Big news in the travel world! The United States and Cuba signed a bilateral agreement on Tuesday which authorizes up to 110 daily commercial flights to Havana and nine other destinations in Cuba! So what does this mean for award travel to Cuba?
Right now, Cuba is one of the most requested travel markets for U.S. travelers. Prior to the bilateral agreement being signed, only a few airlines flew to Cuba (Sun Country, JetBlue and American to name a few) as charter flights. The new agreement however will allow for the restoration of regular flights between the U.S. and Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years.
Commercial flights between Cuba and the United States were cancelled over 50 years ago, but since the mid-1970s the U.S. has authorized charter flights under certain conditions.
The next step is for the U.S. to invite U.S. airlines to submit applications to operate the flights, which I expect will be receiving an overwhelming response. U.S. airlines will have until March 2nd to apply for the routes between the U.S. and Cuba. The routes should be set at some point this summer according to the U.S. Transportation Affairs department.
Initially, U.S. airlines will be allowed to fly 20 scheduled frequencies per day to Havana, the largest market, and 10 scheduled frequencies per day to any other city in Cuba that has an airport open to international service. Those airports include Camaguey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguin, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba.
Even more exciting, under the new agreement, airlines in the two countries can now strike code share and aircraft leasing deals. That means that U.S. airlines may partner with Cubana airlines, the national airline for Cuba, for flights to and from Cuba.
It is worth noting that Cuban airlines such as Cubana will still have to obtain their own licenses from U.S. authorities, so I would not expect to see any Cuban owned aircraft serving the U.S. anytime in the near future.
This is exciting news because this is one step closer to award tickets to Cuba becoming available. I would not expect to see award space available until at least this Fall once the routes are assigned and sorted out, but I would anticipate that we see the first ever award space from the U.S. to Cuba within the next year or so.
However, it is important to remember that tourist travel to Cuba still remains illegal under the 1960 trade embargo the U.S. placed on Cuba after Fidel Castro came to power on the island. There are currently 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba, though I anticipate the restrictions on tourist travel to Cuba will continue to be eased.
I for one am extremely excited about this news as I would love to visit Cuba. I will be keeping an eye on this as it develops as I am will be very interested to see which routes are approved. Once the routes are approved and awarded, I will post up with the new routes to and from Cuba!
What route(s) do you think will be approved by the U.S.?
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