Can You Redeem Miles To Cuba?

There has been lots of buzz the past week about restrictions between the US and Cuba slowly being lifted, which is exciting news on so many levels, especially for those looking to visit.

I’ve received tons of questions from readers asking about the best way to redeem miles for travel to Cuba. I’m not an expert on the exact diplomatic situation between the US and Cuba, and don’t have any inside knowledge into what these restrictions being lifted means for US airlines and travelers.

That being said, I’d like to think I have a decent grasp of miles & points, so I figured I’d tackle the question as to whether it’s possible to redeem miles for travel to Cuba.

US airlines will fly to Cuba soon

So with the announcement of many sanctions being lifted between the US and Cuba, why have no airlines published a schedule for flights to Cuba yet? Because first a civil aviation agreement has to be struck between the two countries, and from there airlines will be awarded slots to fly to Havana and beyond.

Both American and United are in the process of applying for rights to fly to Cuba, though that probably won’t happen overnight. Experts say it could be up to 12 or so months until that happens, so I wouldn’t expect service to Cuba overnight. That being said, once the rights are granted, I anticipate that flights will commence as quickly as possible (in other words, I don’t think they’ll only start service 10 months after they get the rights to fly there).

US airlines aren’t yet selling you tickets to Cuba

I’m no government or law expect, so I’m not sure if this is because they can’t yet, or because they haven’t gotten around to it yet. But as of now you can’t:

  • Earn miles with a US frequent flyer program for travel to Cuba
  • Redeem miles with a US frequent flyer program for travel to Cuba
  • Search availability on a US airlines’ websites for travel to Cuba (the search engine won’t even recognize it as a destination)
  • Book a ticket on a single “fare” all the way to Cuba, even if connecting via a third country*

Cuba-AAdvantage
You can’t even earn AAdvantage miles for travel on LAN to Cuba

Can you redeem other miles for travel to Cuba?

Yes. As was the case before, you can redeem non-US airline miles for travel to Cuba from non-US destinations.

Here are the routes to Havana operated by airlines which belong to one of the three major alliances, or are associated with airlines in one of the major alliances:

Travel-To-Cuba

As you can see, there are lots of routes, though most aren’t especially useful for travel from the US.

As a general rule of thumb based on the availability I’ve searched, award space is extremely tough to come by on most routes to/from Cuba, more so than to other destinations. That’s because Cuba is largely a leisure/charter destination, so a vast majority of tickets are sold through consolidators/tour groups, meaning there aren’t many seats on these flights that are unaccounted for. Furthermore, most people booking through these consolidators and tour groups are booking way in advance, which is why you’ll see flights sold out six months in advance, in many cases.

While not part of an alliance, personally I’d love to fly to Havana out of Luanda on the once weekly TAAG Angola Airlines service. 😉

TAAG-Airlines

My Cuba travel strategy

Do I want to visit Cuba at some point? Absolutely. Am I dying to go tomorrow? No.

I get that some people want to go right now. Though I kind of feel like part of that motivation is similar to how you feel the need to drink yourself into oblivion the moment you turn 21, since it’s something you weren’t able to do up until that point.

Do I want to see Cuba before it gets totally commercialized? Yes. But I also am happy waiting until there’s a convenient, economical, nonstop flight from the US to Cuba and until the exact details of who can visit are clear, and it’s not a function of which immigration officer you get. I don’t think the country will lose that much charm in such a short period of time.

If you want to go to Cuba from the US ASAP

I can be highly theoretical here and show the rather arbitrary ways you can get to Cuba on miles. But for the most part it’s not going to be a great value. That’s because you can’t fly from the US to Cuba on a single fare yet. Instead you’d have to book two tickets.

Really your best bet is to just position yourself to the Caribbean (either on a paid ticket or an award ticket — if you live on the east coast, redeeming British Airways Avios for travel to the Caribbean is a great value), and then book a paid ticket to Havana.

Are tickets cheap? Not really. But they’re not so offensively expensive that you’ll get more value out of redeeming miles.

For example, Bahamas Air flies from Nassau to Havana, and tickets are under $400 roundtrip:

Bahamas-Air

Cayman Airways flies from Grand Cayman to Havana, and tickets are under $350 roundtrip:

Cayman-Airways

The one airline that lets you book an award from the US to Cuba

The one airline that will price award tickets between the US and Havana is Avianca’s LifeMiles program. They’ll price awards to Cuba either for travel on Avianca through one of their hubs, or for travel on Copa through Panama City:

Avianca-Cuba-Award-1

The cost is 17,500 miles one-way in economy class, or 35,000 miles in business class:

Avianca-Cuba-Award-2

Admittedly that’s an ever-so-slight detour. 😉

Miami-PanamaCity-Havana

I doubt this is intentional, but LifeMiles is notorious for allowing routings that shouldn’t be possible, and I don’t think this is an exception.

Bottom line

As you can see, for the most part you can’t yet get to Cuba on one ticket from the US, but if you do want to visit Cuba, it’s not impossible to do so without being too inconvenienced.

Personally I’ll wait until American starts service between Miami and Havana, at which point I can redeem just 4,500 British Airways Avios for the sub-250 mile one-way ticket.

