Best Starwood Transfer Partners for Flights to Israel

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Israel is a popular destination for American tourists as well as VFR (Visiting Friends and Relatives) travelers. It’s also a fairly complicated award trip to book, as the award charts of different airlines place Israel in different regions.

Since the most valuable points are those earned in flexible transfer programs, we thought it would be helpful look at each one of them (starting with the Starwood Preferred Guest program), and find out which of their partners is the best one to transfer your points to.

As a reminder, through June 30 the Starwood Amex personal and business credit cards are offering an increased bonus of 30,000 Starpoints (after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months). If you’re looking for Starpoints to get you to Israel (or elsewhere), these bonuses can help.

Whether your a tourist or visiting family, Israel is a popular destination for award flights.
Whether you’re a tourist or visiting family, Israel is a popular destination for award flights (image courtesy of Shutterstock).

Special considerations for award trips to Israel

There are only five airports in North America with non-stop service to Israel:

  • New York: JFK: Delta and El Al
  • Newark: United and El Al
  • Toronto: El Al and Air Canada
  • Philadelphia: US Airways
  • Los Angeles: El Al

Residents of those cities might be lucky enough to find one of the scarce award seats on a non-stop flight if their itineraries are flexible and they plan far in advance. Otherwise, they should be content to book an award trip with a single stop. If you’re originating anywhere else, you have the option of making a single connection in one of these cities, or perhaps in Europe. Nevertheless, having to make two connections to visit Israel on an award ticket is common.

Going to Israel, you’ll almost certainly be on an overnight flight across the Atlantic. If you change planes in Europe, you’ll still arrive in Tel Aviv mid-day or in the evening. The return flights can be much more difficult. Most flights from Europe to North America leave mid-day. To connect to those flights, many European carriers have departures from Tel Aviv between 4am and 6am, which is terribly arduous for travelers.

Thankfully, US Airways flight 797 (which departs Tel Aviv at 11:30 pm) and United’s flight 91 (at 10:40 pm) are rare westbound transatlantic red-eyes that arrive in the United States early the next morning.  Most El Al westbound flights depart at night as well.

Most flights between North America and Israel involve a red-eye flight (image courtesy of Shutterstock).

Best Starwood Transfer Partners For Award Travel To Israel

Air Canada 
Air Canada is a Star Alliance partner with an award chart that charges 80,000 miles round trip in coach, 165,000 miles in business, and a whopping 230,000 miles in international first class. One-way awards can be booked for half price, and fuel surcharges are added for flights on Adria, Air Canada, Austrian, Lufthansa, and TAP Portugal. LOT Polish has fuel surcharges, but they’re pretty low. On the other hand, flights on Aegean, Brussels, Croatia, SAS, Singapore (which flies from JFK to Frankfurt), Swiss, Turkish, and United have no fuel surcharges. Another advantage is that lap child infant awards are a fixed price from $50-$125, rather than 10% of the coach price.

Alaska
Alaska considers tickets to Israel to be part of their Africa, Middle East, and India Awards, and the miles required depends on the partner you fly. You can include flights on Alaska on a partner award in order to connect to a gateway, but you can’t use more than one partner.  One way awards are only available when booking on Air France/KLM and British Airways. The round-trip award prices are as follows:

  • Air France/KLM is 80,000 miles in coach and 140,000 in business.
  • British Airways is 100,000 miles in coach, 120,000 in premium economy, 140,000 in business, and 160,000 in first. Note that large fuel surcharges will be imposed.
  • Delta is 85,000 miles in coach and 140,000 in business.
  • Korean is 100,000 miles in coach and 140,000 in business. Furthermore, it’s the only Asian carrier to offer service to Tel Aviv (if you feel like going the long way around the world). Note that many blackout dates apply.

Alitalia
This SkyTeam carrier classifies Israel as part of “Europe 3 and Middle East” on its latest partner award chart, it costs 50,000 miles round trip in coach and 100,000 in business. Its old partner award chart (which is only valid until the end of June) lists business class as only 80,000 miles round trip. Awards are round-trip only, and fuel surcharges apply.

