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Israel packs a mighty punch into a country barely bigger than New Jersey. Its geographic and religious significance is well known, but many people would be surprised to learn that Israel also features an incredibly diverse climate, from the southern Negev deserts to the snow-capped mountains up north in the Golan Heights.
While most of the Middle East is very easy to reach thanks to the success of Gulf carriers like Emirates, Etihad and Qatar, geopolitical constraints don’t afford travelers to Israel as many options. International flights arrive and depart from Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv (TLV), and if you’ve never been to Israel before, don’t be surprised if your fellow passengers erupt in applause and song as they touch down in the Holy Land. You might even witness a few travelers stopping to kiss the ground as they exit the plane.
Today, we’ll take a look at the best ways to fly to Israel using points and miles.
Airlines That Fly to Israel
As mentioned above, many airlines that are obvious choices for most Middle East trips aren’t viable options if you’re going to Israel. For the most part, you’ll need to pick between three options: a nonstop flight on a US carrier, a nonstop flight on El Al or a stopover in Europe.
- Air Canada flies from Toronto (YYZ) to Tel Aviv
- Austrian flies from Vienna (VIE) to Tel Aviv
- Ethiopian Airlines flies from Addis Ababa (ADD) to Tel Aviv
- LOT Polish flies from Warsaw (WAW) to Tel Aviv
- Lufthansa flies from both Frankfurt (FRA) and Munich (MUC) to Tel Aviv
- Swiss flies from Zurich (ZRH) to Tel Aviv
- TAP Portugal flies from Lisbon (LIS) to Tel Aviv
- Turkish flies from Istanbul (IST) to Tel Aviv
- United flies from Newark (EWR) and San Francisco (SFO) to Tel Aviv
- British Airways flies from London-Heathrow (LHR) to Tel Aviv
- Finnair flies from Helsinki (HEL) to Tel Aviv
- Iberia flies from Madrid (MAD) to Tel Aviv
- Royal Jordanian flies from Amman (AMM) to Tel Aviv
- Aeroflot flies from Moscow (SVO) to Tel Aviv
- Air France flies from Paris (CDG) to Tel Aviv
- Alitalia files from Rome (FCO) to Tel Aviv
- Delta flies from New York-JFK to Tel Aviv
- KLM flies from Amsterdam (AMS) to Tel Aviv
Israeli flag carrier El Al is not a member of one of the major alliances, though there are ways to book these flights with miles. In addition to a number of other international destinations from Tel Aviv, El Al flies to New York-JFK, Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington-Dulles (IAD). Additionally, it will be launching non-stop flights to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) in 2020.
El Al is in the process of a much-needed fleet update, which includes taking delivery of modern 787 aircraft to replace its aging 747s and 777s. If you end up redeeming miles for these flights, do your best to book the newer aircraft to avoid being disappointed.
Best Redemption Choices
Given the number of one-stop options to get to Israel, it’s easier to focus on one alliance at a time and talk about which program in each alliance offers the best value.
Not only are there a solid five different Star Alliance loyalty programs for you to pick between, but they all partner with two or more transferable points currencies (Singapore even partners with all five). No matter what cards you have in your wallet, you should be able to find an option that works for you.
||Round-trip Award Cost|
|ANA Mileage Club||Amex, Marriott||
|Avianca LifeMiles||Amex, Capital One, Citi, Marriott||
|Aeroplan||Amex, Capital One, Marriott||
|United MileagePlus||Chase, Marriott||
|Singapore KrisFlyer||Chase, Amex, Citi, Capital One, Marriott||
ANA jumps out as an obvious choice with the lowest mileage rates in every cabin. While this is often the case, there are two important caveats about booking with ANA you should know. The first is that for Star Alliance partner flights, you can only book round-trip awards. If you’re traveling to Israel for vacation, you likely want to book a round-trip anyways, but the problem here comes if you can only find award space in one direction. Other programs give you the flexibility to mix and match one-way awards, where ANA doesn’t.
The other caveat is that ANA, like many of the programs on this list, passes on fuel surcharges for partner awards. We’ll look at some concrete numbers in a minute (the fuel surcharges should be almost identical whether you’re booking through ANA or Aeroplan), but this can really eat away at the value of your “free” award.
Avianca LifeMiles has recently climbed from relative obscurity to become a popular redemption option for many travelers. Not only does it partner with every transferable points program except for Chase, but Avianca frequently sells miles at attractive prices, making it very easy to top up your account.
Avianca also has a huge edge here in that it doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges, meaning you can book a Lufthansa first class award for less than $100 out of pocket (though this generally won’t be an option until a couple of weeks before departure). In addition, you’ll also get a break from mixed-cabin LifeMiles award tickets, as it’ll “discount” any connecting flights in a lower class of service.
For example, the program’s award chart suggests that a first class flight from the US to Israel should cost 105,000 miles each way. However, since there isn’t a first class cabin on the Frankfurt (FRA) to Tel Aviv (TLV) leg, Avianca will only charge you business class award rates for that portion of the flight.
