Vaccinated? Here’s how to get to Israel using points and miles
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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 Israel’s borders have been closed to most travelers for over a year now, it’s preparing to welcome back tourists who have been fully vaccinated from COVID-19 this summer. Between new normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates and recent route additions by American Airlines, Delta and United, the tiny nation will be easier to reach than ever.
International flights arrive and depart from Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv (TLV). 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 review the best ways to fly to Israel using points and miles.
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Airlines that fly to Israel
As mentioned above, thanks to new diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and recent route additions by the major U.S. airlines, getting to Israel is as easy as any other Middle Eastern destination. Previously, your options were mostly limited to a handful of nonstop flights or a stopover in Europe.
- Aegean flies from Athens (ATH) to Tel Aviv
- Air Canada flies from Toronto (YYZ) to Tel Aviv
- Air Canada flies from Montreal (YUL) to Tel Aviv seasonally
- Air India flies from New Delhi (DEL) to Tel Aviv
- Austrian flies from Vienna (VIE) to Tel Aviv
- Brussels Airlines flies from Brussels (BRU) 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), Chicago (ORD), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington D.C. (IAD) to Tel Aviv
- American Airlines flies from New York-JFK to Tel Aviv
- American Airlines flies from Miami (MIA) to Tel Aviv
- American Airlines will begin flying from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to Tel Aviv later in 2021
- 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
- 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 any major alliance, though there are ways to book these flights with miles. In addition to several other international destinations, El Al currently flies to the following cities from Tel Aviv:
- New York-JFK
- Newark (EWR)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- Miami (MIA)
- Chicago (ORD) starting later in 2021
Hopefully, it resumes service to cities like San Francisco (SFO) and Las Vegas (LAS) after the pandemic.
El Al is in the process of a much-needed fleet update, which includes taking delivery of modern 787 aircraft and retrofitting its aging 777s with new seats. If you end up redeeming miles for these flights, do your best to book the newer aircraft to avoid being disappointed.
Etihad isn’t a part of a major alliance either but booking with miles is easy thanks to partnerships with airlines like American Airlines and Air Canada. Etihad also has several transfer partnerships that make it easy to earn miles. While it flies A321s with recliner seats on its Abu Dhabi (AUH) to Tel Aviv flights, it offers some of the best business and first-class seats in the world for the long-haul segments to and from the U.S. The airline’s four U.S. destinations are Chicago, Los Angeles, New York-JFK and Washington Dulles.
Another option for those looking to fly in style is Emirates. The Dubai-based carrier operates a mix of A380s and 777s on its routes to the U.S. You’ll then need to connect flydubai — Emirates’ low-cost counterpart — for the almost four-hour onward flight to Tel Aviv.
Emirates normally flies to 12 U.S. airports, including Boston, Chicago, Dallas (DFW), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles, New York-JFK, San Francisco and Washington Dulles. The A380s feature onboard showers and bars, while a handful of 777-300ERs have fully enclosed first-class suites.
Star Alliance awards to Israel
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 (Air Canada flights)||Amex, Capital One, Marriott||
|Aeroplan (partner-operated flights)||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). 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 U.S. 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, U.S.-based travelers would obviously prefer a nonstop flight if at all possible, and United offers multiple gateways for reaching Israel. The carrier even flies Polaris-equipped planes on some of these routes, 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.
That said, thanks to Aeroplan’s new distance-based award charts, it could be a cheaper alternative for East Coast travelers looking to book partner-operated flights. As an added benefit, the program has eliminated fuel surcharges. In the past, you could have paid hundreds of dollars in fees for a premium cabin ticket from the U.S. to Israel, eating away at the value of your “free” award. You’ll now pay a CA$39 ($29) per-person partner booking fee.
How to earn miles for a Star Alliance award
The best way to earn the above currencies would be to open cards that earn Amex, Capital One or Chase points, as these will transfer to many of the carriers’ respective frequent flyer programs. A couple of great options include:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: New cardholders can enjoy a welcome bonus of 100,000 Membership Rewards points after using your new card to make $6,000 in purchases in your first six months of account opening. However, you could be targeted for a 125,000-point bonus through the CardMatch Tool (offer subject to change at any time).
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: New cardholders can earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: New cardholders can earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Oneworld awards to Israel
After years of not offering nonstop service to Israel, American now offers flights to Tel Aviv from three U.S. gateways. These flights can be booked through the AAdvantage program from 40,000 American miles in economy, 62,500 in premium economy or 70,000 in business. That said, finding saver-level business class award space on the nonstop routes is extremely difficult.