ANA
This Star Alliance carrier has a distance based award chart, so round-trip flights to Israel totaling less than 14,000 miles (generally from east of the Mississippi) will cost 60,000 miles in coach, 90,000 miles in business, and 140,000 miles in first. If the total flight distance is more than 14,000 miles, the ticket costs 65,000 miles in coach, 105,000 miles in business, and 160,000 miles in first.

Asia Miles
This OneWorld carrier has a distance based award chart that also has a break at 14,000 miles round trip distance traveled.  The cost works out to 85/115/155 east of the Mississippi, and 90/135/190 to the west for coach, business, and first class, respectively. There are fuel surcharges, and one way awards are not allowed.

American
Here is the American Airlines partner award chart. American’s program is unique in that it’s the only way to redeem awards on El Al other than using miles in El Al’s Matmid program. Unfortunately, El Al award space can’t be searched online unless you pay to become a member of Matmid. That said, their award space is not very generous, especially in the premium classes, but American Airlines representatives can search for it on your behalf over the phone.  There are no fuel surcharges on American Airlines awards, with the notable exception of British Airways.

American's AAdvantage program is the only way to redeem awards on El Al, other than using miles in El Al's Matmid program.
American’s AAdvantage program is the only way to redeem awards on El Al, other than using miles in El Al’s Matmid program.

British Airways
The British Airways Avios award chart is distance based, so the points required depend on the miles flown. For example, the leg between London and Tel Aviv is 2,233 miles, so just that segment costs 25,000 miles round-trip for coach and 50,000 for business (there is no first class on that route). In addition, you’ll have to add on the flight to North America. Flights between 3,000 and 4,000 miles, which includes flights to London from Chicago, Washington D.C., and cities to their northeast, are 40/60/80/120 in coach, premium economy, business, and first, respectively. Beyond that distance the cost goes up to 50/75/100/150. You can mix and match classes of service on various flights, and you can book one way awards. Nevertheless, expect BA’s outrageous fuel surcharges as well as UK departure taxes when you stay more than 24 hours in London.

Delta
This SkyTeam carrier offers daily service from JFK to Tel Aviv, but with notoriously few award seats at the lowest mileage levels, which is 85,000 miles in coach and 140,000 in business, according to their current award chart. Nevertheless, awards on partners such as Air France, KLM, and Alitalia can be booked with no fuel surcharges. One way awards are unavailable this year, but will be possible for awards ticketed on or after January 1st, 2015.

Flying Blue
This program is part of SkyTeam, and represents both Air France and KLM. Notably, Israel is considered part of Europe for the purposes of their award charts. Awards are 50,000 miles for economy, 100,000 miles for premium economy, and 125,000 miles for business class. Another interesting aspect is that Promo Awards are frequently available for 25-50% off the standard mileage, but only from select destinations. For example, Boston awards in coach are currently 25% off, and Houston is 50% off. A new list is offered each quarter. Fuel surcharges apply, and one way awards are available.

Flying Blue Promo awards can be the way to visit Israel with the fewest miles.
Flying Blue Promo awards can be the way to visit Israel with the fewest miles.

JAL
Japan Airlines (a OneWorld partner) has a distance based chart with cutoffs at 12,000 and 14,000 miles round-trip. So flights to Israel from New York, Philadelphia, and other parts of the Northeast can be had for 50/65/80/115, while much of the Midwest and Northwest fall into the next category of flights between 12,000 -14,000 miles, which cost  55/70/85/135.  Flights from most southwestern states are above 14,000 miles round trip, so the prices are 60/80/100/155. One-way awards are permitted, but fuel surcharges are generally imposed.

LAN
This OneWorld partner is interesting because it uses a distance based chart in the form of LANPass kilometers. Furthermore, Starwood points transfer at a rate of 1:1.5, so those who need to fly less than 10,000 kilometers to Israel have slightly lower prices than those who need to travel over 10,000 km. One way awards are available, and there are fuel surcharges.

Korean
This SkyTeam carrier has a partner award chart of 80/120/160. Even though Korean does offer its own service to Tel Aviv from Seoul, it’s not priced competitively for connecting flights from North America to Israel.

