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El Al, the national carrier of Israel that flies nonstop from Tel Aviv to JFK, Newark, Los Angeles and Toronto, has been a member of the Membership Rewards program for a while, yet I’ve never considered using them as a transfer partner because the ratio was 70 Amex to 1 Matmid point. New York to Tel Aviv is 1,400 credits in coach, 3,000 in business class and 5,000 in first. That translates into 98,000, 210,000 and 350,000 points for coach, business and first respectively. No thanks – especially when you can redeem American Airlines miles for El Al flights for 90,000, 135,000 and 180,000 for coach, business and first.
However, American Express just announced that Amex points will now transfer to El Al at a 50:1 ratio, making New York/Toronto to Tel Aviv economy/business/first roundtrips now 70,000, 150,000 and 250,000. While AA still has a better ratio on business and especially first, El Al releases more award availability to their own members and many of you have more Amex points than American, so it’s good to know in case you are planning travel to Israel.
Also, if you sign-up for Matmid via American Express’ link, the $25 registration fee is waived.
Plus, El Al members can use points to upgrade from coach to business and business to first class at pretty reasonable ratios – American miles cannot be used for upgrades. El Al even offers a cash & miles upgrade option – for example only $250 and 300 Matmid points (15,000 Amex points) for coach to business class or business to first on New York/Toronto to Tel Aviv.
Elal.co.il actually has a pretty good award booking engine that will even let you go through a dummy booking without having any points in your account. When I searched for availability in February for New York and Los Angeles to Tel Aviv I got a lot of economy and first class options – business class availability was almost non-existent.
Taxes and fees on most awards come about to about $350 and you have the option of using 150 Matmid points (7,500 Amex) to take off $150 in fees. That would equate to each Amex point being redeemed for 2 cents each, which isn’t bad.
However, I priced out purchasing these flights directly and they almost all came out to about $1,041 total roundtrip. So, 70,000 Amex points to save $691 in airfare is just under 1 cent per point, which is not a good redemption. You can use Pay With Points to redeem for 1 cent per point and earn miles on the trip. Platinum card holders get 1.25 cents per point, so a $1,041 flight would only cost 83,280 points and no fees. However, the value proposition increases during peak travel periods when fares are high – especially in business and first class. I recommend doing your research before redeeming to see where you’ll get the most bang for your point.