I just booked myself a trip to Cuba with miles. One direction I am flying on a single award from the United States to Cuba. On the return, I am flying two awards: Cuba to Colombia and Colombia to the United States.

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I used American Airlines, Asiana, and Lufthansa miles, all of which are easily available to Americans.

Can Americans Travel to Cuba?

Here is the State Department’s page on visiting Cuba.

I am going to travel to Cuba on a general license as a journalist. A “general license” means that I do not have to contact any government agency in advance to receive permission. Here are the 12 categories of general licenses:

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I’ll need a valid passport and a tourist card to enter Cuba. I can buy the latter for $20 in Panama before boarding my flight to Havana.

It is still technically illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba for the purpose of tourism. Figure out for yourself whether you can fit one of the 12 general licenses, so you can legally travel to Cuba.

Awards

In a previous post, I ruled out charter flights to Cuba because they’re impossible for folks traveling to Cuba on a general license, and I ruled out paid flights via third countries as very expensive. I was determined to book my trip to Cuba with miles.

But booking a trip to Cuba with miles is not 100% straightforward.

If you go to united.com and type Havana into the search box, you get no results. The US-based airlines are not going to let you use their miles to fly to Cuba for the time being, even if you just want to use the miles to fly from Panama to Cuba.

Any awards you book to Cuba will have to be with foreign miles. There are a lot of options:

  • Avianca LifeMiles, Singapore KrisFlyer miles, Asiana Club miles, Lufthansa Miles & More miles on Avianca or Copa to Cuba
  • Air France Flying Blue miles from Mexico City to Havana, flying AeroMexico

I looked into using Singapore, Asiana, Lufthansa, and Avianca miles. Here was my experience.

Searching for Award Space

I tried to use the miles of four Star Alliance carriers, all of which have equal access to Saver award space released by Avianca and Copa on their flights to Cuba. As I mentioned, not all award search engines will display award space to Cuba, but lifemiles.com will. Search for Star Alliance award space to Cuba on lifemiles.com.

There are several routes to Havana from the Americas on Star Alliance carriers: Copa, Avianca, Air Canada, and Air China.

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There are also routes to Cayo CocoCayo Largo del SurHolguínSanta Clara, and Varadero on Star Alliance carriers.

To search for any of these routes on lifemiles.com, click on Air Tickets under the Enjoy tab.

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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.

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My Searches

I was interested in combining Cuba with Colombia. I need to start and end my trip in Washington DC. I searched:

  • Washington-Dulles <-> Havana on Copa
  • Havana <-> Bogota on Avianca
  • Bogota <-> Washington-Dulles on American and Avianca

I searched all three itineraries in both directions because I was willing to visit Bogota and Havana in either order. I let my search results dictate my order.

In the end, I found much better award space on my dates from Havana to Bogota than vice versa, which sealed my plan to fly USA to Cuba to Colombia to USA.

Spending an Afternoon in Panama City

Here are sample results for economy awards from Washington to Havana.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.28.55 PM

All of the options go from Washington to Panama City to Havana on Copa with varying layovers in Panama City. I decided to choose a seven hour layover in Panama City. From a quick search, I learned that I can visit the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal with a five hour layover. That sounds fascinating, and I plan to save money by hiring taxis instead of a tour company.

American Airlines Space to the United States

I was hoping to book Avianca’s direct flight from Bogota to Washington-Dulles for my return. There is award space on the flight in economy on many dates (yellow on the calendar below), but I couldn’t make it work for my trip.

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My back up plan was American Airlines miles with one stop in Miami. The benefit is that American Airlines charges only 15,000 miles one way between the United States and Northern South America for much of the year. United would have charged me 20,000 miles one way for the Avianca flight.

American Airlines award space is wide open between Bogota and Miami, and from there to anywhere else in the United States or Canada for the same 15,000 mile price.

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I noted the date, cabin, and flight number of the award space to Cuba on Copa, to Colombia on Avianca, and to the United States on American Airlines. Now it was time to book.

Booking the Award

I wanted to get all three of my awards or zero. The first step was to put the American Airlines award on a free five day hold while I investigated my booking options with Star Alliance miles for the Star Alliance flights.