Miami-To-Havana

How about you — do you want to visit Cuba, and if so, are you plotting out a way to make it happen now, or waiting until direct, scheduled flights are introduced between the US and Cuba?

Comments

  1. Don’t you underestimate TAAG Angola. They operate 3-class 77Ws with full-flat beds in F and angled lie-flat in J. (and yes, I did understand this was just humor)

  2. I have 10,500 Sir Turtle Miles from Cayman Airways. I think I can redeem those. Don’t discount the smaller (funnier) named airline programs. Will be flying to Havana sometime this spring via GCM

  3. @ Eric — Not gonna lie, I’m kind of jealous. Would love to throw a temper tantrum at an airport and start it with “but I’m a Sir Turtle Club member!” 😀

  4. @ Lucky, hahaha. I’ve been following Brian (TPG) on his visit to Cuba. There are chartered AA flights, but it seems like a hassle. Sir Turtle Points to the rescue!!! 😛

  5. I think that you could theoretically book an award through Flying Blue, although the website isn’t currently set up to price the routing.

    Delta flight to Mexico (probably MEX) -> Aeromexico to Cuba (HAV)

    I haven’t called to try and ticket it as I’m with Ben – I’ll probably just wait until there are AA flights from Miami that I can book on Avios. But I figured if there are any readers who are really excited to get to Cuba ASAP this might be worth giving a shot…

  6. Havana’s been a huge vacation spot for Canadians for years and there are billboards for it all over Montreal and Toronto. Plenty of discount flights.

    AA has had regular “chartered” service for years.

    Cancun has cheap fares and awards on most airlines and is very close to Havana.

  7. I’m actually going to Cuba in early March and I remember looking up for award space on Flying Blue last December to fly both my parents in from CDG. As it turned out there was plenty of availability on AM via MEX. It was around 60 000 miles return with less than €100 in tax.

  8. Though I’ve never done it myself (nor been to Cuba), the hack I devised in my mind from Southern California would be to drive to the San Ysidro border and cab it to the Tijuana Airport, and just book a round-trip journey on Aeromexico via MEX. In more forbidden days, I’d heard that customs agents at the airports were trained to sniff out US citizen visitors to Cuba who were coming back via flights from the Caribbean or Cancun, but this always seemed to avoid that risk since border agents at land crossings are unlikely to think that you went to Cuba on your little jaunt to T.J.

  9. (And to tassojunior’s point above, that would of course be equally possible for Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle and Albany residents to drive up to the Toronto, Windsor, Vancouver or Montreal airports.)

  10. Lucky – I’m not sure you would want to fly TAAG… unless you want to file it under the “strange, out-of-the-way airlines that I’ve tried” 😉

  11. I see a high speed ferry in the future from Key West. Similar to the one that runs from ft Myers Beach to Key West.

  12. @ Francisco C — My understanding is that up until now the restriction has been on spending money in Cuba. So you still need one of the “approved” reasons to travel, though up until now with a German passport I could have technically gone, but couldn’t have spent money there. At least that’s my understanding.

  13. I still haven’t done any detailed research but, on the legal front, it would seem that the Treasury Department’s licensing-in-advance scheme — thou shalt not spend money in Cuba without first getting a license to do so — has been replaced by a traveler “self-certification” scheme. The “ok to spend money” categories are still there, but now it’s sort of on the honor system like, yeah, I really am going as a journalist or a musician or a scholar or whatever. Strictly sun-and-fun tourism trips are still verboten. Technically. Wink.

    One last serious point. Despite the above, I most assuredly and definitely would NOT try to get too cute with self-certification. You could easily find yourself in a situation where losing Global Entry is the least of your problems!

  14. Before it loses it’s “charm”?. You want to visit a Communist hellhole, where the mandated wage, (not average, but mandated) is $3 a day? Where local women prostitute themselves not for money, since the stores have nothing to buy, but simply for a dinner at a “tourist restaurant”, where they can actually get a chance to eat meat?

    Besides, European tourists have been visiting the Potemkin tourist villages for years, so its too late for that “unspoiled charm”. Nowadays for genuine “unspoiled Communist charm” you need to go to North Korea.

    For those searching their local Barnes and Noble in vain for a travel guide may I recommend you Goggle this:

    Michael J. Totten: An eyewitness account of Cuba’s shocking wretchedness

    “Outside its small tourist sector, the rest of the city looks as though it suffered a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the Indonesian tsunami.

    Roofs have collapsed. Walls are splitting apart. Window glass is missing. Paint has long vanished. It’s eerily dark at night, almost entirely free of automobile traffic.

    I walked for miles through an enormous swath of destruction without seeing a single tourist. Most foreigners don’t know that this other Havana exists, though it makes up most of the city — tourist buses avoid it, as do taxis arriving from the airport. It is filled with people struggling to eke out a life in the ruins.”

    Before you make your travel plans I recommend you read the entire article.

  15. Thankfully never been subject to the restrictions which US passport holders have been under, and managed to fly on TACA (before it merged with Avianca) via San Salvador (SAL).

    If you can, go before the American influence commercialises it. It’s probably the last example of a place which hasn’t been coated with McDonalds, Starbucks etc…

  16. Lonely Planet have a comprehensive up-to-date guide book on Cuba. I’m guessing US-types would need to order it online, as you might not find it on the shelves of B&N just yet!

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