I’m considering a trip to Cuba in April because I fall under one of the 12 categories of Americans that now have a general license to visit Cuba: journalistic activity. (See the US State Department’s information on visiting Cuba. This post is not suggesting you should.)

I’ve been looking into the cheapest ways to get to Cuba with miles or cash. It turns out there awards you can book to Cuba, but if you don’t book those awards, cash tickets from even very nearby destinations are very expensive.

First let’s rule out some ways to get to Cuba easily:

  • Charter flights from the United States
  • Commercial flights from the United States

Charter Flights

I haven’t contacted any companies that run charter flights from the Untied States, mainly Florida and New York, to Cuba. But reading others’ experiences, it sounds like you need a specific license to be able to fly on a charter flight. I don’t want to go through that rigamarole. I’d travel on a general license.

Commercial Flights from the United States

There aren’t any.

There are plenty of news articles speculating when these could start, but the odds are near 0% that they’ll start in 2015.

With those out of the way, let’s consider the two ways you can travel to Cuba most easily with just a general license.

  • Awards from or via a third country
  • Cash tickets from a third country

Awards

Update 3/17/15: I successfully called Lufthansa Miles & More and had them willing to book BOG-HAV and IAD-HAV for 17,000 miles each.

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. The two best options I see are:

  • Avianca LifeMiles from Panama (or maybe even the USA) to Havana, flying Copa
  • Air France Flying Blue from Mexico City to Havana, flying AeroMexico

Avianca Awards

This is very interesting. If you search from a Copa destination in the United States to Cuba on lifemiles.com, you will get results. (Make sure you select Copa Airlines as the “Preferred carrier” on the search screen or the search engine seems to miss these results.)

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.28.22 PM

Here are the results for economy awards on April 15, all of which are Washington to Panama to Havana.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.28.55 PM

Selecting one 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

From Washington, a stop in Panama City turns a 1,200 mile journey into a 3,000 mile ordeal, but this could still be your best option–if it works.
Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.30.38 PM

I don’t know if you could fly this ticket. Maybe it will get canceled before the day of departure, or maybe the check in agent will refuse to give you a boarding pass to Havana in Washington. Or maybe this award would work like a charm. I’d love to hear people’s take on this award’s feasibility in the comments.

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.

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 is far better in Business Class (29/35 days) than economy (3/35 days) this spring.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.35.46 PM

Mexico City is quite out of the way from the East Coast, but pretty much on the way from the West Coast.
Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.30.56 PM

If you try to search from the United States to Havana on flyingblue.com, you will get an error message.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.37.40 PM

 

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:

Cash Tickets

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 is 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:

$158 from Havana to Nassau on April 25, 27, and 29

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 1.46.34 PM

$209 from Havana to Grand Cayman on April 26 and 30

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 1.46.15 PM

$214 from Havana to Mexico City on April 28

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 1.45.11 PM

If you find cheaper fares, put them in the comments. (Include airline, route, and date please.)

Bottom Line

Unless the LifeMiles awards on Copa from the United States to Cuba and return work perfectly for you, just getting to and from Cuba will involve buying up to four tickets and will be very expensive.

Awards start at 15,000 Flying Blue miles for a one way from Mexico City, and cash prices start at $158 from Nassau to Havana in addition to the positioning flights to get to those cities.

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