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First U.S. Flights to Havana Announced

On Aug. 31, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced airlines that can begin service to Havana this year. From the news release: “Airlines receiving the Havana awards include network, low-cost, and ultra low cost carriers – Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines. The flights will provide service to Havana from Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, Orlando, and Tampa.”

Immediately following the announcement, Delta said it would begin daily service to Havana beginning Dec. 1 – from Atlanta, Miami and New York–JFK. Tickets go on sale Sept. 10.

JetBlue announces first Cuba Sale

On July 29, JetBlue announced its first sale for Cuba, covering routes from Ft. Lauderdale to Santa Clara, Camagüey and Holguin. Prices start at $99 one-way. Flights to Santa Clara are scheduled to begin Aug. 31.

Havana service announced

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded the coveted routes to Havana to eight U.S. airlines. So far, none of the carriers has announced specific start-dates for scheduled service, but here is USA Today’s list of airlines and departure cities that are expected to have flights to the Cuban capital sometime in the fall.

  • Alaska: From Los Angeles
  • American: From Charlotte and Miami
  • Delta: From Atlanta, Miami and New York
  • Frontier: From Miami
  • JetBlue: From Ft. Lauderdale, New York and Orlando
  • Southwest: Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa
  • Spirit: From Ft. Lauderdale
  • United: From Houston and Newark

The airline that has tentatively won the right to offer the most overall daily flights to Havana: American.

LISTEN: Travel expert Rick Seaney on deals to Havana.

 

UPDATE: July 7, 2016

American airline has extended its sale and in some cases, dropped prices.

UPDATE: June 28, 2016

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American Airlines has just announced a sale on flights to Cuba for travel starting in early September.

UPDATE: June 22, 2016

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced today flights to nine of the ten cities in Cuba. An announcement on Havana flights is still to come.

According to the DOT, carriers awarded flights are American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines, and Sun Country Airlines. Direct scheduled flight service will be from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Philadelphia.  Flights will be to the Cuban cities of Camagüey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguín, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba.

American will begin Cuba flights in September; tickets will go on sale by the end of the month. As for the possibility of special deals, an American rep told FareCompare “pricing will be competitive.”

On February 16, 2016, the DOT and Department of State  signed a non-legally-binding arrangement to re-establish scheduled air service between the two countries. At the time of the signing, the administration announced that scheduled service would begin later in 2016.  Flights service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis/St. Paul and Cuba should start as early as this fall.

Flights to Havana, Cuba’s capital, will be announced later this summer. Delta and United only applied for service to Havana.

Our team compared the number of seats to see what carrier will dominate the Cuban market.  So far, American seems to be the clear winner with 8,512 seats, or 38% of the currently awarded seats (and more than twice as much as the next competitor, Frontier). The chart below shows the awarded routes, frequency, type of aircraft and capacity and total seats per week, sourced from the DOT. Again, this may change once routes to Havana are awarded.

