US Government is Going to Clamp Down on Cuba Travel – Again

Under the Obama administration the US relaxed rules on citizens traveling to and spending money in Cuba. They even reached an agreement to put air marshals on planes so air marshals could party in Havana and Americans were allowed to bring back unlimited Cuban cigars from their travels.

The new Trump administration though moved to crack down on the ability of Americans to travel there. These travel restrictions required Americans to go as part of organized tours and forbade spending money anywhere owned by the military.

Now get ready for a new round of even tougher restrictions on traveling to Cuba.

According to National Security Advisor John Bolton the Treasury Department will issue new regulations restricting non-family travel to Cuba. Details aren’t yet available about how this will work in practice, and whether it will apply retroactively to travel already booked (the last round of restrictions largely carved out pre-existing bookings.)

This is likely to present challenges for already struggling air service between the US and Cuba. Four years ago I described Cuba flights as a new opportunity for airlines to lose money — even under more liberal rules during the Obama administration — suggesting:

  • Pretty much all traffic for these flights will originate in the US. There’s almost no customer base to support these flights in Cuba.
  • Planes will be filled predominantly with leisure travel. Cuba isn’t a strong business destination.
  • Infrastructure in Cuba, from the airport to hotels, is wholly inadequate to match an aviation boom and influx of tourists.
  • It’s an expensive airport to operate at, with costs that make Miami look like Branson, Missouri.

Fishing on the Malecón in Havana

While Trump administration restrictions don’t help matters, remember that American cut 23% of its Cuba schedule before Trump took office.

In Argentina there’s a saying, “Tengo una remera del Che y no sé por qué,” or “I have a Che T-shirt and I don’t know why.”

What’s sad is that the US government has sought to counter the Cuban revolution with its own restrictions on citizens. Somehow the lesson the US draws from Cuba is restricting the movement of its own citizens.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Hahahah what kind of country do you guys live in that tells you where you are not allowed to go? I surely wouldn’t have a warmonger like John Bolton prescribing me my travels.
    Cuba is fun, just cane back from a few weeks. And for the record: the whole world is vacationing there.

  2. @ Gary — another example of why DJT will win FL and get re-elected. The ban will magically be lifted as soon as he is re-elected…

  3. Cuba is an expensive dump filled with unfriendly people, bad food and sickly rum. Pay to lie on the beach? Indirectly fund Maduro and pals? Ahh, socialism. The Administration is doing you a favor. (Yes, I have been there, pre- and post-BHO thaw.) At any rate, as Gary points out, the consumer has already spoken. Let the European, Canadian hordes enjoy their “cheap holidays in other people’s misery.”

  4. @Dean, so do I have the freedom to choose my vacation spot or do you and your goons get to decide for me? Some freedom that is. Of yeah, that’s the Re-pubic-an party under dear leader DJ Drumpf.

  5. “Give a man a fish and heats for a day. Deport a man and you will never to feed him again.”



  6. Dear @Jay. I realize Americans in general and Trump specifically are responsible for every bad thing on the planet, but in fairness to the latter you should also note that Cuba has been largely verboten under every president since Eisenhower. And even then, Americans have always been able to get there if they wanted to.

  7. In spite of the problems with travel to Cuba that Gary lists, those aren’t good reasons for losing money. Many airlines operate there from other countries. I doubt they are doing anybody any favors. There are at least four Canadian airlines serving 10 Cuban destinations from 22 Canadian cities. At least 11 European airlines fly there, many with widebodies. There is direct service from Africa and China. The problem US airlines had was supply greatly exceeded demand.

    Cuba has successfully handled the influx of tourists those flights brought. To think it would be unable to handle more Americans is absurd. The government needs hard currency. There is no reason to think Cuba couldn’t accommodate American tourists. Anyway, the best places to stay in Cuba aren’t giant hotels but casa particulars, Cuban homes families open to tourists.

    The biggest obstacle to US tourism in Cuba was not listed in the post. The embargo prevents the use of American credit cards there. We have to spend cash (hint: convert dollars to euros before leaving the US to avoid the 10% penalty on converting US dollars to Cuban currency in Cuba).

    Trump’s policy of strangling US tourism in Cuba as a way of punishing Cuba and changing its government is woefully misguided. Cuba used to practically outlaw contact between its citizens and tourists. It created tourist enclaves separate from the population as a way to maintain control over its citizens. Of course given his praise for dictators like Kim, Putin, Ji and Duterte among others, it is clear Trump doesn’t give a rat’s ass about human rights. Obama loosened travel restrictions, so Trump feels compelled to do the opposite.

    Increased tourism supports regime change. Attempts to punish Cuba, strengthen the government.

  8. Jesus Christ, how many times do you think you have to mention the Che shirt thing? It’s not even relevant here and is a total non-sequitur.

    Also, is it even really true that it’s a saying in Argentina? You link to an blog post from 9 years ago that quotes an article that says that 5 years before that there was a report of kids in Argentina wearing shirts that said it. I’m not sure that makes it a saying if that’s all it is.

