$99 Flights to Cuba. What’s the Catch?

by  Shawn Wellington | Jul 29, 2016

It's news enough that commercial flights will soon be departing from U.S. soil and landing in Cuba, but JetBlue isn't satisfied. Instead, the airline is offering spectacularly low fares on its initial flights, no doubt to draw interest and intrigue from folks who have casually considered visiting the island nation (and those who previously had no plans to do so because of cost).

JetBlue's first commercial (non-charter) flight to Cuba will commence on August 31, departing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and landing in Santa Clara, Cuba. It will fly the route three times per week, but that will increase to once a day starting October 1.

The airline will also begin daily service between Fort Lauderdale and Camagüey on November 3, while Holguín gains daily service starting November 10. At an undetermined point this fall, JetBlue will add flights between New York-JFK, Fort Lauderdale, and Orlando to Cuba, but sadly, those flights are not yet available for booking.

The price

If you get it now, you'll see flights as cheap as $99 each way. Impressively, that tally already includes taxes, fees, Cuban government required health insurance (which costs $25 on its own), and a lift for your first checked bag.

You will, however, need $50 to purchase a Cuban Tourist Visa from JetBlue while at a U.S. airport that the airline operates from.

Be aware that the $99 fares are only valid for tickets purchased at least two weeks in advance, so get to planning!

The catch

Before you book your flight, remember: Flying to Cuba still isn't as easy as jetting off to Grand Cayman. Not only do you need your passport, that aforementioned Cuban Tourist Visa, and a boarding card, but there's a required service element as well.

U.S. travelers still require a "general license," which can be granted without seeking pre-approval from the U.S. government. However, when you book your flight to Cuba on JetBlue's website, you'll be asked to select from one of 14 categories as a reason for travel. These have been chosen by the U.S. Treasury Department as part of the gradual easing of travel restrictions.

Unless you're a Cuban National, working for a foundation or institution, or you're traveling on governmental business, you'll probably need to check one of the following:

  • Educational activities, including people-to-people exchanges open to everyone
  • Professional research and professional meetings
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions
  • Religious activities
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Journalistic activities
  • Family visits
  • Support for the Cuban people

Though you won't be grilled at check-in on what exactly you have planned to satisfy the box you check, be aware that this is a legal affidavit that airlines are mandated to keep on file for five years. In other words, you'll need to pre-arrange a way to satisfy one of those elements before you get onboard.

Still, there's no harm in lending a helping hand while visiting a new place. It's a great opportunity to visit a country that has largely been off-limits for decades while bolstering the communities that will soon be welcoming a new flock of visitors.

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