This morning I received confirmation of our Cancun-Havana-Cancun flights. (For those of you not on this trip: There is a lot of information in this post which will explain a lot about traveling to Cuba through Cancun.) Things became a little complicated when Cubana Airlines suspended flights on Tuesdays and Thursdays—the two days we expected to fly on, so now the dust has settled a bit. We moved our flights to Saturdays (in) and Mondays (out, 9 days later). These are great days for connecting flights as well. Sunday will still be the “on-your-own” day where you can go to church or craft fairs, and we’ll have specific suggestions about activities we can do together in smaller groups, based on individual interests.
Following is a note I sent to all those in the March Group: Greetings fellow travelers—thank you all for your patience. I just received official confirmation for our flights on Cubana de Aviación. This has been the key part of the puzzle, especially since they cancelled Tuesday and Thursday flights. These dates will work out much better for several reasons. For those of you who cannot travel on these days, you can have your deposit refunded, or switch to the April or May trips (which will also follow the Saturday/Monday sequence). Our flight from Cancun to Havana will be on Saturday, March 17, and our flight back will be on Monday, March 26, 2012. We’d like you to meet at the Cubana Airlines office at Cancun Airport at 1pm. Our flight departs at 3:35 pm. (Some of you will be in Cancun for a few days before our flight, some will come in the evening before, and some will take overnight flights and arrive at the airport in the morning before our flight. It depends on your budget and travel style. If any of you have any recommendations for a moderately-priced beachfront hotel in Cancun, let me know. There are cheaper ones downtown, but I don’t recommend them unless you speak fluent street-Spanish and are a martial-arts expert. (Just kidding.) I suspect that most of us will stay at the same hotel on Friday night, so let’s have a get-together. This is not a high-priority item right now—we will have many choices. If I don’t receive any strong recommendations, I’ll do the research and select a high-value, mid-range beachfront location. Those of you staying elsewhere can meet us there.
We will be returning to Cancun on Monday, March 26 at 1:25pm. If you will be flying home that day, please book a flight departing at least 2 hours later, or after 3:30pm. Some of you will be staying over by choice, and a few may not be able to get a later-leaving connecting flight until the next day. The following information may seem confusing, but it will eventually make sense. If you want me to recommend specific flights, I will. Our official expedition begins on Satuday March 17 at 1pm at Cancun Airport.
If you are leaving from LAX or SFO, the first place I would check would be www.VirginAmerica.com. It’s a great airline, most flights are non-stop, and they are actually cheaper. From LAX, there are flights out on Friday March 16, but not Thursday March 15. There is a flight Wednesday for $102 less, so if you have the time and want to go on Wednesday, you’d probably save enough money to pay for a couple extra days in Cancun.
There is no flight back on Monday March 26, but there is one the next day. VirginAmerica appears to not charge extra for a one-way flight, so you could return Monday on a different airline. (See Below)
From San Francisco, there is a flight on Friday March 16, but it connects first in Los Angeles. Earlier flights on Thursday and Wednesday are cheaper and non-stop. On Monday March 26, there is a non-stop flight back to SFO that gets in at 9:05pm.
Another option that can be used round-trip or one-way in conjunction with VirginAmerica is to go to a site such as Priceline.com. For example, airlines flying from SFO include Delta, Continental/United, US Airways, and American. You will probably have to stop in Phoenix, Houston or Las Vegas and transfer, going both directions. Priceline has a nasty habit of posting the base price in big letters, then adding the taxes and fees and posting the total price in smaller letters, so make sure you are comparing similar prices. Once you determine the best price on Priceline, then see what the rate is at the airline’s own website (for example, www.USAirways.com). You may get a better rate at the website or you may get a better rate through Priceline. Sometimes it is the same. I believe that you will get a better one-way rate through Priceline rather than at the airline’s website. If you are flying from a secondary airport such as SMF (Sacramento), you will definitely have to stop in an intermediate city such as Phoenix. With Priceline, you may even get a cheaper rate by flying from the first airport to the intermediate one on one airline such as USAirways, then transfering to a second airline (such as United) for your flight to Cancun. If you do this, you will probably have to pick-up your checked baggage and schlep it to the second airline. Make sure you have enough time to do this—at least 2 hours.
That gives you some ideas for now. Remember, schedule flights so that you can meet at the Cubana Office in Cancun at 1pm on Saturday, March 17. Schedule a connecting flight home from Cancun that leaves after 3:30pm on Monday March 26. Once you land in the first U.S. city, you will go through customs, you will have a legal travel license, you will be able to legally bring back artwork, and you will have no problems. I will buy a drink or tropical fruit-juice for anybody who gets his/her passport stamped in Havana. You have to request it. It is precious, watching the nice Cuban customs official hesitating to stamp your passport. He’s just doing his best to protect you from your own government! You’ll be in Cuba legally, so why not have your passport stamped? I consider it to be a badge of honor.