Israel is one of the trickier destinations to get to using credit card points and airline miles. Two U.S. airlines fly there, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, and neither make many Israel seats available at Saver or Level 1 award prices. When it comes to snagging free flights to Israel, there is one and only one reliable credit card option.
Earlier this year, Qantas added Israeli flag carrier EL AL to its growing roster of non-alliance airline partnerships. Qantas Frequent Flyer members can now earn miles and book reward flights on EL AL using their points. Qantas Frequent Flyer is also a direct one-to-one transfer partner with Citi ThankYou Rewards.
Having a one-to-one transfer partner to book EL AL flights is a game changer for Israel travelers. Previously the only way to convert credit card miles into an EL AL flight was to transfer American Express points directly to the airline at an obscene rate. In this scheme, business class seats cost in excess of 300,000 Amex points, one-way, a price high enough to cover a round-the-world ticket.
The Citi option reduces business class prices for East Coast to Israel El Al flights to 78,000 points, one-way. That price is reasonable, much better than the sky-high mileage rates Delta and United typically charge on Israel routes.
Unless you have an Israeli address that qualifies you for the Israel version of The Platinum Card from American Express — for which transfer rates to EL AL are incredibly good — there’s really only one card offering points that reasonably transfer to EL AL.
Citi has taken down application links to its once preeminent Prestige Card. The top dog in the Citi lineup — and only card enabling transfers to Qantas — is the Citi ThankYou Premier Mastercard.
Citi’s Premier card comes with a modest $95 annual fee, waived the first year, and new cardholders will enjoy 60,000 bonus points if they spend $3,000 in the first three months after the account opens.
The card nets three points for every dollar spent on a wide variety of travel purchases — flights, hotels, cars, ride shares, trains — and gas. Dining and entertainment purchases, both exceptionally broad categories, net two points for every dollar.
Transferring Points to Qantas, and Booking EL AL
Setting up a Qantas Frequent Flyer account is pretty painless and can be done online in a few minutes. Once an account is created, it can be linked with a ThankYou Premier card through the ThankYou rewards portal.
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
Qantas makes it exceptionally easy to search for flights on El Al, as they appear in any flight search through the Qantas Frequent Flyer portal. Always make sure there are available seats before transferring Citi points to Qantas. These points only move one direction, and can’t be moved back to Citi if Qantas doesn’t have space on desirable flights.
Unfortunately, it can take up to 48 hours for ThankYou Points to show up in a Qantas Frequent Flyer account. Qantas representatives may be able to put EL AL flights on hold, though I haven’t been able to find any definite policy on whether or not this is doable. It’s always worth a couple phone calls if it means adding that layer of protection.
One way to hedge any potential problem is to use a service like Expert Flyer, which shows exactly how many points award seats EL AL has open at a given time. If there are multiple seats available (the example below shows maxed out nine-seat inventory in economy and adequate five seats in premium economy, for example), there shouldn’t be a problem booking within that 48-hour window.
Other Options with ThankYou Rewards
While Citi ThankYou Rewards partners with neither Delta nor United, as Amex and Chase Ultimate Rewards respectively do, the program has transfer partners in all three major airline alliances, making it possible to book Saver United awards and some Delta flights, in addition to connecting flights through Europe.
Easily one of the best ThankYou Points values for connecting flights and the occasional Delta flight to Israel is through Air France-KLM Flying Blue. ThankYou points transfer instantly to Flying Blue, and awards from the U.S. to Israel can be had for as low as 25,000 Flying Blue miles in economy and 62,500 miles in business class, one-way.
For Star Alliance airlines, including Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, SWISS and SAS, Turkish Miles&Smiles offers the best rates. Points transfers to Turkish Miles&Smiles take about one day.
This year’s new partnership between EL AL and Qantas makes it possible, for the first time, for U.S. credit card holders to enjoy reasonably priced awards on the Israeli carrier.
EL AL generally has open award seats in economy and premium economy, and makes a reasonable amount of business and first class seats available for redemption, also.
If plans involve trying to use points to pay for Israel flights, it’s hard to beat Citi’s ThankYou Premier card.