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America’s newly relaxed travel restrictions to Cuba just got a little more relaxed: starting today, worldwide home-rental service Airbnb is now listing more than 1,000 options in Cuba. After encountering a complex process to book lodgings in Havana during my last-minute trip to Cuba this past January, I’m thrilled about this new development—and I’m planning a return trip to Cuba later this month!
Some of Cuba’s hotels are entirely state-run, while others are partially run by both the state and international chains like NH and Meliá; as a general rule, the greater the government’s hand in a property, the more likely it is to have scruffy decor, outdated technology and sub-standard food and service. Rather than hotels, then, the most popular lodging options in Cuba are private-room accommodations or homestays known as casa particulares, which range from funky city apartments to sprawling seaside villas with housekeeping staff. Currently, this private-sector rental arena is dominated by Cuba-based online/mobile booking services like Cuba Junky and Cuba Casas.
However, representatives from U.S.-based Airbnb—taking the safe bet that President Obama’s eased travel restrictions will bring more Americans to Cuba—have spent the last three months quietly wading into the fray, signing up homeowners all around the Caribbean island. As a result, an Airbnb search for “Cuba” now yields more than 1,000 properties in Cuba, with about 40 percent in Havana and the rest in tourist hotspots like Cienfuegos, the Vinales Valley, and Varadero Beach.
Cuba’s present Airbnb options range from:
This entire house in Havana—replete with grand dining room, big porch and services of a housekeeper—for $160/night;
To this seriously seaside cottage in Cienfuegos for an amazing $27 a night!
In the hope that Cuba will become one of its biggest markets in Latin America, Airbnb plans to continue adding listings, so keep an eye out for more apartments, rooms and houses.
I’m excited about the potential of booking Cuba lodgings with Airbnb, as I’ve enjoyed using the service in the past, and it will allow me to use a U.S.-issued credit card. This wasn’t the case at Havana’s Hotel Occidental Miramar, who wouldn’t accept my Chase Sapphire Preferred, even though I’d pre-booked rooms through Canadian travel agency A Nash Travel. Using that same credit card to book an Airbnb rental would earn me 2x per $1, as Chase categorizes the service as a travel merchant.
Also be aware that Airbnb is a partner of Amex Membership Rewards, which means you can book Airbnb rentals using Amex points earned with cards like the Amex Platinum and Premier Rewards Gold. While Amex points aren’t great for hotels, Airbnb rentals will give you a decent rate of return; the Airbnb redemption rate is $100 for 10,000 points (1 cent per point), while other Membership Rewards hotel partner redemptions are 12,000 points for $100 (.83 cents per point).
For more Airbnb booking tips, be sure to see my post on Maximizing Points and Miles on Vacation Rentals with Airbnb & VRBO.
At present, you can’t search for Cuba hotels on an online travel agency like Orbitz.com, and there aren’t yet any large U.S. hotel chains in the country, but that will probably change soon—and when it does, I’ll be sure to share the good news.
For now, I’m looking into Airbnb rentals for a late-April weekend, as well as booking direct flights on Sun Country from New York JFK to Havana’s HAV through U.S.-authorized airline service provider Cuba Travel Services. I can hardly wait to return to Cuba and explore more of this beautiful Caribbean island.
Any plans to travel to Cuba this year, or book an Airbnb rental there? Please share in the comments below.
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