Scheduled flights to Cuba could hike hotel and tour prices

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The Hotel Nacional de Cuba.
The Hotel Nacional de Cuba. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

If an Obama-backed deal makes scheduled air service from the U.S. to Cuba a reality by the end of the year, it could prove a mixed blessing for travelers.

According to several companies that operate tours to Cuba, the island’s inadequate infrastructure and lack of sufficient hotel rooms mean that the surge that would follow the resumption of scheduled flights would bring higher costs in both hotel rates and tours, even as getting to Cuba would become much easier.

“If scheduled air will be allowed, it can dramatically change the travel scene when it comes to pricing and scheduling,” said Ronen Paldi, president of Ya’lla Tours USA.

On the up side, he said, passengers would be able to book nonstop flights from many U.S. gateways and check their baggage all the way through to Cuba as well as forgo having to spend the night in Miami before the morning charter flight, as is now the case. In addition, passengers would not have to pay the $236-per-person handling fee that Cuba now charges charter operators.

However, Paldi said, “The demand for travel from the U.S. will increase, and when the Cubans cannot meet the demand, scheduled flights will push [hotel and tour prices] higher than they already are.”

Insight Cuba’s Tom Popper agreed.

“Ultimately, scheduled air would be positive for travelers but not more cost-effective,” he said. “Flight costs will remain the same, and more flights mean increased demand on Cuba’s hotel infrastructure.”

For now, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue and United Airlines are watching from the sidelines, though they seem poised to enter the market as soon as legally permitted.

JetBlue has operated charter service to Cuba for several years from Fort Lauderdale and Tampa and launched service from New York to Havana on July 3.

“We have built experience operating in Cuba with our charters to help us to be ready to go with scheduled service once permitted,” said JetBlue spokeswoman Tamara Young. “Demand for our JFK flight has been growing briskly, and we’ve been at or near capacity in recent weeks for all our Cuba flights.”

American currently operates 22 weekly charter flights to Cuba and this year will operate more than 1,200 flights to Camaguey, Cienfuegos, Holguin, Havana and Santa Clara from Miami and Tampa, up 9% over 2014. The carrier will launch weekly Los Angeles-Havana charters on Dec. 12.

“Once we get the green light to offer regularly scheduled service, we are ready to go,” American spokeswoman Martha Pantin said.

Both Delta and United support efforts to allow scheduled service to resume between the U.S. and Cuba and plan to serve the market when it’s permissible.

Southwest considers Cuba a “good future opportunity” but is focused on other Latin American and Caribbean destinations, said Alyssa Eliasen, a Southwest spokeswoman.

The three major GDSs are at work developing technologies to add Cuba flights to their systems.

“Travelport is ready to immediately make available in the Travelport system regularly scheduled, commercial flights to Cuba for authorized travelers, if and when U.S. carriers receive legal permission to offer such service,” said Chris Engle, Travelport’s vice president Americas, air commerce.

Amadeus is also ready at the starting gate.

“Aligned with the recent change of the U.S. law, Amadeus travel agencies in the U.S. will soon be able to book flights to and from Cuba for authorized travelers, pursuant to U.S. Treasury Department regulations,” said Amadeus spokeswoman Debra Iannaci. She added that details would be released in the coming weeks.

Sabre is also working on a new capability for agents to help manage travel to Cuba, said Daniel Duarte, a Sabre spokesman.

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