Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tricky Cuba Travel Questions -- Answered

Tricky Cuba Travel Questions -- Answered
By Mark Murphy

With restored U.S.-Cuba relations opening up U.S. commercial flights,
many travelers are itching to plan a trip. And last week's agreement to
open up to 110 commercial daily flights to destinations across Cuba is
another step in the right direction for those hoping to see the country
firsthand. Still, the agreement doesn't allow for unrestricted travel to
the Caribbean island nation, so don't grab your passport just yet.
Here's what you need to know before planning your trip to Cuba.

How can I get to Cuba right now?

While travel to the country has been heavily restricted for American
citizens for decades, most other countries have had open travel avenues
for years. More than 1 million Canadians visit Cuba each year alone. In
fact, up until now, booking a Canada-based tour has been a popular path
for U.S. travelers looking to see the country.

But the new agreement outlines 12 categories of travel that are
approved. Those that pertain to travelers include family visits,
journalistic activity, professional research and meetings, education
activities, religious activities and humanitarian projects.

Education and religious activities and humanitarian projects are where
most of the travel opportunities are for U.S. travelers today. Companies
like Ya'lla Tours, Travel Impressions, Vacations by Rail, Tauck and
Apple Vacations are offering education-based tours to Cuba, using
existing charter flights to facilitate air travel.

Additionally, cruise lines are offering educational trips that teach
travelers about Cuban culture. The Athens-based Celestyal Cruises, for
instance, has stake in the Canadian-based Cuba Cruise company and is in
its third year of offering its people-to-people cruise and land
itineraries. And Fathom, a "voluntourism" cruise line offshoot of
Carnival Cruise Lines, will also start offering trips to Cuba beginning
this spring.

Another major draw for American travelers: U.S. credit card companies
can now set up agreements with Cuban merchants, so credit and debit
cards will be allowed as soon as Cuba's infrastructure allows it. Expect
to use old-fashioned credit card machines for now, as experts say the
latest technology is still about 12 to 18 months away from getting
rolled out. MasterCard has already announced that it will no longer
block Cuba transactions on U.S.-issued cards after March. And American
Express and Visa are still setting timelines for use, so make sure to
call your bank before you go to ensure your card will be supported in Cuba.

When will I be able to fly to Cuba as a leisure traveler?

It's the million-dollar question, and the answer isn't so clear-cut.
JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and United
Airlines have all announced that they plan to bid for Cuba flights. And
other suitors will get to make their case in the next few weeks. The
U.S. Department of Transportation has set March 2, 2016 as the deadline
for airlines to apply for routes. There will be 20 routes to Havana
allowed per day, with 90 other routes per day split equally among nine
other island locales.

Decisions on which routes each airline will offer are expected to be
determined by summer 2016. From there, airlines must get approval from
Cuban authorities to negotiate with Cuban airports for gate space, much
in the same way that airlines compete for gates at U.S. airports. A
recent change in the current trade embargo rules allows airlines to
enter into agreements with airports for space and to create code-share
agreements with existing Cuban charter airlines. This is where the
timeline could get murky. How long it will take the Cuban government to
act is uncertain, but Obama administration officials expect that
commercial flights will available by the early fall.

Another major hurdle in the way: U.S. politics. Apart from approval from
Cuban authorities, the U.S. also needs to get those agreements in place.
And while some Congressional leaders may agree to ease Cuba
restrictions, others may not agree to fully overturn rules prohibiting
leisure travel to Cuba this year. That said, President Obama may end
restrictions via executive order when Congress recesses at the end of
the year.

One thing we know for certain: Change is coming. From Reddit message
boards to Facebook groups, the online buzz among seasoned travelers is
clear. Commercial changes are coming to Cuba, as U.S. companies will
look to set up shop in Havana and other cities around the island as soon
as possible. Still, that commercialization will take years, if not
decades, so the best advice we can give to the traveler who wants to
Cuba before it transforms into a top leisure destination is to make your
plans as soon as you can.

Mark Murphy is a recognized travel expert, best-selling author and
entrepreneur. He regularly provides commentary for major news outlets
including CNN, ABC, FoxNews, FoxBusiness, CBS, NBC, The Today Show as
well as online and print media outlets. He's the founder of
TravelPulse.com, a division of travAlliancemedia, a company recognized
by Inc magazine as one of the fastest growing privately held companies
in the United States for 5 out of 6 years (2008-2013).

Source: Tricky Cuba Travel Questions -- Answered - Yahoo News -

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