closed on Monday’s).
- Ciclovía Cinta Costera – Walking along the Ciclovía Cinta Costera will take you through green parks as you walk towards the
- Marbella, El Cangrejo, Punta Pacifica – These are a few neighbourhoods in relatively close proximity. El Cangrejo is a little grimier, yet very vibrant, with a lot of casinos, restaurants, and bars. Punta Pacifica, on the other hand, is full of luxury hotels and apartment buildings, including The Trump International Hotel and Casino. I spent time in each of these neighbourhoods, and have the fortunate opportunity to meet up with some friends who were in town to play poker at the Trump Casino.
These are photos I took while on a stop-over in Panama City, Panama.