Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that traveling to Cuba is hot, hot, hot right now. You can’t open an issue of Travel + Leisure without seeing another gorgeous spread on the country. Cuba travel has always been a dream destination for many people, and what’s not to love about it? Those classic cars, colorful houses and cheap rum, who could resist?!
Thankfully, that dream destination is now becoming a reality for travelers as the local tourism industry has exploded in the last few years. Especially now, as the US begins to open up talks with Cuba (finallllly), it is easier than ever for US citizens to visit Cuba legally. For non-American travelers, it has always been legal, but the lack of information and infrastructure kept Cuba shrouded in a cloud of mystery.
When we went for the first time in 2013 there was limited info online and we kept coming across the same old myths about what a dangerous and difficult place it was for travelers. Now that bad rap has faded and travelers are itching to make Cuba their next vacation spot.
While there may be more information than ever, planning a trip to Cuba can still be a bit confusing. Well worry not, dear traveler, we’re here to talk you through step by step exactly how to book fights to Cuba and start planning your trip to one of the most unique countries in the word.
How to Get a Cuba Visa
We receive almost daily emails from readers asking us how to get a Cuban visa. Put simply, apart from a few lucky countries, everyone needs a visa to Cuba.
Luckily it’s very easy to organize a Cuban visa and doesn’t need any planning before your trip. The Cuba visa costs $25 USD and you’ll pay for this from your departing airport just before boarding your flight to Cuba. It’s possible to obtain a Cuba visa from the embassy in your country, but it’s usually not necessary if you only want a 30-day tourist visa. Both times that we’ve left from Cancun they handed us the visa in the check-in line, we paid and that was it. It really is that simple.
US to Cuba Travel: What’s the Deal?
Good news fellow Americans, it’s now easier than ever for US citizens to travel to Cuba legally. Obama hooked us up big time by opening up talks with Cuba in late 2014 and his March 2016 Cuba tour pretty much sealed the deal from there.
But before you pack your bikini and salsa dancing shoes, there are a couple things to be aware of. It’s still not a free-for-all. Technically Cuba is still illegal for the average American tourist. BUT you can legally go if your trip falls into one of 12 types of travel. It sounds complicated, but more than likely you’ll be able to find a way to squeeze yourself into one of these types.
For all US to Cuba travel information, including details on these 12 categories, as well as getting your passport stamped, exchanging money and buying travel insurance be sure to check our How to Legally Travel to Cuba an an American Guide.
And Everyone Else?
Non-US citizens have always been able to go to Cuba legally, except those with permanent residency in the US. Even if you’re traveling through or studying in the States, if you have a foreign passport you’re good to go. You’ll still need to purchase the $20 visa, but you don’t need to plan ahead for this. The only thing you’ll need to organize before you go is travel insurance. Having travel insurance for Cuba is mandatory for everyone entering, so if you don’t buy it beforehand you may be forced to buy their national insurance when you land.
Booking a Flight to Cuba
Finding the Right Airport in Cuba
As more tourists begin to travel to Cuba, the main airport in Havana is starting to feel the strain. It took us over 4 hours to get through immigration and customs last time, and that was in the middle of the night. As a result of Havana’s stretched resources, more regional airports are slowly opening up to international flights.
Havana may seem like the obvious choice to fly into, but you can often find sweet deals flying into smaller airports. There are actually 8 (!) international airports on mainland Cuba. Ranging from the far east in Santiago de Cuba to beachside resorts in Veradero. Depending on your Cuba itinerary it might make more sense to fly into one of these airports instead of Havana.
Pro Time-Saving Tip
Instead of individually searching each airport, taking notes and comparing prices, on Skyscanner you can actually search for all of the Cuban airports at once. The results will rank from cheapest city to most expensive, which makes it super easy to find smashing deals like this 290 pound ($426 USD) direct flight from London to Veradero, one of Cuba’s gorgeous beach towns. This is just one of the many deals you’ll find on Skyscanner when you utilize their flexible destination search.
Seriously, if you live anywhere close to England, cancel your plans and take this deal immediately. Heck, I might fly to England just to grab this deal.
Direct Flights to Cuba or Layovers?
There is an absolute frenzy going on right now between airlines competing to get approved for direct flights from the US to Cuba. As of May 2016, there are a few direct charter flights, but for the most part flights include at least one layover outside the US, commonly Mexico.
Open and direct US to Cuba flights are scheduled to begin as early as September 2016 and there’s no doubt that when the flights open there is going to be a mad rush of Americans traveling to Cuba. If you want to get in before the floodgates open, you can still book a flight from the US to Cuba, but it’s going to come with a layover. But before you get disheartened imagining yourself stuck in an airport for hours, think again. If you have a bit of extra time, consider booking separate flights for each leg of your journey to explore another city along the way.
Great deals pop up all the time. And as more US to Cuba flights open up this will be on the rise. For example, you can book a flight from NYC to Havana in November for $541 R/T OR you can fly from NYC to Miami ($160 R/T), then take a flight from Miami to Havana for $334 R/T.
For those of us that are mathematically challenged (*pulls out calculator*), that’s almost $50 cheaper and includes a free plane ticket to Miami! Plus some spending money for happy hour drinks in Havana (#freemojitos)! There are tons of other awesome deals just like this that’ll save you money on Cuba flights. All you gotta do is start looking!
Making the Booking
With all the mystery surrounding booking flights to Cuba, it’s surprisingly easy to master. Hop on Skyscanner and enter your departing airport and dates. Make sure to take advantage of their awesome features of searching flights to Cuba instead of individual airports, or searching for the entire month instead of specific dates. Being flexible with your trip is the best way to score awesome flight deals.
If you are booking flights from the US to Cuba you’ll be prompted with a message reminding you that you need to be traveling for one of the 12 reasons. Simply click “confirm & continue” to accept that you understand the restrictions on Cuba travel for US citizens.
After choosing your flight, Skyscanner will direct you to one of their partners’ sites and you can put in all your information and pay! Easy as pie.
Now that we’ve gone through the step-by-step process of finding flights to Cuba, you should feel more comfortable searching for and purchasing your ticket. So what are you waiting for? Those cuba libres aren’t going to drink themselves! Find an awesome deal on Skyscanner (download the Skyscanner app and let it do the work for you!) and let us know when you’ll be in Cuba. Maybe we’ll meet you down there…