CheapAir.com announced Thursday that it has become the first online travel agent in the U.S. to offer flights to Cuba in a single transaction.
But there are still some caveats, and whether this catches on with travelers remains to be seen. For its part, CheapAir says the demand has been there since January, when a key law for travel to Cuba was changed: while Americans still need to claim one of 12 authorized reasons for entry, such as education or religious activities, they no longer need to obtain a license for it.
“Since the rule change, we have seen a surge in search volumes for travel to Cuba,” said CheapAir CEO Jeff Klee in a release. “Arranging flights to Cuba is a little complicated, but it’s the kind of thing we’re good at and our technology platform is flexible enough to make it possible.
Our team did a great job building it out in just a few weeks’ time.” Will this service appeal to do-it-yourself travelers looking to bypass a cultural “person-to-person” tour where the company does all the legwork?
Business travel expert Joe Brancatelli told Yahoo Travel that he’s skeptical. “It’s a PR stunt,” he said. “Anyone who really is interested in Cuba would go to a specialist. I’d be shocked if they actually booked any substantial business.”
It will work like this: you’ll have to buy two sets of round-trip tickets: one set from anywhere in the U.S. to Mexico, and one set from Mexico to Havana.
CheapAir promises to take care of arranging the most convenient connecting flights, though you may need to spend a night in Mexico each way before your flight arrives. Since the two round-trip flights are unrelated, a change or cancellation to one might inconvenience you a lot more with the other.
The announcement is an incremental change from before, when if you wanted to see Cuba without going on a people-to-people tour, you had to book online from a foreign website such as Cubana.cu, CubaJet, or the Canadian version of Skyscanner, and without the option to add a U.S. departure point.
So you’d have to book through two OTAs. When selecting a flight to Havana on CheapAir, you’ll get a prompt displaying the 12 reasons you’re legally allowed to visit, and you’ll select one.
The site explains that you’ll need to re-check your bags in Mexico each way, and that you’ll likely need to stay overnight there. It does offer some lodging options near the airport. Cuba visitors will be required to purchase a visa, which can be had for a small fee in Mexico City.