Israel Through the Back Door – What to Do if You Can’t Find a Direct Flight

by Anna

Israel is a reliably popular destination with Americans, and cash prices are often high, so using points and miles to travel to Israel can save a lot of money. Finding award space on direct flights, especially in premium cabins, can be dubious. There are many options for award flights to Israel, but there are relatively reliable award options that involve indirect connections into Tel Aviv.

When nonstop flights dry up, there are quite a few routes that connect in Europe, and these tend to become more available closer to departure.

My Favorite One-Stop Routes to Israel

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Lufthansa

Lufthansa opens quite a bit of availability to partners, particularly close to departure. It’s a great airline with a huge route network and supremely consistent service in both economy and premium cabins. Lufthansa flies out of many major U.S. gateways, including Detroit. Unlike most European carriers, which focus U.S. routes on the coasts, Lufthansa is a great option for those living in the Midwest or Southeast.

You can book Lufthansa flights with United miles or transfer Marriott points directly to Lufthansa. 60,000 Marriott points will transfer for 25,000 Lufthansa Miles & More miles. If you are booking with Aeroplan, ANA Mileage Club, Singapore KrisFlyer, or directly with Miles & More, beware of high fuel surcharges. When booking through MileagePlus, United takes care of most of the add on fees for you.

SWISS

This is another Star Alliance partner with an excellent business class cabin. I love that Swiss has the same nice lie-flat seats in business class on its Zurich to Tel Aviv route as it has on the transatlantic flight. You can even score the coveted “throne” seat on this flight. This is much better than Lufthansa or Austrian’s “empty middle seat” business class.

Zurich Kloten airport is one of my favorite airports – it has a few Confiserie Sprüngli stores. Sprüngli chocolates and their mini-macaroons called Luxemburgerli are such a treat! I can’t pass through Zurich airport without stopping by, and Switzerland’s extremely efficient and passenger friendly terminal helps feed my chocolate habit.

Like Lufthansa, United MileagePlus is the only way to book these seats while avoiding dastardly add-on fares.

SWISS "Throne" Seat

SWISS Business “Throne” Seat aboard the airline’s Airbus A330-300. Image by SWISS.

LOT Polish Airlines

LOT opens up a lot of availability to partners in both economy and business, making it a really easy choice for award flights to Israel. The airline operates a modern fleet of aircraft with lie-flat seats in business, and all transatlantic flights are now operated by new Boeing 787 Dreamliners. LOT has convenient connecting flights to Israel from Warsaw, and the Warsaw to Tel Aviv flight is less than four hours long.

Book LOT flights with United miles, Aeroplan or ANA miles. Unlike other European carriers, LOT doesn’t add much in the way of add-on fares to its mileage award tickets, so this is a good option for booking with partners like Aeroplan, ANA Mileage Club, Singapore KrisFlyer or Lufthansa Miles & More.

Austrian Airlines

Austrian has good availability, often making multiple seats available for miles redemptions in business class. Like Zurich, Vienna has an impeccably efficient airport, making even sub-30 minute connections a breeze. In my experience, the connection times are usually good and Vienna airport is an easy layover. And you can stock up on Austrian chocolate while you are there! Austrian’s Vienna to Israel business class is nothing to write home about, they block off the middle seat, but their transatlantic business class is excellent. Economy class also consistently gets good reviews. And where else can you see flight attendants dressed head to toe in red, including shoes and scarves?

The easiest way to book Austrian flights is with United miles. You can also book with ANA or Aeroplan, both American Express transfer partners, but beware of surcharges.

Austrian Business Class Cabin

Austrianr’s Boeing 767 Business Class Cabin

Air France and KLM (Flying Blue)

This one can be hit or miss in terms of points/miles availability, but after changing their frequent flyer redemptions in June, Air France-KLM’s Flying Blue program (which accepts points from Amex, Chase, and Citi travel rewards cards) sometimes offers great business class redemptions. Searching for flights on both airlines can be easily accomplished at airfrance.com once you have a Flying Blue account set up.

According to their award rules, Israel is considered to be a part of Europe. Since the change to flexible prices, we have seen business class awards to Europe as low as 53,000 points one-way. Air France does add surcharge fares to award tickets, but they are typically much less than competitors British Airways and Lufthansa.

FlyingBlue is a transfer partner of American Express, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou points. Citi and Amex sometimes have transfer bonuses making these awards even more of a bargain. Just watch out for potentially long connections and pretty high fuel surcharges.

Booking with Star Alliance Carriers

Star Alliance, the biggest airline alliance in the world, offers excellent award redemptions and decent availability for redeeming miles and points on award flights to Israel. Except for Air France and KLM, all of the options above are Star Alliance members, which makes booking awards relatively easy.

Three major bank credit card programs can be used to transfer points into a Star Alliance airline.

Chase Ultimate Rewards, earned through Chase Sapphire cards and Ink Business cards, can be transferred to United Airlines MileagePlus program and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. Even though Singapore’s mileage rates tend to be slightly lower, I prefer United. Chase points transfer to United much quicker, the airline’s website is easier to use, and United eats more of the surcharge fares that European Star Alliance airlines tack on to award tickets. You can also get one or both of the United MileagePlus Explorer Credit Card and United Explorer Business card to top up United miles.

