After decades of red tape, a trip to Mexico or Cuba for Americans is about to get easier. And cheaper.
Cuba and the US restored diplomatic relations last year, knocking down a more than five-decade ban on most travel to the island. The US government granted approval in July for six commercial airlines to operate the first scheduled flights to Cuba in more than 50 years. JetBlue and American Airlines got the final green light from the Cuban government this month to operate direct flights from Florida, according to the Miami Herald.
JetBlue’s inaugural Cuba flight is planned for Aug. 31, with service to Santa Clara from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. It plans once-a-week flights later this fall to Camagüey and Holguín. American said it will start its flights from Miami to Cienfuegos and Holguín Sept. 7 and launch service to Santa Clara and Camagüey later in the month. Frontier, Silver, Sun Country and Southwest also have US government approval to fly to Cuba.
Hurdles remain. US travelers need a license for one of 12 US government-approved reasons for travel to Cuba. Tourism is still prohibited, but travel for educational courses and vague “people-to-people” tours is okay.
Mexico is also opening up more routes to US carriers, having agreed last year to scrap heavy restrictions on flights by signing an Open Skies agreement. Such pacts have allowed air travel to expand globally. The US has such agreements with 119 countries.
With more flights to Mexico’s beaches, airfares should fall. Delta earlier this month announced three new routes from the US to Cancun and Los Cabos, at the tip of Baja California. More US tourists should be be a boon to resort towns and Mexico–tourism makes up 7% of the country’s economy.
Mexico City is left out. There aren’t any slots available in the capital city’s airport, according to the US Department of Transportation. US carriers will have to wait until some open up before adding additional flights to the city.
That’s a big omission. The New York Times picked the megapolis of more than 20 million people as the top tourism destination for 2016 (paywall), lauding not just the city’s art and culinary scenes but the favorable exchange rate for US dollar-toting tourists.
Even before loser flight restrictions, travel to Mexico was cheap. Room rates have barely budged over the past three years, running around $134 a night, according to hotel analysis firm STR. Airfare between the US and Cancun is down 20% over the past two years.
Whether travelers choose Mexico or long-forbidden Cuba, they’ll definitely battle larger crowds.