Beyond the obvious fascination of visiting Cuba for the rich historical and political reasons, it didn’t hurt that it is a short hop and jump from the east coast (just 3.5-hour flight from Newark). We found $262 economy round-trip direct flight from Newark to Havana and back on United airlines just 1.5 months out.
Ticket 1 – We used the $200 annual credit on AMEX personal platinum and just paid $62 for this round-trip flight.
You can only use the travel credit for the airline you have already selected with AMEX but you can change it every year in January. More of a reason to plan your trip and select the airline you will be using in January to be certain that you will use the travel credit. There are other work-arounds but this is the most straight forward approach IMO.
Ticket 2 – We used $250 annual credit on Citi Prestige and just paid $12 for this round-trip flight. This round-trip ticket was cheaper than a drink in NYC!
Unlike AMEX personal platinum, Citi is more lenient with the credit and you can use this for flight purchase with any airline.
Accommodation in Havana
Due to a steep increase in tourism in the past few years, there is construction all over the place to accommodate the influx of visitors. However, the number of hotels are still not enough to meet the demand. It is not straight forward for foreign companies to invest and open hotels in Cuba because they need to have an agreement and partnership with the government. Due to this, most hotels were either booked or the ones that were available were really poor value for money (think 350+ per night for a one star hotel). I think if you book a few months in advance, you might have better luck. Since this was not an option for us, we turned to AirBnB where we saw decent availability.
Private homes, also referred to as “Casa Particular” are a great option for your stay. Just read the reviews carefully and know what to expect 😊 Don’t expect the same level of modern luxuries that you might be used to. We stayed at this AirBnB casa. The hosts were warm and welcoming. The room and the private bathroom was very clean. They advertised that they have Internet and free wifi in their home (which is very unusual in Cuba). It worked sometime and then it didn’t for a day. We didn’t mind it because we didn’t have high expectations. Also, we were in Cuba and wanted to enjoy the culture and food, and not spend our time going through Facebook 😊
We could’ve easily spent our time in Cuba without any internet access but it was nice to get a $10 1GB 7 day pass from T-Mobile. 1GB is more than enough for navigation and basic email access. However, T-mobile messed up and applied the Mexico plan instead of the Cuba plan so we kept getting overcharge messages and decided to stop using our phone until we got back. After getting back, T-mobile gave us the refund once the statement closed. It would’ve been nice to not have to worry about the $500 overcharge messages while travelling though. Ohh well…I have to remind myself that I can’t control everything and to embrace the small bumps in the road while travelling.
We setup transportation from and to the airport in advance with our AirBnB host. It cost 30 CUC (one way). This is for a normal taxi and the classic cars cost more. Taxis around town are pretty cheap. Just ask locals or AirBnB host for local rates to avoid getting ripped-off. Also, agree on a price before getting in if the taxi does not have a meter.
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