Alaska Airlines’ Cuba Check-in Mess
Travel to Cuba is still not allowed for tourist purposes and you must fall within one of 12 categories for travel. Among the options are Medical, Professional, Research, Religious, and Journalism.
Because Alaska’s website makes sure to mention that you need to get a Visa before you travel, we made sure to order ours with plenty of time (over 3 weeks). We ordered it through an overseas travel company and they arrived!
In reality, the visa is just a travel card, which is required for entry to the country. You can buy them in some airports (like Panama for $20) but we bought ours from a travel agency in Italy for $45 each. Cuba Travel Services, which partners with Alaska, charges $145 in advance (85 + 35 processing fee BS + 25 overnight shipping BS) or $100 at the door. A total rip-off, so we were not about to pay that!
Once we approached the CTS desk and Cuba Travel Services saw these visas, they immediately told us that they wouldn’t work, as we needed a special pink colored visa. Mind you, these visas are EXACTLY the same, and we explained that. We had the receipt, we had the required stamp on the back, and yet they would not accept them.
If we wanted to get the “Cuba OK Travel” stamp on our boarding passes (which we need to fly) we would have to pay $100 each to get a new Visa from them. It’s a real racket, since they will not let you board without the stamp, and to get the stamp, you have to have their Visa. Pay, or don’t fly. Simple.
I suppose the one piece of good news is that this flight was full of VIP and corporate execs, so I had a lot of people from Alaska Airlines (and Cuba Travel Services) to talk to about their policies.
Once we landed in Cuba, we presented the Green Visa and were accepted through with no problem. I started researching this a little bit more when I got back and apparently the US consulate issues a special pink visa, while every other country uses a green visa. These pink visas can be purchased directly from the embassy in DC or through Cuba Travel Services.
If you fly Southwest, they charge $50. Delta? $50. JetBlue? $50. But if you fly American, Frontier, United, or Alaska, you’re going to fork out $145. Never have I see one visa have different prices because of the airline that you fly on.
We still have the pink visa, and I’ll use it to get on the plane, but as long as the Cuban immigration officers continue to accept the green ones, maybe it makes sense to also buy one of those and use THAT if we’re going to back more than once.