Flying to Cuba – To Pay Cash or Use Miles?

For nearly two generations, going to Cuba was not a realistic possibility for American citizens, or at least not easily. You would have had to buy a round-trip flight to Mexico, Canada, or another international destination, and then a second round-trip to Cuba, and ask that your passport not be stamped. in 2014, Barack Obama opened back up travel to Cuba, but the first commercial flights didn’t come around until August of 2016, when one touched down in Cuba for the first time in 55 years. You still need a legitimate purpose to go to Cuba, but it’s not difficult at all for most people to find something on this list to accommodate their trip to this land that is so close, yet also so foreign. In the last 18 months, commercial flight options have proliferated, with American, United, Delta and JetBlue all having many non-stop flights per day to Cuba from many cities. With competition come options, so now should you use points? Or pay for your flight?

Most of the US-based airline award charts consider Cuba to be in the Caribbean, which would mean it would be 17,500 miles each way for an economy saver award from most of the United States, whether you were flying there from Atlanta, Seattle, or anywhere in between. And as more and more airlines have started flying to Havana (as well as other Cuban cities) direct from the mainland, competition has driven down prices dramatically. A quick search showed flights from New York for $279, and my round-trip flight from Los Angeles to Havana (with a connection in Miami) was only $319. Compared with the possibility of spending 35,000 miles for a round-trip flight, this was not a very hard decision, as American miles are worth close to 1.5 cents per mile, and you’d not even get 1 cent per mile on that redemption. Throw in the fact that despite the low price, there were still no saver award tickets available for the flight (thanks, American!), and I would have ended up getting a value of about 0.3 cents per mile if I’d have chosen to use miles for the flight.

One major exception to this would be the distance-based chart of British Airways, which I’ve previously chronicled. If you live in the Southeastern United States, you could potentially get a round trip flight to Havana for significantly fewer miles each way. Depending on the cash price, this could be an excellent value. But for me, coming from California, it was definitely cheaper to pay for the flight as opposed to use miles.  Another exception is the aforementioned non-stop flights on JetBlue, as similar to Southwest, their point redemption rates are directly proportional to their cash rates.

Yes we have miles, and there’s no sense in holding on to a rapidly depreciating asset, but there’s also no sense in getting 1/4 of the average value for your miles if you can afford a reasonably priced ticket. As always, do the cost-benefit analysis and decide what works best for you.

Michael Prodanovich is a contributor to Point Me to the Plane, and author of The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel

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