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Thursday, October 13, 2016

CheapAir.com begins selling scheduled flights to Cuba

CheapAir.com begins selling scheduled flights to Cuba
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
mwhitefield@miamiherald.com

CheapAir.com, an online travel agency, is moving into the Cuban market
in a big way. On Thursday, it became the first U.S. online company to
sell tickets for both charter and scheduled airline service to Cuba.

At the moment only American Airlines, JetBlue and Silver Airways are
flying scheduled flights to Cuba, but the U.S. Department of
Transportation has authorized six airlines to provide scheduled service
to cities outside Havana. Not all the airlines have announced start
dates, but Southwest Airlines is expected to announce its Cuban
itineraries Thursday.

In late November and early December, major U.S. airlines will begin
providing scheduled service from the United States to Havana. At this
point, American Airlines will be the first with a flight from Miami to
Havana scheduled for Nov. 28.

Eventually, travelers will be able to book flights between the U.S. and
Cuba on eight major airlines that have received DOT approval to fly to
10 destinations in Cuba.

"Thanks to that, it has greatly expanded the inventory of Cuba flights
we're offering," said Jeff Klee, the founder and chief executive of the
Calabasas, Calif.-based company. CheapAir.com also is offering a
Miami-Havana charter operated by Havana Air.

Although online travel agencies sometimes offer airfare discounts,
CheapAir.com will be selling tickets at the same prices charged by the
airlines.

However, booking on CheapAir.com will give travelers the ability to
compare various airlines' offerings and to mix and match travel segments
on different airlines, said Klee.

"As far as I know we are the first U.S. online company to do Cuba," he said.

CheapAir.com's interest in the Cuba travel business was piqued in
January 2015 when the Obama administration announced new rules on travel
to Cuba that allowed a wider range of Americans to visit, permitted the
use of debit and credit cards issued by U.S. banks, and eliminated a per
diem rate on how much Americans could spend on their visits.

"As soon as we saw the rules had changed, we became interested," said
Klee, who launched CheapAir from his college dorm room in 1989. Since
then, the company has sold more than 3 million airfares.

In February 2015, CheapAir added Cuba flights to its search engine that
connected through Mexico after seeing a big uptick in online searches
for Cuba. "That didn't sell very well. The connections were tough and it
was expensive," said Klee.

But that April, it began working with Cuban Travel Services to sell
charter flights to Cuba. "Any seats they gave us, we were able to sell,"
he said.

With all the airlines now jumping into Cuba travel, "we have gone from
not having enough seats to more seats than we can possibly sell at this
point," Klee said. So many airlines applied for Cuba routes, he said,
because "I think none of them wanted to be left out. But frankly, it was
overkill. It will be a buyer's market for the next year and I think we
will see a lot of discounting."

Booking air travel to Cuba on CheapAir.com is similar to booking a trip
to New York or Chicago. "The only difference is in the final step you
have to indicate the reason you're traveling," said Klee.

The United States only permits travel in 12 categories, including family
visits, travel for educational and religious activities, humanitarian
trips, and travel in support of the Cuban people, which includes
people-to-people visits.

Source: Now authorized American travelers can book flights to Cuban
cities via CheapAir.com | In Cuba Today -
http://www.incubatoday.com/news/article107871722.html
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