  9. @Dean, “Cuba is an expensive dump filled with unfriendly people, bad food and sickly rum.”

    The millions of Canadians and Europeans who flock to Cuba each year for “cheap” holidays disagree as do I.

    Americans are welcome in Cuba. The people are very friendly. There is no safety issue (Cuba has practically no street crime). So the government has no business restricting travel.

  10. This waffling sure isn’t helping the cruise ship business. How do they plan in an iffy situation like this?

  11. My wife’s parents are Argentinian. I’ve probably been to the country over a dozen times both visiting and on business.

    Aside from the weekly mention of it on this blog, neither I or my wife have ever seen or heard that Che phrase used.

    We get it – some kid once had a Che shirt with that phrase, you were a nationally recognized debater in high school and college, and the CSP transfers to the following programs: _______.

  12. When Obama changed the policy about Cuba, there were many interesting opinions pro and con about Cuba. Many had been to Cuba. Personally I was neutral. To simplify: on one side, the policy seemed like a relic of the past. On the other side, Cuba was one of USA enemies, sort of like Iran or North Korea but much closer.

    However, I had a co-worker from Venezuela, who was not on the fence. He had a full fledged conniption. He felt that Cuba was supporting the Chavez/Maduro dictatorship. He convinced me. Giving Cuba currency is like supporting Maduro. If Cuba leaves Venezuela, I think USA should improve relations with Cuba, provided that they stop using microwave weapons on our diplomats.

    To be honest, this is a complicated issue and I wish people could turn off their TDS long enough to actually discuss it. Many of you (even Trump haters) have travel extensively in Cuba and Venezuela, and could have some enlightening observations. People in a travel blog out to be aware that there is a whole world of things that have little to do with Bush, Clinton, Obama, or Trump. Com’on Guys. What the hell, I just went to the 5th floor of the Museum of Modern Art. Van Gogt’s The Starry Night (Best Painting Ever) is on display there. I did not once think of Trump, Obama, or politics.

  13. The left wing haters will always criticize. That’s what they do. They have hypocritical values. I never heard them speak against the ban to Cuba when the Democrats supported it All Those Years!
    I personally do not support the ban to travel anywhere. But I never spread this left wing hate when they had the White House.

  14. @ Fathiss, I missed the left wing hate here. Just because Trumpers never criticize the president no matter how low he stoops, or how counterproductive his policies are to US interests, the rest of us didn’t take the same loyalty oath. You may have never spread right wing hate against Pres. Obama but surely you know there was and still is tons of it. It is displayed in these comments regularly.

    In fact Trump and right wing Obama hate is the primary reason for the counterproductive tightening of travel restrictions to Cuba IMO. If the desire is to restrict Americans travel to Cuba because it provides currency to the Cuban regime and Cuba provides some support to Maduro, that makes little sense when there are no restrictions on Americans traveling to Venezuela. Maybe we should restrict American travel to China and Russia, too. Those countries provide way more support than poor Cuba. Russia recently sent troops to Venezuela. Crickets from Trump. I guess pointing out facts like these makes me a “hater” to the right.

  15. @John. Many of your comments are really insightful. However, you comment that “China and Russia….provide way more support than poor Cuba” does not reflect the reality on the ground. Cuba provides significant direct military support to Venezuela. Without Cuban assistance, Venezuela would have fallen some time ago. In fact, when Chavez was dying of cancer, he went to Havana, Cuba for medical treatment, and that was before Trump.

    Further, The Cuba/Venezuela should not be put in angry Trump terms, it is a problem that preceded Trump. Obama was not responsible for it either. He inherited the Venezuela problem from the Bush administration. Bush is not responsible either, Chavez was elected President during the Clinton administration. Clinton was not even responsible for Chavez, we in USA SUPPORT democracy. It is unfortunate that the Venezuelans elected the wrong person. The discourse in this country needs to become more serious.

  16. @John,
    You make the same mistake as many on both sides. You judge on motives when you are simply making what could be false inferences.
    Where was all this venom when Clinton supported the same policies of travel ban? What was his motive? Do you know that too?
    There’s a lot of hate on both sides now. Loosely quoting Negan from the last Walking Dead episode, the problem is neither side ever sees themselves as the evil one.
    Peace my left wing brother.

  17. We’re going to find out just how many American voters do hate Trump, next year in November.

    Signed, Bill Barr, a wholly subsidiary of Trump inc.

  18. @John,
    One more point. You allow your emotions (which appears to be hate to me) to force you into illogical arguments. You said;
    “In fact Trump and right wing Obama hate is the primary reason for the counterproductive tightening of travel restrictions to Cuba IMO. ”
    You start the statement by saying “in fact” but end the sentence with “IMO”.
    Which is it ? You confuse fact with opinions. And in doing so you judge motives.
    I realize you don’t see it this way, but it’s a form of divisiveness which is a form of hate.
    Both sides do it. I’m not above it either.