Avianca LifeMiles

Selecting the Copa award flights from Washington-Dulles to Havana brings up a price of 17,500 Lifemiles + $31.85. Or you can toggle the “More money” button to book the award for 7,500 Lifemiles and $181.85.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.29.42 PM

The problem is that I don’t have LifeMiles. Getting LifeMiles is a bit of a challenge. You basically need to buy them. They are often on sale for 1.65 cents each, though not currently. Once you have 7,500 LifeMiles, you can book the award for another $181.85.

I would consider buying the 7,500 miles when they are on sale for 1.65 cents each which happens every few months, but right now they cost 3.3 cents each.

The Havana to Bogota award was only 10,000 LifeMiles, but that was 10,000 more than I had.

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I went looking for other foreign Star Alliance options to book the flights.

Lufthansa Miles & More

Lufthansa is also a member of the Star Alliance, so it partners with Copa and Avianca. The Miles & More award chart shows a great price of 17,000 miles one way from the United States to Cuba or Colombia to Cuba.

I called the Miles & More call center for the United States and tried to book Washington to Havana. The agent said he could not book flights to Cuba.

Next I called the British service center at  +44 371 – 945 97 37 for 1 cent per minute via gmail. I fed the agent the Copa flights from Washington to Havana and she priced them at 17,000 Miles & More miles and 4.5 GBP ($7.) These were the same flights that the agent at the US call center couldn’t price.

She priced Bogota to Havana at 17,000 miles + $15.

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Fantastic! I had 18,000 Lufthansa miles, so I could book one of the awards with Lufthansa miles.

I continued my research.

Singapore KrisFlyer

The Singapore award chart shows a price of 17,500 miles from the United States to the Caribbean. Havana to Bogota would be 25,000 miles.

I called KrisFlyer and tried to price my Copa award. Three different agents priced it at 35,000 miles one way. For whatever reason, the computer wanted to collect Washington to Panama and Panama to Havana as two separate awards.

I didn’t bother to price Havana to Bogota because I knew it would be cheaper with Lufthansa miles, but I am confident it would have cost 25,000 Singapore miles.

Asiana Club

The Asiana chart shows Colombia to Cuba costing 17,500 miles and the United States to the Caribbean at 17,500 miles also.

I priced out Havana to Bogota at 17,500 miles + $15.

I didn’t bother to price out Washington to Havana because I had all the information I needed.

How I Booked

I had the perfect amount of Lufthansa and Asiana miles to book the two Star Alliance awards. If I hadn’t had those perfect amounts, I would have transferred Starpoints to Lufthansa miles. Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Singapore, Lufthansa, and Asiana miles. And every 20,000 points transferred earns a 5,000 mile bonus.

When the Asiana agent priced Havana to Bogota at 17,500 miles one way, I immediately booked. I got the following email a few minutes later with my confirmation number.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 3.02.29 AM Next I called Lufthansa back. Because of the time of day, I called the Australian Miles & More center at +61 1300 – 655 727 for 2 cents a minute through gmail. I booked Washington to Havana for 17,000 miles + $7. My confirmation came quickly via email.Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 3.02.42 AM

 

Last I signed into my American Airlines account and ticketed Bogota to Washington, which I had held earlier in the day. It cost 15,000 miles + $95 (though I’ll get about $35 back upon check in.)

Bottom Line

Lufthansa, Avianca, Singapore, and Asiana are all willing to ticket award tickets to Cuba, even if they begin in the United States. Copa has several destinations in America from which you can get to Cuba with only one connection in Panama. If you don’t live in one of those cities, you can connect on United and Copa flights to Panama and then to Havana on your Miles & More award.

Search for the award space on lifemiles.com and call the non-US call center of the airline whose miles you want to use. You can book a roundtrip for as little as 34,000 Lufthansa miles, which is 29,000 Starpoints.

To get Starpoints, open the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express with 25,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $5,000 in the first six months. Just meeting the minimum spending requirement gives you more than enough points for a roundtrip award to Cuba.

 

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