Routes awarded on 6/10/16 – US to Cuba

American Airlines  
Routing Frequency Aircraft & Capacity  Total Seats per week
Miami-Santa Clara 2 times daily B737-800 / 160 Seats  2,240
Miami-Holguin 2 times daily B737-800 / 160 Seats  2,240
Miami-Matanzas 2 times daily A319 / 144 Seats  2,016
Miami-Camagüey 1 time daily A319 / 144 Seats  1,008
Miami-Cienfuegos 1 time daily A319 / 144 Seats  1,008
Total AA weekly Seats  8,512
Frontier Airlines  
Routing Frequency Aircraft & Capacity Total Seats per week
Chicago (O’Hare)-Santiago de Cuba 1 time daily A320 / 180-186 Seats  2,604
Chicago (O’Hare)-Matanzas 1x per week (Sat) A320 / 180-186 Seats  186
Philadelphia-Camagüey 4x per week (Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat) A320 / 180-186 Seats  744
Philadelphia-Santa Clara 3x per week (Tue, Thu, Sun) A320 / 180-186 Seats  558
Philadelphia-Matanzas 1x per week (Sat) A320 / 180-186 Seats  186
Total Frontier weekly seats  4,278
JetBlue Airways  
Routing Frequency Aircraft & Capacity Total Seats per week
Fort Lauderdale-Camagüey 1 time daily A320 / 162 Seats  1,134
Fort Lauderdale-Holguin 1 time daily A320 / 162 Seats  1,134
Fort Lauderdale-Santa Clara 1 time daily A320 / 162 Seats  1,134
Total JetBlue weekly seats  3,402
Silver Airways  
Routing Frequency Aircraft & Capacity Total Seats per week
Fort Lauderdale-Camagüey 5x per week (not on Mon & Fri) Saab 340B Plus / 34 Seats  170
Fort Lauderdale-Cayo Coco 3x per week (Tue, Thu, Sat) Saab 340B Plus / 34 Seats  102
Fort Lauderdale-Cayo Largo del Sur 1x per week (Sat) Saab 340B Plus / 34 Seats  34
Fort Lauderdale-Cienfuegos 2x per week (Mon & Fri) Saab 340B Plus / 34 Seats  68
Fort Lauderdale-Holguin 1 time daily Saab 340B Plus / 34 Seats  68
Fort Lauderdale-Manzanillo 3x per week (Tue, Wed, Fri) Saab 340B Plus / 34 Seats  102
Fort Lauderdale-Santa Clara 1 time daily Saab 340B Plus / 34 Seats  34
Fort Lauderdale-Santiago de Cuba 1 time daily Saab 340B Plus / 34 Seats  34
Fort Lauderdale-Matanzas 4x per week (Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun) Saab 340B Plus / 34 Seats  136
Total Silver Airways weekly seats  748
Southwest Airlines  
Routing Frequency Aircraft & Capacity Total Seats per week
Fort Lauderdale-Matanzas 2 times daily B737-700 / 143 Seats  2,002
Fort Lauderdale-Santa Clara 1 time daily B737-700 / 143 Seats  1,001
Total Southwest weekly seats  3,003
Sun Country Airlines
Routing Frequency Aircraft & Capacity Total Seats per week
Minneapolis-Santa Clara 1x per week (Sun) B737 / 126-162 Seats 1,134
 Minneapolis-Matanzas 1x per week (Sat) B737 / 126-162 Seats 1,134
Total Sun Country weekly seats 2,268

 

 

This guide to booking flights from the U.S. to Cuba also offers practical travel tips plus information on top attractions and more. See updates below and check out the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Cuba page.

 

UPDATE: June 10, 2016:

LISTEN: Travel expert Rick Seaney on getting to Cuba.

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Recent Updates

  • UPDATE: March 21, 2016: With President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba – the first by a sitting U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge in 1928 – individual tourist travel from the U.S. to Cuba is closer than ever. Later this year, U.S. airlines will begin flights to Havana while Starwood Hotels and Marriott International will offer accommodations even as Airbnb expands Cuba services visitors from all countries.
  • UPDATE: March 16, 2016: Yesterday the U.S. announced significant changes in travel restrictions to Cuba including authorizing travel by individuals under certain conditions such as “people-to-people educational travel” intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people. Simply put, U.S. travelers can now go to Cuba on their own (no need to connect with a group) as long as the visit involves ‘cultural exchange’ – which sure sounds like tourism to us.  And it’s easier than ever, thanks to the U.S. authorizing 110 daily flights to Cuba in the coming year plus embargo changes enabling U.S. dollar transactions in the island nation. NOTE: You are required to document activities in Cuba and keep this record for up to five years; we suggest a diary plus lots of pictures and if you like, share it on FareCompare’s Facebook wall.

TIP: FareCompare will show ticket prices of U.S. airlines flying to Cuba as well as fares of online travel agencies – as soon as they become available – so you can compare fares to find the cheapest flights to Cuba.

  • UPDATE March 7, 2016: The following airlines have submitted applications for flights to Cuba: American, Alaska, Delta, Southwest, United and JetBlue. However, as CNN reports, “they’re asking for so many flights, the requests exceed the government cap” of 20 daily round-trip flights to Havana and 10 daily round-trips to nine other Cuban cities. The Department of Transportation is expected to decide who gets what sometime this summer.
  • UPDATE Feb. 15, 2016: USA Today reports U.S. airlines can “begin applying for more air routes” to Cuba as of Feb. 16 but still no word on when scheduled service will start.
  • UPDATE Dec. 17, 2015: Based on a new agreement, U.S. airlines will be allowed to resume flights to Cuba, possibly as early as 2016.
  • UPDATE July 1, 2015: President Obama announces the U.S. will re-open its embassy in Havana (and Cuban officials are expected to announce the re-opening of their embassy in Washington, D.C. shortly).
  • UPDATE July 20, 2015: CNN reports the U.S. and Cuba have re-established diplomatic relations.

