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Tel Aviv is a destination on many travelers’ bucket lists — and for good reason. From UNESCO-recognized cultural attractions to gorgeous beaches, phenomenal cuisine and a vibrant nightlife scene, the city offers something for every type of traveler. Plus, other Israeli cities like Jerusalem and Haifa are pretty easy to get to by car from Tel Aviv.
But how can you get to Tel Aviv (and stay there) without spending a ton of cash? Here’s how to make the most of your next trip, with tips for getting there with miles, staying there with points and other fun things to do when you’re in town. Yalla! (get going!)
Flights from North America to Tel Aviv (TLV) consistently hover around $1,000 round-trip in economy on full service carriers and $4,000-$6,000 in business, so award redemptions are the way to go when booking travel to Israel.
American offers economy, business and first-class awards starting at 40,000, 70,000 and 115,000 miles each way, respectively. However, it doesn’t offer any nonstop flights between the US and Israel, so you’ll need to book connecting flights if you want to use AAdvantage miles, such as British Airways through London (LHR), Iberia through Madrid (MAD) and Royal Jordanian through Amman (AMM). You’ll typically find the most award availability on British Airways from North America to Israel via LHR, but in addition to the miles required, taxes and carrier surcharges on round-trip tickets will cost anywhere between $450 to $1,050 per person.
United operates two flights a day between its Newark (EWR) hub and Tel Aviv — one of which is operated by its Boeing 777-300ER with its “true” Polaris product and tight economy class — and one daily flight from SFO to TLV, which alternates between its Boeing 787 Dreamliner and a Boeing 777-300ER. The carrier will also be adding nonstop flights from Washington-Dulles (IAD) in May 2019. Economy awards start at 42,500 miles one-way, with business at 75,000 miles (or 85,000 miles if you’re redeeming for long-haul partner flights).
Whether operated by United or another Star Alliance member airline, if you find award availability, using ANA Mileage Club miles (a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards) could be a smart alternative since the program charges lower rates than United’s MileagePlus. Round-trip awards cost 65,000 miles in economy and 104,000 miles in business.
Another option is SkyTeam. You can either fly Delta nonstop from New York (JFK) or fly with a partner like Air France or KLM and connect through a city like Paris (CDG) or Amsterdam (AMS). However, since both Delta SkyMiles and Air France/KLM Flying Blue no longer have award charts, redemptions can vary greatly depending on your travel dates and typically require you to shell out the most miles among the three legacy US carriers.
Israel’s flag carrier, El Al, operates the most nonstop flights from North America to Israel and offers a competitive business-class product on its new Dreamliners. However, the only way you can redeem miles for El Al flights is through its Matmid program, and it isn’t known for being all that rewarding. Amex Membership Rewards points can be transferred to Matmid at a sub-par transfer rate of 1,000 Membership Rewards to 20 Matmid points. Redemptions from the US start at 900 Matmid points (45,000 Membership Rewards points) one-way for economy, 1,400 (70,000 Membership Rewards points) for premium economy and a whopping 2,000 (100,000 Membership Rewards points) for business.
Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV) is located about 15 miles from the city center. Although you could use the app to request a metered taxi, you won’t find an Uber in Tel Aviv. That said, the taxi drivers at the airport are under strict supervision, and as long as you request one via the taxi booth outside the terminals, you shouldn’t get ripped off. You’ll have the choice of either a private taxi or a “sherut” which is essentially a shared taxi service carrying up to 10 passengers. Another option is public transportation. The airport offers both bus and rail services, but since the trains stop at the edge of the city, busses are a much more convenient (and cheaper) option.
Once you’ve made it into the city, the best way to explore Tel Aviv is on foot. That said, the city offers high frequency bus routes which can help get you to many different places quickly. Keep in mind that no public transportation operates in Israel from mid-afternoon Friday until Saturday night in observance of Shabbat.
Where to Stay
While the selection of points hotels — more specifically, luxury points hotels — in Tel Aviv is lacking, it’s definitely on the rise and you shouldn’t have trouble finding somewhere to stay. Right now, the most luxurious option is the InterContinental David Tel Aviv. Award nights are available all summer long for 50,000 IHG points. However, the much awaited and chronically delayed W Tel Aviv-Jaffa opens on August 20, 2018 and is expected to overtake that title. It will be a Marriott category 6 hotel under the new Marriott award chart, so standard awards will be available from 50,000 Marriott points per night.
Those looking to be in the heart of the action can stay at the Renaissance Tel Aviv for 35,000 Marriott points per night, the Sheraton Tel Aviv for 50,000 Marriott points (beginning August 18) or the Hilton Tel Aviv for 70,000 Hilton points. The hotels themselves are fairly unexciting, but their locations are unbeatable.
If you’d rather stay at a more modern hotel and have a quieter beach experience, consider staying at the Ritz-Carlton or newly opened Publica Isrotel in Herzliya (a roughly 20-minute drive from Tel Aviv) for 50,000 or 35,000 Marriott points per night, respectively.
Soak up the Culture
Jerusalem isn’t the only Israeli city rich in culture and history — Tel Aviv is too. Specifically, Tel Aviv offers an exuberant art scene which you can embrace sans admission fees. The city’s streets are filled with vibrant graffiti and thought-provoking messages — the art is generally inoffensive and doesn’t involve politics. Although it’s now spread throughout the city, most of the art is concentrated in the Florentine section of south Tel Aviv.
Hit the Beach
While Israel is best known for its historical sites, it’s also a fantastic beach destination. Tel Aviv offers 13 white sand beaches that sprawl out over nearly 10 miles of sand. The most popular stretches are Gordon Beach, Frishman Beach and Hilton Beach, which draws a predominantly gay crowd. You can comfortably swim in the Mediterranean and enjoy the sunshine from April through mid-November, but if you really want to fit in with the locals, be sure to pick up a Matkot set (Israeli beach tennis). Chairs, loungers and umbrellas are available for rent at most beaches for 6 NIS (~$1.60), 12 NIS (~$3.25) and 6 NIS (~$1.60), respectively. The rates are set by the city so you shouldn’t pay more than that.
Eat Your Heart Out
Tel Aviv is basically heaven for foodies. Delicious hummus, shawarma and falafel are readily available (the best is in the Carmel Market), but the city offers much more than the run-of-the-mill Middle Eastern fare. Since Tel Aviv is largely a city of immigrants — all of whom have brought pieces of their own unique cultures, including culinary offerings — you can enjoy phenomenal international cuisine as well.
For an authentic breakfast, head to Saluf & Sons in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market and order shakshuka (skillet eggs poached in tomato sauce) and malawach (a flat bread served with a hard-boiled egg, chopped tomatoes and a spicy cilantro-based sauce called zhoug).
Featured image by liorpt / Getty Images.
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