Of course, US-based travelers would obviously prefer a nonstop flight if at all possible, and United offers two gateways for reaching Israel. The carrier even flies a Polaris-equipped 777-300ER on one of its daily nonstops from Newark (EWR) to Tel Aviv (TLV), though award space is nearly impossible to come by on this route. If you can find it, Avianca will only charge 78,000 miles each way.
Remember when I said we’d come back to painfully-expensive fuel surcharges? Well it’s time, so buckle up. The exact same Lufthansa first class itinerary we looked at with Avianca would cost you $817 in taxes if booked through Aeroplan, and it’ll also set you back more miles. You can check out a full guide to Aeroplan partner fuel surhcarges here, but remember: Avianca has all the same transfer partners as Aeroplan (and more), so you’ll often come out ahead choosing Avianca to save on taxes.
The best way to earn the above currencies would be to open cards that earn Amex or Chase points, as these will transfer to many of the carriers’ respective frequent flyer programs. A couple great options include:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: New cardholders can enjoy a welcome bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first three months, though you could be targeted for a 100,000-point bonus through the CardMatch Tool.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: New cardholders can enjoy a welcome bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
The most important thing about the list of Oneworld airlines that fly to Israel is who’s not on the list. American Airlines is the only one of the legacy US carriers that doesn’t offer nonstop service to Israel, meaning you’ll be connecting through Europe on a partner airline (or booking Royal Jordanian through Amman).
Of the available choices (British Airways, Finnair, Iberia and Royal Jordanian), British Airways is by far the biggest carrier with the most comprehensive US route network. Nevertheless, this is the airline you should work the hardest to avoid to get to Israel, as taxes and fees on award tickets to/through London (LHR) can add up quickly. A one-way business lass award from New York-JFK to Tel Aviv carries over $600 in surcharges.
In addition, you won’t want to book a connecting flight with British Airways thanks to its distance-based award chart, as it’ll charge you individually for each flight segment.
Your best bet is to book through American AAdvantage and target flights on Iberia (which have lower taxes than BA) or Royal Jordanian (which offers an incredibly direct routing). The latter of these two flies 787s from both Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) and New York-JFK to Amman (AMM), and the connecting flight to Tel Aviv barely takes 45 minutes. One-way awards cost 40,000 miles in economy or 70,000 in business, and both Iberia and Royal Jordanian awards should appear on AA.com as well as the American app.
You can earn AAdvantage miles on American and Oneworld flights, but for a quicker account boost, you can also take advantage of current offers on a couple of the carrier’s cobranded credit cards. New cardholders of the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard can earn a sign-up bonus of 50,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $2,500 within the first 3 months of account opening, while opening the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard can snag you a bonus of 60,000 miles after you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months of account opening.
Unfortunately the program only partners with Marriott Bonvoy when it comes to transferable rewards.
Since the two major SkyTeam loyalty programs — Delta SkyMiles and Air France/KLM Flying Blue — both use variable award pricing, it’s tough to discuss them in general terms. The price you see on any given day is the price you get, for better or for worse. Delta has plenty of connecting award space from New York to Tel Aviv for only 42,500 miles each way in economy, but if you want a seat on Delta’s nonstop flight expect to pay nearly 4x that on many dates.
If you want a seat in Delta One on the nonstop from JFK, you’ll need to save up for a while. These are the typical one-way award rates on this route:
When Delta pricing gets this absurd, you should always take a look at Virgin Atlantic. The carrier’s Flying Club program can be a terrific option for Delta-operated flights, as in many cases, you can book these flights for fewer miles than Delta will charge, and Virgin Atlantic itself offers service to Tel Aviv through its London-Heathrow hub. One-way tickets for as little as 19,000 miles in economy look like a downright steal.
Virgin Atlantic is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards, giving you many ways to boost your Flying Club balance from cards like the American Express® Gold Card and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
While El Al is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, its Matmid loyalty program is a poor value and generally not a good transfer option under any circumstances. If you want to fly on one of El Al’s shiny new Dreamliners and enjoy a nonstop flight from the US to Israel, consider transferring Citi ThankYou points from a card like the Citi Premier Card to Qantas. While El Al isn’t a member of the Oneworld alliance, it does partner with the Australia-based carrier, allowing Qantas Frequent Flyer members to earn and redeem points.
Awards are priced using a distance-based chart:
The sweet spot here would be Newark (EWR) to Tel Aviv, which clocks in at about 5,700 flight miles. One way awards cost 42,000 Qantas miles in economy or 78,000 in business class. Once El Al launches its ~6,100 mile route to Chicago, you’ll be able to book it for 50,000 Qantas points in economy or 92,000 in business class. Not a bad deal, especially for a nonstop flight.
Fortunately, you can use ExpertFlyer to search for El Al awards. While inventory isn’t wide open, it’s definitely there if you can be a bit flexible with your dates.
Flying to Israel on points and miles requires a little more creativity than the rest of the Middle East, but there are a large number of one-stop options you can mix and match to get you there. As always, once you’ve selected a routing and located award space, be sure to price compare between different loyalty programs before you transfer any points.
Featured photo by Alexander Spatari / Getty Images.
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