Alternatively, you could connect through Europe on a partner airline or book Royal Jordanian through Amman. You’ll want to target flights operated by Iberia, as it has lower taxes than British Airways. Royal Jordanian is also a good choice, since it offers a more straightforward 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 and the American app.
Unfortunately, the program only partners with Marriott Bonvoy when it comes to transferable rewards.
While you could use your transferable rewards to book through British Airways, 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 class 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.
How to earn miles for a Oneworld award
You can earn AAdvantage miles on American and Oneworld flights. But for a quick account boost, you can 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 bonus miles after spending $2,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, while opening the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® can snag you a bonus of 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening.
The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
SkyTeam awards to Israel
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 worse.
We’re currently seeing plenty of award space on Delta’s nonstop flight from New York-JFK to Tel Aviv from only 37,000 miles each way in economy. That said, in normal times, you could expect to pay 4x that amount for this flight, so it’s often cheaper to book a connecting flight.
If you want a seat in Delta One on the nonstop flight out of JFK, you’ll need to save up for a while. These are the typical one-way award rates on this route:
Meanwhile, partner business class flights can be booked from just 85,000 miles each way. Keep in mind that Delta recently added unofficial close-in mileage surcharges for close-in bookings.
When Delta pricing gets this absurd, you should always take a look at Virgin Atlantic. Despite the recent devaluation, the carrier’s Flying Club program can still be a good 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.
How to earn miles for a SkyTeam award
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.
El Al awards to Israel
El Al is no longer a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, but that’s not a problem because its Matmid loyalty program is a poor value anyway. While El Al isn’t a member of the Oneworld alliance, it partners 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 37,800 Qantas miles in economy or 90,800 in business class. Once El Al launches its ~6,100-mile route to Chicago, you’ll be able to book it for 45,000 Qantas points in economy or 104,500 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.
How to earn miles for an El Al award
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 American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Miles or Citi ThankYou Points to Qantas.
Etihad awards to Israel
As mentioned above, Etihad isn’t a part of a major alliance, but it’s still easy to book with points and miles. Awards through the Etihad Guest program price out differently depending on city pairs and award buckets can easily cost over 200,000 miles round-trip in coach.
A much more attractive option would be to book Etihad awards through American Airlines AAdvantage. Plus, Etihad flights can be booked online via AA’s site. The program will charge you the following round-trip:
- Economy: 80,000 miles
- Business: 140,000 miles
- First: 230,000 miles
Meanwhile, here are the rates if you were to book through Air Canada Aeroplan:
- Economy: 80,000-100,000 miles
- Business: 140,000-170,000 miles
- First: 200,000-240,000 miles
How to earn miles for an Etihad award
Etihad partners with American Airlines and Air Canada. American is a Marriott Bonvoy transfer partner. You can transfer Air Canada miles from Amex Membership Rewards, Capital One and Marriott. Etihad’s own Etihad Guest mileage program is also a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Capital One and Marriott.
Emirates awards to Israel
Since the Emirates itineraries include flights operated by flydubai, the only way to book these awards is through the Emirates Skywards program.
Unfortunately, Emirates currently doesn’t let you book Emirates itineraries that connect to flydubai in a single award ticket — this is only possible for paid tickets. So, you’ll need to book your long-haul segments on Emirates’ website and then log in to your Skywards account via flydubai’s website to book the other segments. That said, you may be able to check your bag through to your final destination.
Redemption rates will vary based on your origin. But to give you an idea, here are some sample round-trip rates between the U.S. and Dubai:
- Economy: 125,000+ miles
- Business: 200,000+ miles
- First: 272,500+ miles
These tickets do incur fuel surcharges, but they were recently massively reduced.
You’ll pay the following rates for the round-trip awards between Dubai and Tel Aviv:
- Economy: 60,000+ miles
- Business: 105,000+ miles
How to earn miles for an Emirates award
As you can see, these awards aren’t cheap and are a bit more complicated to book. Instead, you might be better off booking these flights through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. You’ll be able to book all your flights on a single ticket and potentially even save some points. As a quick refresher, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card cardholders can redeem points at a fixed 1.25- to 1.5-cent value. Plus, you’ll earn frequent flyer miles and elite-qualifying credit.
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. The number of nonstop options to get there is growing as well. 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.
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Ethan Steinberg contributed to this story.
Featured photo by Nick Brundle Photography/Getty Images.
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