Israel should be on every traveler’s list. The country has beautiful white sand beaches, stunning desert, lush green hills and, of course, so much history. Israel is also a perfect destination for a foodie or a wine lover. Finding award tickets to Israel is not an easy feat, however. The demand is strong, routings are limited and thus airlines don’t release a lot of seats for use with credit card points and frequent flyer miles.
Cash prices are usually high from most of the U.S., so using your miles to book an award ticket will give you an excellent value if you can figure it out. Finding award space or reasonable cash fares around major Jewish holiday is especially challenging, so if you need to travel close to Rosh Hashana or Passover, book your award ticket early!
I’ve had good luck finding award availability on nonstop flights booking nine to 11 months out. My favorite way to fly to Israel is on United-operated flights out of Newark.
One of the biggest pain points with United is finding domestic saver level award availability to connect to a major international gateway like Newark or San Francisco. I fly out of Cleveland, and while United is the dominant airline here, finding saver award space to connect to my international flights is often a problem. If you can’t find an award ticket out of your city, try to get a positioning flight. Even with booking a separate domestic flight, you will save a lot of money.
United operates nonstop flights from Newark, San Francisco and, starting in May 2019, from Washington D.C.
To fly from the US to Israel on United-operated flight you will need:
- 42,500 United miles in economy one-way
- 75,000 in United miles in business one-way
United operates Polaris Business class out of Newark Liberty (EWR) and San Francisco (SFO), but as of August 2018, they are flying either Boeing 777-200 or 787-9 airplanes to Tel Aviv that have not been equipped with the new Polaris seats.
The configuration in business is 2-2-2, formerly the Continental Airlines BusinessFirst set up. These are not their updated Polaris seats but the seats are wide and very comfortable. You get all the amenities of Polaris, including improved food and beverage service and Saks Fifth Avenue bedding. I have flown the old BusinessFirst service and the new Polaris service on that route a few times and I’ve always been happy with the seats and the service on board.
And now there is a new Polaris lounge in Newark airport. I happened to be flying in business class on Star Alliance in June and had an opportunity to spend a few hours there. It is a very nice lounge and a huge improvement over the old United Club. I am flying Polaris to Israel in April of 2019, again, and I am looking forward to visiting the lounge again.
If you are on the west coast or can get to San Francisco, the direct SFO-TLV flight is a great option. If you are flying Polaris business class, SFO also has a fabulous Polaris lounge.
I like using United miles for award travel because United doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges. You will pay $5.60 cents for one way award ticket.
You can earn extra United MileagePlus miles and even a sizeable introductory bonus by opening a Chase United Explorer card or transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to your United MileagePlus account.
Using KrisFlyer to Book United-Operated Flights
You can also book United-operated flights using Singapore KrisFlyer miles. You will need:
- 45,000 KrisFlyer miles in economy one way
- 69,000 KrisFlyer miles in business class one way
It is fairly easy to earn Singapore miles; you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou points to your KrisFlyer account. Don’t redeem your KrisFlyer miles on United economy flight, as you will need 2,500 more KrisFlyer miles, unless you don’t have any United miles or Ultimate Rewards points, but have a surplus of Amex or Citi points.
Israeli carrier El Al operates nonstop flights from Boston Logan (BOS), New York Kennedy (JFK), Newark Liberty (EWR), Miami International (MIA) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The airline operates a fleet of Boeing 747-400s that have business class seats that look like something out of last century and a first-class cabin to match.
Fortunately, El Al’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliners come equipped with some of the best business class and premium economy class seats out there. This aircraft is being increasingly incorporated on flights from Newark Liberty to Tel Aviv, San Francisco to Tel Aviv and Los Angeles to Tel Aviv and will replace the old 747s increasingly in the future.
El Al has no practical relationship with a U.S. frequent flyer programs, so you’ll need to use credit card rewards if you want to secure a free flight on El Al. American Express Membership Rewards can be transferred directly to El Al’s frequent flyer program. These points are earned through the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, The American Express® Gold Card and The Platinum Card from American Express.
