Yes, its possible to use miles to visit Cuba from the United States. And it's fairly easy.
Obama isn't the only one visiting Cuba. I just got back from spending a week in Havana. In this post, I want to share how you can book award flights using Miles & More miles.
Before you read what Mrs Rewardboss describes as ‘dry information', she suggests watching this video from The Daily Show: “The Americanization of Cuba”.
US Airlines are gearing up to begin service to Cuba possibly in 2016, but I wanted to go before the floodgates open. My goal was to book with miles. Paying cash was not even an option because prices were excessively high: in the $900+ range per person. Prices are expected to fall to the $300-400 range possibly this year. It was not exactly my favorite vacation but it was a memorable one (more on that in future posts).
Last year the chatter started about flights to Cuba and immediately started searching. I booked half of my award flight last summer and have been waiting for availability to open up for my return flight…until now. The flights are now fully booked using Miles and More miles. Here's how I did it and what worked.
US Citizens must fall into one of the 12 categories listed here in order to legally visit Cuba. If you have dual citizenship, however, you may be able to use your other passport without these restrictions.
HOW TO SEARCH FOR AWARD FLIGHTS
- The best way to check award availability is to check the Avianca LifeMiles website. This tutorial is mainly about using Miles & More miles but you can also use Avianca LifeMiles. They are completely separate programs…but the LifeMiles search can be used for both program. The phone reps sometimes have access to other airports which may not come up. I was never able to find any JFK flights but the phone rep (step 2) was able to find it.
- Find the flights you want and call Miles & More Germany +49 69-209 777 777 (7am-10pm Germany local time). I use Skype which costs 2.3 cents/min to call Germany. When they answer in German, just ask if they speak English and you will most likely get transferred. Tell the English speaking rep that you'd like to book an award ticket and feed them the cities, dates, and flight numbers. I called several other locations but was told that only the Germany office can book tickets to Cuba. Perhaps this will change in 2016?
Lets walk through an example:
- Go to Avianca's LifeMiles website. Here is a direct link to the search but if you get lost just click (a) ENJOY then (b) Air Tickets.
- Next we will search for the flights, one-way at a time. If you are in the New York City area, enter Newark to Havana and the number of passengers. JFK is possible but for some reason this search never comes up with any availability (I checked 1 year forward and not 1 seat came up).
- If the date you selected is not available but +/- 2 days is available, you will see this calendar view. Click the circle on an available date then click continue. If there are no flights available that week, just keep clicking to see the next 5 days until you find something. The search is fairly quick so you can search an entire year in maybe 10 minutes.
- When the flight options pop up, click the drop down button to see the flight details. The one in my screen shot below is a terrible flight option that comes up very often. It leaves Newark at midnight, a few hour layover in Panama in the middle of the night, arriving at Havana at around noon. Just keep searching until you find a date that you like. If you want to fly from JFK, you'll have to call Miles & More Germany +49 69-209 777 777 and ask them to search for you.
- After you find your flight to Havana, write down the flight details or take a screen shot as above then repeat the previous step to find your return flight.
- Call Miles & More Germany +49 69-209 777 777, ask for an English speaking rep if you don't speak German, and feed them the flights you want. Give them your credit card for the small taxes/fees.
- Be sure to contact the airlines ahead of time to choose your seats. If you don't, you'll be sitting in separate middle seats on your way to Havana like we did (we forgot to choose seats!)
Unfortunately, there are no direct award routes yet, so you'll have to take the long way. This may change later this year if American carriers start flying. CheapAir announced the sale of direct charter flights on April 15.
The route I took, which was the route that most often was available, was Newark – Panama – Havana. If you are paying cash, you can also find routes through Cancun (much closer!), Toronto, and Montreal. I would normally not book this routing but I already had one way booked and took the best return flight I could find. We met some European travelers who flew in to Veradero, Cuba, though I'm not sure that route is possible from the US (searching on LifeMiles didn't return any flights).
- To Havana: EWR-PTY-HAV: United 1021 HAV 14:45 – PTY 20:05, Copa CM230 21:33-00:10 HAV (arriving so late in Havana is not so great, and this is a long travel day!)
- From Havana: HAV-PTY-JFK: Copa CM247 HAV 14:40 – PTY 17:18 – CM808 @ 21:19 – JFK – 02:30 Coach. This is another long travel day with a long layover in Panama (you'll be begging for real food by this point and only find fast food)
Check out this MileValue post for other city pairs/routes.
HOW MANY MILES?
- Coach: 17,000 USD Miles & More miles 1 way per person (+$6.85 USD there +$42.71 return if flying via Panama)
- Business: 30,000 USD Miles & More miles 1 way per person (+ similar fees)
- I initially booked 1 way to Cuba last year because I had some miles expiring and the return flights were not available. Change fees are EUR 50. A round trip in coach will cost you 34,000 Miles & More miles. One of the best uses of Miles & More miles is a Business/First flight like NYC-SFO, but California wasn't in the travel plan, Cuba is better right? I was finally able to find my return flights a few months later (screen shot below).
HOW TO GET MILES & MORE MILES
We obtained these miles through a Miles and More 50k credit card sign up bonus – which is now being offered again. Here's the link to 50k Bonus Offer (direct link, i do not get any commission). See my prior review of the same offer for more details.
Keep in mind the miles will expire 36 months after you earn them. Lucky explains the policy, however, the reps explained that the miles expire no matter what after 36 months.
OTHER WAYS TO GET TO CUBA
- Carnival will begin sailing to Cuba in May 2016. A cruise ship has not sailed from the US to Cuba in 50 years according to The New York Times.
- JetBlue offers a few charter flights from the United States to Cuba.
- MileValue explains various ways to book award flights from the United States to Cuba
- American Airlines said in a release that it will submit a United States-Cuba service proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation and wants to introduce flights as soon as possible in 2016. Howard Kass, the airline’s vice president of regulatory affairs, said that the government is expected to approve 20 flights a day to Havana and 10 daily to each of the other Cuban cities.
- Not sure what other cities or airlines you can use to get to get to Cuba? Here are the departure cities available at Havana's airport that you can use as a guide:
My Cameras: These photos were taken using either my Canon S110 (newer model is S120) or my Sony a6000 (with this wide angle lens). The Canon is fits in my pocket and takes amazing pictures. The Sony packs the power of a full size DSLR while being small enough that I'm still willing to bring it!