KrisFlyer is best used in conjunction with Singapore flights, which are often only available through the KrisFlyer program. If you choose to use KrisFlyer, Star Alliance partners with lower fees include LOT Polish Airlines and Turkish Airlines. 

American Express Membership Rewards, earned through the famous Gold and Platinum cards, can be transferred to ANA MileageClub, Aeroplan and Singapore KrisFlyer. Aeroplan awards can be booked easier online, and Aeroplan offers some of the best redemption rates for business and first-class cabins. ANA is by far the best option for booking round-trip and around-the-world itineraries, however, with the lowest mileage redemption rates of any American Express transfer partner.

Citi ThankYou Points, which come via Citi ThankYou rewards cards, can be transferred to Avianca Lifemiles, which offers some of the more favorable mileage rates, and Singapore KrisFlyer.

Turkish Airlines

Turkish consistently has business class award availability to Israel and operates multiple Istanbul-Tel Aviv flights a day. The transatlantic flights have lie-flat seats in business class and a chef on board to prepare your meals.

Turkish Airlines A330-200 Business Class Cabin

Turkish Airlines A330-200 Business Class Cabin

Book Turkish Airlines flights with United miles, Aeroplan or ANA miles. You can also transfer Citi ThankYou points directly to Turkish’s own Miles&Smiles program.

Aegean

I include Aegean here because it has the best award rates for Star Alliance flights, even though it doesn’t operate any flights to the U.S. Aegean considers Israel a part of North Africa so you will need just 30,000 Aegean miles in economy and 45,000 in business one way.  Find award availability on United.com and then call Aegean to book. Aegean is a Marriott transfer partner, but since SPG/Marriott merger it became much harder to earn Marriott points.

60,000 Marriott points will transfer for 25,000 Aegean miles. Don’t transfer points until you have called and confirmed availability. Marriott points can be earned by opening Marriott Bonvoy card from AmEx and Chase.

Watch out for fuel surcharges if you book with Aegean. United, LOT and Turkish have the lowest surcharges; Lufthansa and Austrian the highest.

American AAdvantage Partners

If you have American Airlines AAdvantage miles or British Airways Avios, you’re looking to book on a Oneworld airline. Besides British Airways — which we avoid due to exorbitant fares added to mileage awards — Oneworld doesn’t offer reliable award redemption options to Israel unless you can find availability on Royal Jordanian via Aman, Jordan.

If you’re willing to cough up the cost of an economy ticket in addition to your points and miles, British Airways often makes abundant business and first class seats available.

AAdvantage Miles are easy to earn by opening one of Citi AAdvantage or AAdvantage Barclay Aviator cards.

Iberia operates flights to Madrid from several major U.S. gateways, and it might be possible to find award space on Iberia using Avios – Iberia’s reward “currency.” If you can’t put together a complete award, you can also book an award ticket to Madrid for 34,000 Iberia Avios points during off-peak season in business class. Then just book a cheap revenue ticket from Madrid to Tel Aviv. During peak times, it’ll cost you 50,000 Avios.

This is what I will be doing for my return flights from a trip to Israel in May (I wanted to spend a few days in Madrid on the way back to the U.S.). You can also use 10,000 BA Avios for Madrid to Tel Aviv segment off-peak or 12,500 BA Avios during peak season. However, I can think of better use for my Avios, and I’d rather pay cash for this four-hour flight.

Iberia is American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. Watch out for transfer bonuses from American Express. Right now American Express is running a 40-percent transfer bonus to Iberia (through Nov. 15), making this particular redemption a great bargain.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are lots of different options to fly to Israel if you don’t mind a layover in Europe. But if you can’t find award space to Israel, especially if you need more than one ticket, try to think outside of the box. Look for award tickets to Europe and buy an inexpensive revenue ticket on one of many low-cost carriers. Once you get over the Atlantic, everything seems much closer.

If looking for award space to Israel sounds too time-consuming, rewards experts like Points Pros or Juicy Miles are a good option.

Share with us your best redemptions to Israel. What bargains or unconventional routes did you find?

 

 

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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5 comments

Gene November 13, 2018 - 10:22 am

@ Anna — These are the BEST ways to get to Israel since the ME airlines don’t fly there, Delta awards are a complete rip-off, and El Al totally sucks.

Reply
Anna November 13, 2018 - 10:31 am

Thanks Gene! That’s why I love Star Alliance so much. Lots of great options and not that hard to redeem.

Reply
DaninMCI November 13, 2018 - 10:24 am

I like going to Israel but it can be tough to find award seats. I find using awards to a European hub and then buying the short haul separately to be a decent value. It saves the middle east award cost on many carriers as well. Last time I went I booked a super discounted AF paid ticket into IST and bought a cheap flight on to TLV. The worst value in this region is the high surcharge on Avios redemption between AMM and TLV. It’s super short but the one-way surcharge can be $200 plus the Avios on BA.

Reply
Anna November 13, 2018 - 10:32 am

Great point!

Reply
Justin November 14, 2018 - 11:51 am

AMM often has good fares, if you have the time to go by road through the Allenby Bridge to Jerusalem.

Reply

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