American Express OPEN also has similar Membership Rewards cards for small business owners and self-proprietors.
Citi ThankYou Rewards, earned through the Citi ThankYou Premier Mastercard, can be transferred to Qantas Frequent Flyer, which began a partnership with El Al in the past year.
Using American Express Points
You can transfer Membership Rewards points to El Al’s frequent flyer Matmid program. 1000 Membership Rewards points will get you 20 Matmid points. Platinum cardholders in Israel get a significantly better deal on this transfer — 6 Membership Rewards Points to 1 Matmid point. If you have an address in Israel and plan to regularly redeem points for El Al flights, the Amex Platinum Card is truly the way to go.
To fly round trip fly in economy, awards cost:
- 1,800-2,000 Matmid points to fly from Boston, JFK, Newark and Miami
- 2,000-2,200 Matmid points to fly from Los Angeles
To fly round-trip, business class, you will need
- 4,500-5,000 Matmid points to fly from Boston, JFK, Newark and Miami
- 5,200-5,700 Matmid points to fly from Miami
- 5,500-6,000 Matmid points to fly from Los Angeles
Unless you have an Israel address to apply for a Platinum Card, this is not the best use of your Membership Rewards points. As a U.S. cardholder, you’d need a staggering 300,000 Membership Rewards points to fly from Miami to Tel Aviv during what Matmid defines as the summer season. Not the best use of your Amex points!
If you do live in Israel, on the other hand, flying round-trip from Israel to the East Coast of the U.S. in business class would cost 30,000 Membership Rewards points with the Platinum Card. That’s cheaper than many U.S. domestic economy tickets — a truly incredible value.
To find availability on El Al flights there are a few options. For those with an El Al Matmid account already set up, there is a Frequent Flyer search bar available on the El Al website. It’s also possible to view El Al’s award inventory on Expert Flyer. For the truly analog out there, it’s possible to call El Al and have phone representative perform an award search.
I was able to find a smattering of business class seats near the far edge of the award calendar — July 2019, and some economy and premium economy seats available closer in.
Using Qantas Frequent Flyer (Citi ThankYou Points)
All of the above flights are also available for bookings via Qantas Frequent Flyer. Once you’ve created a Qantas Frequent Flyer account, you can log-in and perform “Classic Rewards” searches through the Qantas Frequent Flyer website.
El Al now appears among all of Qantas other partners, and can even be booked as connections with Qantas and other OneWorld flights.
One caveat here: it can take up to two days for Citi ThankYou Rewards points to transfer to Qantas Frequent Flyer. Qantas hasn’t published a hold policy for partner award tickets on its website, but it may be worth it to call Qantas and ask to place these awards on hold before the points transfer. In this case, we see through ExpertFlyer that there is plenty of available inventory for both of these flights, so it would be unlikely that you’d lose the ability to book one or two seats within 48 hours, but in other situations where inventory is limited, this delay might present some risk unless an award can be held.
El Al flights are priced according to Qantas’ distance-based frequent flyer award chart.
To fly from the U.S. East Coast to Tel Aviv using Citi ThankYou Points, via Qantas, will cost:
- Economy: 42,000 points
- Premium Economy: 63,000 points
- Business: 78,000 points
- First: 114,000 points
To fly from the U.S. West Coast to Tel Aviv using Citi ThankYou Points, via Qantas Frequent Flyer, will cost:
- Economy: 56,000 points
- Premium Economy: 84,000 points
- Business: 104,000 points
- First: 152,000 points
Delta Air Lines
Delta operates nonstop flights from New York JFK. Because Delta doesn’t have an award chart anymore, the price to use Delta SkyMiles will vary widely, from 43,000 to 130,000 and more in economy one-way. To fly in DeltaOne, saver-level awards will cost 85,000 one-way and are about as common as a jackalope.
Finding an award seat for 85,000 miles is a huge challenge, to say the least. When I was writing this article I was only able to find a few random dates throughout the calendar when saver-level business awards were available. Ironically, one of the dates was the next day, so if you are a truly spontaneous person, that’s an option to fly to Israel in business class for just 85,000 SkyMiles.
