Last updated: 09:30 AM ET, Tue February 23 2016

Charter Services You Can Take to Cuba Right Now

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | February 23, 2016

Charter Services You Can Take to Cuba Right Now

PHOTO: Jose Marti International Airport, cuba. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock)

With agreements in place and relations thawed, airlines are now getting in position to offer commercial flights from the United States to Cuba. This will make the once-forbidden island more accessible for Americans who can fit their trip into one of the 12 acceptable categories that Washington still requires as part of the remaining sanctions against Cuba. 

Though some barriers still remain, travel restrictions have gradually loosened over the past five years. As they have, more and more direct charter flights have become available. Before 2011, Americans who wanted to travel legally (or illegally) to Cuba usually had to connect in Central America or perhaps somewhere in the Caribbean. The emergence of these charter flights have changed all that. At least for those traveling legally.

Some charter flights are organized for tour groups. You have to sign up for a tour in order to book your place on the flight. However, as it has become easier for Americans to travel legally to Cuba, it has also become easier to book a place on one of these special flights. These days you can reserve a space even if you are not a part of a tour group. 

READ MORE: Which Airlines Will Benefit Most From Cuba Deal?

Perhaps the most interesting thing about these charters is that they are operated by major U.S.-based airlines. American Airlines and JetBlue are very active on routes between the United States and Cuba. Delta and United also fly charters into Cuba.

One of the most active charter companies is ABC Charters. They organize 16 flights each week between airports in Florida and Cuba. These particular charters are operated by both American and JetBlue. 

Most of ABC’s flights are from Miami to Havana. A few flights also originate in Tampa and some fly to other destinations in Cuba such as Santa Clara or Santiago. Specialty companies like Marazul have a similar menu of flights.

Getting a space on a charter flight is not cheap. Prices range from around $300 to $600, round trip. That is a bit on the expensive side when you consider how close Cuba is to the most popular Florida departure points. Also, since departure cities are limited, a separate flight might be required to reach the charter. Florida is certainly the busiest state for Cuba flights, but some companies, like Cuba Travel Services, also offer flights from New York (JFK) and LAX.  

READ MORE: Three Reasons To Travel To Cuba, Now and Always

In spite of the inconveniences and lack of cheap fares, demand continues to rise. Tampa International Airport has even launched a special website that gives people information about traveling to Cuba and directs them to charter companies that can help them book a flight. 

Most of these services require you to actually call up to reserve your space on a flight. There is no online booking engine. However, many charter companies also have information about documentation requirements and visas. Some can even help you book into hotels or rent cars in Cuba. For those who want to try to plan their own trip to Cuba without joining a pre-packaged tour, these services could be an invaluable planning resource in addition to a source of transportation to the island. 

Airlines are already in the process of applying for the right to fly on commercial routes into Cuba. Most industry-watchers say that the first flights should take off in the late summer or early fall. So, for a little while longer, charter flights will be the only way to get to Cuba by air. 

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