Miles and More
Miles and More is the frequent flier program for Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, LOT Polish, and several other smaller carriers in the Star Alliance.  The prices on its award chart for travel between North America and Israel are 80/135/210. Interestingly, Israel is considered part of Europe in their award chart, but only for Israeli citizens and residents, and only for flights originating in Israel. Fuel surcharges apply, and one way flights are available.

Singapore
This Star Alliance carrier has a partner award chart  that prices flights to Israel at 75/115/150, offers one way flights, and adds fuel surcharges.

US Airways
US Airways has a daily non-stop to Tel Aviv from Philadelphia, although most observers believe that flight is likely to move to JFK or Miami as the carrier is absorbed by American Airlines. For the moment, you can book partner award flights on OneWorld carriers, as well as some Star Alliance partners including Turkish Airlines, which offers service to Tel Aviv. Awards are priced at 80/120/180. One way awards are not permitted, and there are no fuel surcharges except on flights operated by British Airways.

Virgin Atlantic
Delta awards can be booked at the rate of  80/120.

Other carriers and SPG Flights
There are other Starwood transfer partners, but they either don’t serve Israel, or their partner award charts are not at all competitive. Starwood also offers a fare-based redemption program called SPG Flights, which allows you to redeem Starpoints directly for airfare on most major carriers. While the redemption rate is generally poor, you can find good value when the cash price of travel happens to be low, since SPG Flights might offer a better rate than other airline award charts. Tickets purchased through SPG Flights avoid fuel surcharges and earn miles, so consider those factors when determining whether the price is right.

The old town of Jaffa (image courtesy of Shutterstock).

Conclusions 

As promised, Israel is not a simple destination to get to with miles. The best transfer partner for flights to Israel all depends on the class of service you want to travel, and whether or not you’re willing to pay fuel surcharges to reduce the number of miles required.

Economy
To travel to Israel in coach with the fewest Starpoints, you need to be lucky enough to find a a promo award with the Flying Blue program. In fact, you can currently fly from Houston for 25,000 miles round trip, albeit with fuel surcharges. That’s a mere 20,000 Starpoints when you factor in the 5,000 point bonus for transferring 20,000 points at once.

The next best awards are the standard 50,000 mile round-trip awards with SkyTeam partners Flying Blue and Alitalia. JAL can match that, but only from parts of the northeast that are within 6,000 miles of Tel Aviv. In the Star Alliance, ANA is best with coach awards for 60-65,000 miles depending on distance.

If avoiding fuel surcharges is the top priority, choose US Airways awards at 80k or American at 90k, so long as you avoid BA. Delta awards are 85k, whether you book them through Alaska or the SkyMiles program.

Premium economy
Premium economy awards are now offered by some OneWorld carriers, starting at 65,000 -80,000 miles on JAL. This could make sense if there isn’t availability in business class, or you just can scrounge up the 15-20,000 extra miles for a business class award.

Business class
Business class is certainly in a sweet spot in terms of price and comfort for a trip this long. Of course, if you can find a Flying Blue Promo award for 50,000 miles, that will be your best deal. After that, JAL’s OneWorld awards from the Northeast are only 80k, and even the Midwest are only 85k, which are also great deals except for the fuel surcharges. ANA’s 90k Star Alliance awards from the East Coast are also competitive, but they do have fuel surcharges.

Travelers on the West Coast can’t do better than the 100k Alitalia business class award, which is actually only 80k if you can book it before the end of June! Flying Blue standard awards are also 100k due to Israel being considered part of Europe. To avoid fuel surcharges, you must move up to a 120k US Airways award or a 135k American Award.

First Class
El Al is the only Airline that offers first class service to Israel from the United States, but this award is not available from American. The next best option might be a BA award using a “Travel Together” certificate earned by spending $30,000 on the Chase British Airways Visa. Both passengers will still pay taxes, fees, and  fuel surcharges, but the points used can be as few as 170,000 round-trip for two. Furthermore, BA now has a strong business class product between London and Tel Aviv, while other European carriers serve Tel Aviv with a business class that is just coach with an empty middle seat. Otherwise, you could go with a JAL award using BA or American flights that have a first class cabin, which prices at 115k from the Northeast. Finally, a Singapore award is 150k, which you can use on Lufthansa’s first class, or Singapore’s first class flight between JFK and Frankfurt.

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