You can earn Delta SkyMiles by opening one or more of American Express co-branded Delta credit cards. Delta is also a transfer partner of American Express. You can transfer your Membership Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio.
American Airlines doesn’t have direct flights to Israel. You can use AAdvantage miles to book connecting flights on one of American’s partners – British Airways, Finnair, Iberia or Royal Jordanian.
You will need
- 40,000 AAdvantage miles in economy one-way
- 70,000 in AAdvantage miles in business one-way
If you are flying on British Airways and routing through London Heathrow, be aware of high fare surcharges ($300-$700) that BA tacks on to mileage award tickets.
Air France Flying Blue (American Express, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou)
It is fairly easy to earn Air France miles, it is a transfer partner of Chase, Amex and Citi. Flying Blue eliminated their award chart some time ago, but values are good when mileage prices are low.
It is possible to book economy award flights for as low as 25,000 FlyingBlue miles and business for as low as 53,000 miles. Air France considers Israel to be a part of Europe, so if you can find saver-level awards, it is a pretty good deal. Surcharges can be steep, as much as 500 euro for a return itinerary, far more than you’d pay using United or Delta.
I’ve searched for random dates in February 2019 for ORD-TLV one way ticket and found a few dates with available low-level awards in business.
When I clicked through to the next screen and could see the actual flights, the total flight time was almost 26 hours with 13 hour connection time in Amsterdam. This can be either good or bad, depending on how you like to travel.
I ran a few searches for economy flights and found fares as low as 29,000, one-way. Compared to other programs, 29,000 miles is a steal, assuming you can find connections that work for you and don’t mind higher surcharges.
Star Alliance Partners
Another great way to get to Israel from the US is to fly on Star Alliance partners. You will have to connect somewhere in Europe, usually Vienna, Zurich, Frankfurt, Brussels, Warsaw or Istanbul. Your options will be flying on United or a Star Alliance carrier to a major European city and connecting to Israel from there.
I have flown on Austrian Airlines and Swiss Airlines in business class and both are excellent. These airlines have a reputation for great service even in economy. Lufthansa doesn’t release a lot of business class award space to partners so it is harder to find itineraries connecting in Frankfurt. Turkish Airlines, LOT and Brussels Airlines are hit or miss.
My favorite way to book these flights is via United MileagePlus, as United doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges. You will have to pay slightly more in taxes than if you were flying on a non-stop Israel flight — between $25 and $80, depending on the itinerary.
- 42,500 United miles in economy one-way
- 85,000 United miles in business one-way
You will find much better award availability to Israel if you are willing to connect in Europe. Austrian Airlines seems to have the most award space bookable via United MileagePlus or Aeroplan.
You can also book a Star Alliance award via
- Aeroplan – 40,000 miles in economy, 67,500 in premium economy or 82,500 in business. You will have to pay fuel surcharges if you book via Aeroplan, unless you are flying on United and a small handful of European carriers. Aeroplan is Marriott and Amex Membership Rewards transfer partner. If you don’t have United Miles or Ultimate Rewards, then it might make sense to consider Aeroplan but watch out for those fuel surcharges, they can easily be over $200.
- KrisFlyer – 45,000 in economy and 69,000 in business. Watch out for fuel surcharges if flying on one of the European carriers, they can add up
Read about more tricks on avoiding surcharges on Star Alliance awards here.
As you can see, there are a few options you can explore if you want to travel to Israel. It’s important to book ahead of time, especially if you are going to be traveling around major Jewish holidays, like Passover and Rosh Hashanah. The key to success is to have a good stash of different credit card currencies and airline miles. Be prepared to be flexible with your dates and the routes and airlines you are willing to fly.
No matter how you get there, you are going to have a great time in Israel! And if you have one of the credit cards that include access to Priority Pass lounges, stop by one of the recently added restaurants, Schmoozy Bar, at Ben Gurion Airport.