Commercial Flights Between The US And Cuba Are Now For Sale!

Early last year sanctions began to be lifted between the US and Cuba, following the embargo which was in place for decades. This was huge news for those looking to travel to Cuba, since it created more circumstances under which US tourists could visit (and those travel restrictions have been eased even further since then).

What is far from instant, however, is actually restoring commercial flights between the two countries. Air treaties between countries are complicated matters even under normal circumstances, let alone in a situation like this, where they’re making up for decades of non-diplomacy.

The process for launching flights to Cuba

As I wrote about in February, the US and Cuba signed an agreement to restore commercial service between the two countries. Under this agreement, US airlines could start bidding on routes between the US and Cuba, for up to 110 flights per day.

Only 20 of those daily frequencies could be commercial flights to Havana, though, while the other frequencies would have to be to other cities in Cuba (where there’s presumably a lot less demand). US airlines had a 15 day window where they could request flights to Cuba, so at the end of that we learned of all the flights US carriers wanted to operate to Cuba, which far exceeded the number of available frequencies.

Last Friday the DOT finally approved all airlines’ requests to operate their routes to Cuba, except for those to Havana. That’s because the requests to operate flights to Havana far exceeded the number of available slots, so there will be a more complicated selection process. Meanwhile for flights to other cities in Cuba, all the requested slots were granted to airlines.

Tickets on regularly scheduled flights to Cuba are now for sale!

We were told commercial service should start within 60-90 days, and it looks like American is the first airline to publish their schedule. As of now, the following American routes to Cuba are for sale:

  • 1x daily Miami to Cienfuegos as of September 7, 2016
  • 2x daily Miami to Holguin as of September 7, 2016
  • 1x daily Miami to Camaguey as of September 9, 2016
  • 2x daily Miami to Santa Clara as of September 9, 2016
  • 2x daily Miami to Varadero as of September 11, 2016

These are all super short flights, ranging from 203 miles to 427 miles.

Miami-Cuba-Flights

As I was expecting, the introductory fares between the US and Cuba are ridiculous. For example, for the ~250 mile flight between Miami and Cienfuegos, American is charging $488 roundtrip in economy, and $3,223 roundtrip in business class. For the business class fare that’s ~$6.50 per flown mile. That’s obscene.

American-Cuba-Ticket-1

Fares are similarly bad in other markets.

American-Cuba-Ticket-2

Do keep in mind that these routes are eligible for complimentary upgrades, and given these fares, I doubt there’s going to be much premium demand.

You still need an official reason to visit Cuba (though it’s very much in a “wink wink, nudge nudge” sort of way), so when you go to book, you’ll be presented with a prompt confirming that you meet one of the 12 acceptable reasons for traveling to Cuba, much like you’d have to accept for exit row seating:

American-Cuba-Ticket-3

As of now there doesn’t seem to be any award availability for these routes, though I suspect that will change over time.

Bottom line

I’m very curious to see how American does on these routes. On one hand these are very short routes, so the operating costs will be fairly low. At the same time, the fares they’re charging so far are outrageous. I suspect the fares will go down over time, though it really seems like they’re trying to skim the market. With the number of airlines wanting to fly to Cuba, we’re looking at thousands of additional airline seats per day between the US and Cuba, which is huge.

Either way, it’s pretty cool that these seem to be the very first regularly scheduled commercial flights between the US and Cuba in many decades.

Anyone planning on taking one of these flights to Cuba anytime soon?

(Tip of the hat to The Points Guy)

Comments

  1. I can’t imagine why anyone would pay for F/J on such a short flight. I wonder if the airlines have a pricing algorithm that just plasters up the first price it calculates based on certain input variables, and ~$3000 is the non-human-adjusted price that happens to come up. Like, there must be some sort of human intervention involved, otherwise I can’t imagine them ever selling a revenue seat at the front of the plane.

    Does someone have a better model on how that pricing actually happens?

  2. In the medium term, how do you expect award availability to be? These seem like perfect avios routes, even post devaluation, given the fares being charged.

  3. i assume those with passports from elsewhere (Europe) can just go ahead and book these as we don’t have any travel restrictions to Cuba… Or is there something about these flights to stop that… Any idea if through fares from outside the US are/will be available?

  4. That $488 flight is the cheapest available. Go and return on certain other days and Y jumps as high as
    $1128 R/T. And then they have the gall to post “upgrade to Business for only $2095”. LOL

    I’m thinking the fares are so high because they expect the planes to fly nearly empty and are just trying to cut their losses as they lock in the routes for a hoped for future profitability. Right now the only folks who are going to go are journalists, those with family members they haven’t seen for many years, and those hoping to create some sort of business opportunity. Cuba doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle 110 full flights a day of tourists anyway.

    As for the “official reasons” to go, “support for the Cuban people” is a big enough opening to drive an 18 wheeler thru without even slowing down. 😉

  5. @ Ben — The economy prices are no where near “ridiculous.” I don’t understand why you are characterizing them as such. There is no other reasonable way to get there, and the pent-up demand must be high.

    Oh, and, FYI, since your post, apparently AA “fixed” the business class fare, which now comes up at $808 for your example above.

  6. Just checked ticket prices for the inaugural flight between Miami and Cienfuegos and business class fares have dropped to $806.

  7. That price isn’t extreme. It’s actually less than many of the charter flights that have been operating for years. Many people who have been traveling to Cuba to see family are waiting until scheduled flights to start because of the lower prices that are available.

  8. That price isn’t terrible. It’s >$400 on many dates DEN-MIA and that’s a hub city. I used to pay less than $200 RT for that routing.

  9. The charters flights are $400~500 all year around, with some promotion as low as $320, but you are forgetting something Ben, airport/taxes are $88.xx. Besides, I saw a lot of flights for $438.xx on AA.com.

    Miami-Jacksonville is $260, with only $44 in taxes (is a domestic flight), I can assume we will see flights to Cuba for $250~$300, with some short sales for $150 in the future (similar price as Miami-Cancun when is on sale).

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