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Say Hola to Cuba! US Airlines Finally Begin Direct Flights: What You Need to Know

Cuba is opening up to the world – well, to America at least. With sanctions and embargoes being lifted it’s now possible for Americans to visit the beautiful island nation and for US based carriers to operate direct flights into the country (thanks Obama!).

Taking a time machine to colorful tropical art deco Havana has just gotten easier with newly direct flights from the United States through various airlines including United, Delta, American and JetBlue.

Taking a time machine back to colorful tropical art deco Havana has just gotten easier with newly introduced direct flights from the United States to Cuba through various airlines including United, Delta, American and JetBlue.

Until recently, the only way for American citizens to get into Cuba would most likely be through Mexico or a plethora of other Caribbean destinations. And you might face some tough questions at immigration upon return to the United States. All that and you’d be likely to endure a rather sketchy flight where earning frequent flier miles becomes secondary to survival of said flight (read: no miles).

But no more!

The Scoop:

Several major American carriers have commenced significant operations into Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport (HAV) from various hubs and cities within the US – so we thought we’d do a play by play post on who is operating what into Havana and from where.

Good news – all major alliances are covered. Even better news – the flights are varied and options are wide. Best news? Discounts are abound and frequent miles are being showered to hail in this new era of Cuban-American relations.

American Airlines (AA)

AA made history to begin the first commercial services earlier in the summer from Miami to Havana, marking the first flights in 50 years. Since then they have massively expanded their services from their Miami hub and introduced new flights from Charlotte and New York JFK.

  • Miami – Havana: 3x daily
  • Miami – Holgouin: 1x daily
  • Miami – Varadero: 1x daily
  • Miami – Santa Clara de Cuba: 1x daily
  • Charlotte – Havana: 1x daily
  • New York JFK – Havana: 1x daily

American is by far the strongest player in the market with the most new daily flights into Cuba, which makes sense due to their strong presence in Miami and subsequently in Latin America. It’s actually interesting that this schedule is a mark down from their original intent to operate 13x daily into the island, with AA reducing their previously planned 2x daily flights into Holgouin, Varadero and Santa Clara De Cuba – all beach holiday destinations. Apparently initial demand for these flights have been soft, but the airline expects it to rise.

Book American flights to Cuba here. American is rather lax with their terms and conditions for flights to Cuba, but it’d be well worth you time to check out their special site just to ensure you’re all good to go.

Delta Airlines (DL)

Delta seems to be testing the waters and playing it safe on their first foray into the Cuban market with only starting service to the country’s capital Havana, albeit from their two main hubs and of course Miami, given the massive Cuban population there. This will be the first time the airline will start services to Havana in 55 years, with the airline being the last American airline to pull out of the country just before the revolution. DL has scheduled:

  • New York JFK – Havana: 1x daily
  • Miami – Havana: 1x daily
  • Atlanta – Havana: 1x daily

A potential seasonal Detroit – Havana service is rumored to be in the cards but is yet to be officially announced. If you’re a Delta (or SkyTeam) person and want to get there through DL, check their special site here to see what your options are and how to go about doing it! Again, the devil is in the details so make sure you’re well covered!

United Airlines (UA)

United, like Delta have been more conservative in their new flights to Havana, perhaps the most conservative amongst the ‘big three’.

  • Newark – Havana: 1x daily
  • Houston – Havana: 1x weekly

United has some strict special instructions when booking a ticket on one of their Cuba bound flights and they can be found here please, it’s vital to check this page out before booking a UA flight to Havana. You might run into trouble otherwise.

JetBlue (B6)

The launch of JetBlue’s Havana proved to be a historic milestone in the airline’s history as it became the airline’s 100th destination in 22 countries to open and serve. Crazy to think just how far this airline has come in 16 years of service. It’s also the first flight from New York to Havana in nearly 60 years. JetBlue has big plans for Cuba:

  • New York JFK – Havana: 1x daily
  • Orlando – Havana: 2x daily
  • Fort Lauderdale – Havana: 3x daily
  • Fort Lauderdale – Camaguey: 1x daily
  • Fort Lauderdale – Santa Clara de Cuba: 1x daily
  • Fort Lauderdale – Holgouin: 1x daily
  • Fort Lauderdale – Varadero: 1 x daily

At nearly 50 weekly flights to Cuba, JetBlue seems to be going in aggressively to the Cuban market, banking upon the new ties between the two countries and relying on their very well established Florida market to bring Cuban Americans back to family they left behind in Cuba.