LISTEN: FareCompare’s Rick Seaney can’t wait to go.

All About Cuba

Where is Cuba

Cuba: The Republic of Cuba is located in the Caribbean Sea amidst several popular island destinations including the Bahamas and Nassau to the north, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica to the south, and Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic to the east. Cuba is close to the United States as well; its capital, Havana, is just 100 miles south of Key West, Florida.

Largest cities: Most international visitors arrive at Jose Marti International Airport (HAV), just 9 miles (15 km) from in Havana. The capital has a population 2,142,000; other large cities include Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey, Holguin, Santa Clara and Cienfuegos.

Weather and Climate of Cuba

This is a tropical-weather country with a warm and humid climate so dress accordingly. Many travelers prefer to visit Cuba in the dry season.

  • Dry season: November to April is the driest period of the year with cooler temperatures; highs range from 75 to 80 F (24-27 C).
  • Rainier weather: May to October has more precipitation, and August is generally the hottest month with daytime temperatures averaging around 90 F (32 C).
  • Hurricane season: For all of the Caribbean, this runs from July to November.

Travel to Cuba: Eligibility for U.S. Residents

Please see the latest updates at the top. More information here.

At the present time, Americans are still barred from traveling to Cuba as tourists but there are 12 other legal travel categories that U.S. citizens may fit into and all that is required is what’s called a general license. As the Washington Post points out, this is not a piece of paper but a self-declaration that you do in fact fit in one of the categories and can be as simple as checking a box while booking a ticket. You can see an example of a self-declaration affidavit on this air charter website.

Categories for legal travel to Cuba are below; learn details of each category in this U.S. Department of the Treasury FAQ.

  1. Family visits
  2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  3. Journalistic activity
  4. Professional research and professional meetings
  5. Educational activities
  6. Religious activities
  7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  8. support for the Cuban people
  9. Humanitarian projects
  10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
  11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
  12. Certain authorized export transactions

Legal Documents Required

  • Passport: A valid passport with two empty pages.
  • Visas: This is required but if you are part of a tour or charter group, it is likely the organizers will handle this for you (check to be sure). If you’re making your own travel arrangements, the U.S. government refers you to the Cuban Interests Section; look for information on its website under “consular services for foreigners”.

How to Book Flights to Cuba

For anyone outside the U.S., this is easy. Go online to find the cheapest available tickets. There are non-stop flights to Havana from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America and Europe. For those in the U.S. it’s a little more complicated but there are two options. This will change soon, please see updates at the top.

1. Book flights to Cuba via another country.

In most cases, this can be a time-consuming option that involves two transactions. For example, you could book a flight from your U.S. town to a city in Mexico, then book a second flight from Mexico to Cuba. One online flight search site can do this two-step operation as a single transaction but CheapAir.com may not always have the best deals so be sure to explore the second option, too.

2. Book flights to Cuba via air charters.

More airlines are jumping into Cuba travel. JetBlue is the latest, offering weekly charter flights from New York to  Havana while Sun Country also flies to Cuba. However, both airlines have partnered with charter companies and flights are booked through those entities, not the airlines.

The U.S. recognizes several air charters allowed to fly eligible Americans to Cuba and we list a few of them below. Most charter flights depart from Florida but one offers service from New York. Note: FareCompare does not endorse any charter or travel-related service but offers the following for informational purposes only.

Click the charter name for more details; click the U.S. city to find deals to charter departure cities.

ABC Charters:

  • Miami: Flights to Havana, Santa Clara, Holguin, Santiago and Cienfuegos.
  • Tampa: Flights to Havana.

Cuba Travel Services:

  • Miami: Flights to Camaguey, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba.
  • New York (JFK): Flights to Havana.
  • Tampa: Flights to Havana.
  • NEW Los Angeles: Flights to Havana begin Dec. 12 (operated by American Airlines but sold through Cuba Travel Services)

Gulfstream Air Charter:

  • Miami: Flights to Havana.

Havana Air:

Island Travel & Tours:

  • Miami: Flights to Havana.
  • Orlando: Flights to Havana begin July 8, 2015.

Marazul Charters:

  • Miami: Flights to Havana, Camaguey and Santa Clara.

Xael Charters:

Note: All charter information is subject to change without notice.