  19. I don’t want to contribute to the generally low level of discourse in the comments but I do need to put in a word for the quality of Cuban rum.

    Of course there are a variety of rums available and the dollar-a-liter stuff is what it is. But the truly high-end stuff (such as Seleccione De Maestro from Havana Club) is really quite remarkable. One glass I had to end a meal in Havana (it cost $4, same as the rest of the meal!) was as rich and complex as a good scotch.

    I picked up a bottle once in European duty free and the experience wasn’t the same — whether it’s a different product outside of Cuba or I was experiencing “spirit of place” (no pun intended) or whether it’s just never as good as your first time, I can’t say.

  20. @LarryinNYC,
    But you did contribute to it when you called it “low level of discourse”. If you didn’t want to contribute you should have made no reference at all and gotten right to the rum!
    As much as you would like to think you rise above it, voila.
    Garry is well aware of the comments generated by putting out the stuff he does. I am not sure if it’s for the enjoyment of reading the comments or simply the clicks. Either way he wins.

  21. @Fathiss comments don’t generate material clicks, they do not really benefit me, I just am pretty light on editing comments and always have been. I do not post – or not post – based on comments that may reasonably be likely to be expected to follow.

  22. I’d make Cuba the 51st state. It’s an abomination the USA’s policies towards Cuba these many years.

  23. While we are talking about Cuba, I recommend everyone watch “Buena Vista Social Club”. It is non political. It is a movie documentary about the World Circuit tracking down Mambo stars from pre-Communist Cuba in the 1990s. They tracked down some stars (who were retired), convinced them to produce an album, and that album has some great Salsa music. In fact, I think I want to listen to some of the songs right now.

  24. @ Other Just Saying, Salsa is a good example of what can happen when people from different places and cultures mix. It is generally accepted that salsa music and dance evolved from Cuban music (son primarily) played by Cuban and American musicians in NYC in the early 1960s.

    Instead of watching the Buena Vista Social Club Americans should be able to see the real thing. There are two BVSCs in La Habana. In 2017, Salsaworldtraveler visited both of them. These are new locations not the original venues. Both clubs play traditional Cuban salsa and other Afro-Cuban music as well.

    El Guarito BVSC is by far the better experience. There’s not a bad seat in the house, the food is better and I think the music and dancing was too on the nights I was there. I recommend the Sociedad Cultural Rosalia de Castro BVSC only if you can get there extra early and get a seat at the front.

    Let’s stop this counterproductive embargo and restrictions on travel to Cuba. Cuba is the only country in the world (DPRK being a recent and understandable exception) where the US government restricts our travel. Cuba is not worldwide Public Enemy No. 1 and poses no threat to the US or its citizens.

    Cuba is poor and weak compared to the US. Seventy years of bullying by its giant neighbor to the north have served as a rallying cry for the communists and have changed little for the Cuban people. Americans underestimate their pride and dignity in standing up to the US government even though that has come at a cost.

    It seems a bit ironic that salsa music and dance came from a collaboration of Cubans and Americans and is enjoyed in just about every country in the world, but if Americans want to enjoy salsa in Cuba we are the only country in the world that needs the permission of our government to do so.

  25. I support what DJT does, not his personal likeability.
    If more Cuba restrictions, decrease Venezuela support and help a return to democracy there, I’m all for it, despite speaking spanish and wanting to travel to Cuba.
    I support free and open travel everywhere and doubt any further travel restrictions will really help.
    I can always travel to Cuba from Mexico or Canada, so I’m not too worried about it.
    Those of you with TDS need to get rid of your hate and start focusing on issues 😉

  26. @John. After reading your piece on Salsa and Cuba, I am starting to lean towards normalizing relations with Cuba, more or less. You are right, Americans can travel to almost any country in the world except Cuba. I think the embargo is a relic from the 50s.

    As for all Salsa coming from Cuba, I think all Salsa came from Celia Cruz, the Queen of Salsa, so I am inclined to agree. I saw her many years ago live in the Bronx and she was amazing.

  27. When President Obama changed the USA policy towards Cuba, he did not finish, even though a significant percentage of Americans supported this change, in my opinion. He just called the people that disagreed with his Cuba policy names without doing the necessary horse trading to change the laws. Its a pity, because now we are still arguing about Cuba, and a simple change in the Whitehouse is changing USA Cuba policy back to pre-Obama hostility.

    There is some Realpolitik (without TDS) in USA Cuba policy. when Trump ran as a candidate, he promised to reverse Obama’s policy on Cuba. That promise is one of the reason Trump won the Cuban vote in Florida. I personally do not see how Trump could win the Cuban vote in 2020 or Florida for that matter if he reverses himself on that pledge.

  28. Well, I met Tito Puente, the King of Latin Music, many years ago so maybe Salsa is really Puerto Rican.

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