JetBlue has some special deals going from $54 one way to Cuba from select destinations and has also set up a special site to avail of these deals and to get caught up on what the airline requires you have before travel.

The beautiful beach destination of Santa Clara de Cuba will surely prove to be a hit with American visitors.

The beautiful beach destination of Santa Clara de Cuba will surely prove to be a hit with American visitors.

The Takeaway:

Look, there’s now tons of options into Cuba from the United States – hell, even direct flights to points beyond Havana.

But there are several important considerations to take into account.

Despite the normalization of flights to Cuba, traveling to the country is not just a normal flight experience and additional administrative steps need to be taken into account before traveling. If any one of these steps aren’t taken, you will be denied boarding by whatever airline you take.

First off, you need a visa. And not a tourist visa. Tourism from the United States is still not allowed and there are only 13 official reasons to apply for a visa with any chance to get approved. These are the permitted reasons for travel:

  • Family visits
  • Official government business
  • Journalistic activity
  • Professional research or meetings
  • Educational activities or people-to-people exchanges
  • Religious activities
  • Sports and public events
  • Support for the Cuban people
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Research
  • Informational materials
  • Authorized export activities
  • Non-immigrant Cuban National

Figure out which reason suits you best and apply. If you don’t qualify for any of these categories for travel to Cuba, this is the official US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) website and application that will let you apply for an exemption and get a special license to travel.

If you’re still confused, the US Government’s FAQ page for travel to Cuba comes in real handy, and even has a dedicated 1-800 number for this purpose (as shown on the page) – this might serve to be your best friend just to make sure all your bases are covered.

Now onto health insurance. It’s required as an American citizen to travel to Cuba. 

Some airlines such as United actually include it in their ticket pricing, while others such as American might not, so it’s imperative to double check this depending on what carrier you’re on. From UA’s website:

All visitors are required to have health insurance that is accepted in Cuba. In most cases, health or travel insurance policies issued in the United States are not accepted at medical facilities in Cuba, so United has included Cuban health insurance ($25 per customer) in the total cost of your ticket. Cuban health insurance is provided by ESICUBA and is valid for 30 days. If you are staying in Cuba beyond 30 days, you’ll need to purchase additional insurance to cover the remainder of your stay.

You should probably also check and see what ESICUBA covers you for and if there are any special exemptions to be aware of. Check into that on their detailed website. Keep in mind that your airline of choice has no liability in any issues regarding travel insurance despite being officially mandated.

Finally, travel document requirements. You’re going to need more than you usually do. It’s important to have these all together, and them some to be covered for travel to Cuba.

For American citizens not born in Cuba:

Most people traveling under a general license will only need a Cuban entry permit, available for purchase at the airport.

In Houston and New York/Newark, we sell Cuban entry permits at the departure gate and collect payment before you board. You will need your passport, boarding pass and a major credit card to make your purchase. A Cuban entry permit costs $50 USD per person and is not included in the price of your airline ticket. An additional $25 USD service charge will also be collected per person by Cuba Travel Services (CTS), which administers the distribution of the entry permits.

 

Cuban visa issued by the Consulate
If the reason for your travel isn’t covered by a Cuban entry permit, you will need a visa issued by the Cuban Consulate in Washington, D.C.

To make sure that you don’t need any more fees beyond (the rather expensive) $50 visa fee for travel, you can check out the Cuban embassy in Washington DC‘s official website because some additional fees do apply in various cases. For example, if you’re a naturalized Cuban American with a place of birth cited as a location in Cuba:

If you have a valid Cuban passport, or if your passport reflects that you were born in Cuba, please review the Cuban Consulate website for details on the additional documents you must hold in addition to your passport.

This whole process might take up to several weeks, so any travel to Cuba must involve generous advanced planning.

Look, I personally would love to travel to Cuba. Especially now that flights and travel non-stop from the USA are an option and I can now also earn my valuable Star Alliance (or SkyTeam for Joey) miles in doing so. But it’s very important to remember that there are many extra considerations to be made, and it is by no means the same as popping over to Cancun or Cabo for the weekend – plan well ahead and be prepared and take extra precautions.

We’re not normally for extra paranoid hyper planning, but in this case we highly recommend crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s. Despite the plethora of new easy flight options and introductory deals to Cuba, we’d hate to hear of instances of denied visa apps or gate boardings – or worse yet, a new episode of Locked Up Abroad!

Plan well, fly well and enjoy your potential trip to Cuba – then let us know the insider scoop so we can take advantage and go!

Cuba is calling, and it’s about time!!

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