Another Way to Go to Cuba

The U.S. has approved some ferry service, but there are more hurdles (including Cuban approval) before it can begin according to news reports. If you want to get to Cuba quickly, though, this may not be for you since the estimated time for a ferry crossing is about 10 hours.

Cuba Attractions: What to See and Do

This is just a small sample of things to see and do in this vibrant country. More details in tourist attraction links at the end of the article.

  • Old Havana: Better known as La Habana Vieja, this at Cuba’s colonial past features plazas, churches and forts.
  • Havana’s Malecon: Walk or drive along this five mile stretch of seawall then stop by the Hotel Nacional for their signature mojitos.
  • Historical Trinidad: This valley was once a booming sugar trade center in the 18th and 19th centuries and you can still see Spanish colonial-era mansions. The town’s showpiece, say many, is the Museo Historico Municipal.
  • Varadero Beach: This near-20 mile long stretch of beautiful white sand and crystalline water is the island’s most famous seaside resort.
  • Vinales Valley: This World Heritage site is one of the places where tobacco is grown, and yes, you can visit a cigar factory.
  • Zapata Peninsula: A national park is located on this peninsula, habitat for an array of rare birds and even some crocodiles. For students of Cold War history, this is located just west of the Bahía de Cochinos or Bay of Pigs.

Practical Travel Tips

Useful things to know for visitors.

Prices: Frommer’s points out that “Cuba is not a particularly cheap island to travel around for tourists and is not cheap at all compared to its neighboring Central American countries.”  If you’re hoping for a dirt-cheap vacation, Cuba may not be what you want.

Money and currency: Cuba has a somewhat confusing two-currency system. We like the explanation from Quartz best: “There are two types of currency in Cuba: the CUC, or the Cuban convertible peso, an artificial currency pegged at a 1:1 ratio to the US dollar that fuels the tourist economy; and the CUP, or the regular Cuban peso, which most everyday Cubans use. The Cuban government announced that it will do away with the dual currency system, but that has yet to take effect.”

Credit/debit cards: What has been a largely cash-only economy for U.S. visitors is changing but it’s not clear how quickly it’s changing. The decision to remove Cuba from the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list means American firms can move ahead to “establish relationships with Cuban banks to process credit and debit card transactions,” reports USA Today. This could take some time but Master Card and American Express are moving forward and more ATMs are coming; check with your card company or bank to see where you stand.

  • UPDATE Dec. 17, 2015: USA Today reports that “MasterCard and Florida-based Stonegate Bank also announced the first U.S.-issued debit card eligible for use in Cuba, easing the long-standing requirement that U.S. travelers to Cuba pay for everything in cash.”

Phones and Wi-Fi: According to Frommer’s, “Any phone with a SIM from a U.S. provider will not work in Cuba” but again, this could change so keep abreast of the latest information. Calls can be made from phones in hotels and the largest establishments reportedly have Wi-Fi hotspots. Hotel managers and tour leaders can provide further guidance.

Transportation: There are several rental car agencies located in the Havana airport but you are strongly urged to make reservations in advance. People drive on the right side of the road in Cuba just like in the U.S. There is no bus service to/from the airport but there are taxis and those who are part of a tour are typically greeted by a shuttle bus (confirm in advance).

Hotels: According to multiple sources, the bigger hotels are not exactly cheap and they fill up quickly (and per Skift, there are only “a handful” of top-end hotels that meet international standards for amenities). For mid-June 2015, we saw rooms at resort hotels from $150 to $200 and basic or standard rooms at the Hotel Nacional starting at about $150. The good news is, Airbnb is now operating in Cuba with reasonable rates at more than 1,000 properties across the island.

Dining: Based on review sites, there are a lot of very good restaurants in Havana and beyond and you can see details on TripAdvisor, Conde Nast Traveller and Lonely Planet to name a few. You won’t be bored either; besides Cuban specialties and a lot of seafood, Havana dining spots feature French, Italian and Russian cuisine and much more.

Cigars and souvenirs: Yes, U.S. travelers can bring home some Cuban cigars but no more than $100 worth per person, per the U.S. Treasury Department: “Travelers are authorized to acquire in Cuba and import as accompanied baggage into the United States merchandise with a value not to exceed $400 per person, provided that no more than $100 of the merchandise consists of alcohol or tobacco products and the merchandise is imported for personal use only.”

More Information on Cuba Travel

Check these sites for more information.