I just spent a completely legal week in Cuba, split between Havana and Viñales. An American in Cuba in 2015 is a six part series on the trip. This post will focus on how Americans can book flights to Cuba.
Coming soon posts on money, internet, nightlife, lodging, transportation, Havana, and Viñales.
Ways to Get to Cuba
- On Tuesday, the Treasury and Commerce departments approved ferry services from four companies, so it looks like there will be ferries from Tampa, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, the Florida Keys, and possibly other places in Cuba as soon as a few weeks from now. These ferries will cost $350+ roundtrip.
- CheapAir.com began to sell charter flights to Cuba online on April 15. I assume these are open to anyone with a general license to go to Cuba, but I don’t see that specified. Unfortunately I got errors testing out all the dates and routes I searched.
- You can fly on one ticket to Cuba.
- You can fly to one country on one ticket and from there to Cuba on another ticket.
This post will focus on those last two ways because those ways can use frequent flyer miles and are going to be more convenient for people who don’t live in Florida.
One Ticket to Cuba
Copa Airlines, based in Panama, will sell you a roundtrip ticket from the United States to Cuba, but it can cost over $800.
You can also book Copa Airlines award space from the United States to Havana, Cuba via Mexico with several types of miles including:
- Lufthansa Miles & More
- Singapore KrisFlyer miles
- Avianca LifeMiles
- maybe other types of Star Alliance miles
You cannot book these awards with United miles because United is afraid, as an American company, to book you a flight to Cuba.
Copa flies to 10 American destination and adds New Orleans on June 24, 2015.
If you don’t live in one of these cities, you can add United flights to one of these destinations or to Panama City for no extra charge to your Lufthansa, Singapore, or Avianca award.
You may also be able to fly via San Salvador, El Salvador on TACA/Avianca flights, but I haven’t found that award space.
Getting Lufthansa, Singapore, or Avianca miles
- You need 35,000 miles roundtrip for a Lufthansa award from the United States to Cuba. You can get 50,000 bonus Lufthansa miles from the Miles & More credit card after spending $5,000 in the first three months and paying a $79 annual fee. Or you can transfer SPG points to Lufthansa miles.
- You need 70,000 Singapore miles roundtrip from the United States to Cuba. Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, ThankYou Points, and SPG points all transfer to Singapore miles.
- You need 35,000 Avianca miles roundtrip from the United States to Cuba. The only reasonable way to get them is to buy. You can buy them for less than 1.65 cents each until May 29. This means you could basically buy a roundtrip to Cuba for about $600 roundtrip including taxes by buying enough Avianca miles to book the award.
Searching and Booking the Awards
Searching for Award Space
To search for the Copa flights to Cuba on lifemiles.com, click on Air Tickets under the Enjoy tab.
You may need to log in to a LifeMiles account to search. Sign up for a free account here.
On the search screen, next to “Preferred carrier,” select the carrier that serves the route you’re searching. Not specifying an airline will cause the search engine to miss results.
If You Live in One of the 11 Cities Served by Copa
All of the options go from Washington to Panama City to Havana on Copa with varying layovers in Panama City. If award space shows up on the days you search, note the dates, cabins, and flight numbers for the booking step below.
If You Don’t Live in One of the 11 Cities Served by Copa
You should search your home airport to Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), and Washington (IAD) and then hook up that award space to award space from those cities to Cuba on Copa. This is just segment-by-segment searching.
Booking the Award Space
If you’re booking with Avianca LifeMiles an award you can book online, book it on lifemiles.com.
If you’re booking with Lufthansa, Singapore, or another type of miles, call a foreign call center of the airline whose miles you’re using. The American call centers won’t book trips to Cuba, so pick a foreign call center in an English speaking country that is open to help you. Consider England, Canada, and Australia.
- Lufthansa Miles & More Contact Numbers
- Singapore KrisFlyer Contact Numbers
- Avianca Call Center Numbers
Feed the agent the dates, flights numbers, and cabins of each flight that you found award space for on lifemiles.com. You can pay the taxes with any credit card, so I of course suggest the Citi Prestige® Card, since it has an annual $250 Air Travel Credit that can refund your award taxes, and you will earn 3x-4x on the taxes paid.
I used these methods to fly from Washington DC to Havana, Cuba with Lufthansa miles on Copa flights.
Two Tickets to Cuba
You can book two awards or cash tickets to get from the United States to Cuba. Since you can get to Cuba with one ticket, the only reasons you’d want to use two tickets are if you wanted to see another country on your way or you didn’t have any Star Alliance miles to fly those Copa award flights mentioned above.
I booked my return from Cuba on two tickets because I wanted to stop in Bogota on the way.
The two ticket options include flying cash tickets or awards from the Caribbean or Mexico to Havana. These flights tend to be expensive in miles and in cash. I paid 17,500 Asiana miles from Havana to Bogota, Colombia.
Flying Blue Awards
Air France’s loyalty program Flying Blue is the best way to book AeroMexico flights from Mexico City to Havana.
Flying Blue charges 15,000 miles one way in economy and 30,000 in Business Class.
Award space was far better in Business Class (29/35 days) than economy (3/35 days) this spring when I searched last month.
Mexico City is quite out of the way from the East Coast, but pretty much on the way from the West Coast.
If you search from the United States to Havana on flyingblue.com, you will get an error message, so these awards are only to get from Mexico to Havana as part of a two award solution.
Flying Blue is a 1:1 transfer partner of Membership Rewards and ThankYou Points. ThankYou Points transfers take about 36 hours as long as you know how to correctly input your Flying Blue account number–it is not intuitive.
My favorite two cards to get ThankYou Points are the:
- Citi ThankYou® Premier Card with 40,000 bonus points and 3x on travel and gas (My Review of the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card)
- Citi Prestige® Card with 40,000 bonus points, unmatched lounge access, and 3x on air travel and hotels (My review of the Citi Prestige Card)
Here are all the airlines and destinations that serve Havana. Here are the other airports in Cuba.
I searched on Kayak for many of the destinations and on Cubana’s and Aerogaviota’s sites for their fares. Flights to and from Cuba are shockingly expensive. For instance, I considered entering Cuba from Bogota to visit friends in Colombia first, and the 3.5 hour flight was around $500 one way. Even one hour hops in the Caribbean are almost always over $200.
Here are the cheapest fares I found to and from Cuba when I searched last month:
$158 from Havana to Nassau on April 25, 27, and 29
$209 from Havana to Grand Cayman on April 26 and 30
$214 from Havana to Mexico City on April 28
If you find cheaper fares, put them in the comments. (Include airline, route, and date please.)
Two ticket trips to Cuba is that it isn’t cheap in miles or cash. You are better off using just one roundtrip award, and I really recommend using 35,000 Lufthansa miles to fly Copa roundtrip, unless you want to stop in another country on the same trip.
US airlines won’t let you use their miles to Cuba or even search their sites for awards to Cuba, but foreign Star Alliance airlines will let you book Copa flights to Cuba by calling their non-US call centers.