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CheapAir to start selling Cuba airfares online to U.S. travelers

CheapAir will start selling airfares to Cuba on its online travel website to U.S. travelers.

CheapAir plans to be the first online travel website to start selling airfares to Cuba directly to U.S. fliers in a single transaction.

The CheapAir announcement Thursday (today) says it has seen "a surge in search volumes for travel to Cuba" since President Obama in mid-January eased restrictions on Americans traveling to the island nation.

Travel search engine Kayak earlier this month added searchable flights to Cuba and 300 Cuban hotels to its website.

It's another step for travelers who have wanted to go as individuals during the U.S. embargo imposed on the country half a century ago. But remember: If you're American, you must have an authorized reason to go. 

Before the rule changes, Americans could go with licensed groups on people-to-people visits (which are still available) or fly by way of another country like Mexico or Canada which allows flights to Havana. Some travelers did that to circumvent rules; others had individual licenses that had to be applied for and granted.

CheapAir will help U.S. travelers to go by way of another country. You can buy two separate tickets — one to a another country, a second to Havana — and coordinate the journey in one transaction.

You'll also have to buy a visa to enter Cuba (estimated at $25 to $30) from the country you pass through.

As for the authorized reasons: You can go for a family visit, educational activity, humanitarian project and other circumstances. To see whether you fall into one of these categories, go to the Treasury Department website and take a look at its FAQs.

The company asks travelers to "certify you are traveling for one of the 12 authorized reasons and to tell us which one," CheapAir Chief Executive Jeff Klee said via a spokeswoman's email, but it's essentially on the honor system.

In other words, no one's going to check.

"But travelers should understand that traveling to Cuba without one of the 12 rules applying is still illegal," the email said. "We alert would-be travelers of this throughout the booking process."

Obama's easing of restrictions for Americans who want to visit and do business in Cuba allows the use of U.S. debit and credit cards (though they won't work until U.S. banks establish infrastructure there) and allows Americans to bring back $400 worth of goods.

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