Amex is dropping El Al, here’s why you shouldn’t care

Oct 6, 2020

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As first reported by Travel with Grant, American Express made a few changes to its credit card terms. The most notable change is that the bank is removing El Al as a Membership Rewards transfer partner. This change is effective on Dec. 31, 2020, when American Express and El Al’s partnership seemingly ends.

While this may look like a huge loss for cardmembers on paper, it’s actually not a huge deal. Why? Simply put, we never recommend transferring points to El Al. This is largely because there are far better ways to redeem Membership Rewards on the Israeli carrier.

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How to redeem Membership Rewards for El Al flights

An El Al Boeing 787-9 landing at New York JFK in 2019 (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)
El Al may be leaving Membership Rewards, but it’s not a big deal. (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)

For some background, El Al is the flag carrier of Israel. The airline flies from Tel Aviv (TLV) to major cities around the world, including Boston (BOS), Miami (MIA) and New York-JFK here in the U.S. The airline has offered a notoriously bad passenger experience, but that’s changing as the airline modernizes its fleet with new aircraft like the Boeing 787.

More airlines are starting service from the U.S. to Israel, but El Al presents a convenient option for many flyers. Unfortunately, its in-house loyalty program is nothing short of awful. A round-trip business class ticket from New York-JFK to Tel Aviv costs 6,000 points and roughly $300 in taxes and fees. Points transfer from Membership Rewards at a poor 1,000:20 ratio, meaning that it takes a huge 300,000 points to book this flight.

Booking El Al awards with Qantas Frequent Flyer

Thankfully, the Israeli carrier has a non-alliance partnership with Qantas, the largest airline in Australia. You can transfer Membership Rewards points to Qantas Frequent Flyer at a 1:1 ratio. Likewise, you can transfer Capital One miles and Citi ThankYou points to Qantas Frequent Flyer at a 2:1.5 and 1:1 transfer ratio, respectively.

Qantas Frequent Flyer has a distance-based award chart, so longer flights cost more miles. According to this chart, the 5,677-mile one-way flight from New York-JFK to Tel Aviv costs 37,800 miles in economy and 90,000 in business class. This is far less expensive than booking with El Al’s loyalty program. Better yet, you can find and book El Al award tickets on the Qantas website.

Qantas Partner Award Chart
(Image courtesy of Qantas)

That said, nonstop award space from the U.S. to Israel on El Al is tough to come by. You can search for El Al award space with ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures), so we recommend setting an award alert. Just give ExpertFlyer the date and class of service you’d like to fly, and you’ll get an email when an award seat opens up. This way, you won’t have to run endless searches on the Qantas website.

Related: How to boost your chances of getting a better seat by 91% or more

Other ways to fly to Israel

United Airlines Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner aircraft as seen on final approach landing at Amsterdam Schiphol AMS EHAM Airport in the Netherlands, on July 2, 2020, arriving from Newark EWR New York, NY, USA. The advanced wide body, modern and advanced airplane has the new livery paint scheme and the registration N12010 and 2x GE jet engines. United UA UAL is the third largest airline in the world and a member of Star Alliance aviation alliance. United is connecting US with Europe and the Netherlands with Cargo and passenger flight during the Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic period. (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
You can fly United to Tel Aviv from three U.S. cities. (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

As discussed, more and more airlines are flying from the U.S. to Israel. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines both fly various routes to Tel Aviv. On the United side, you can fly to Tel Aviv from Newark (EWR) and San Francisco (SFO). The airline is also set to launch flights from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Tel Aviv next year.

The best way to book United flights to Israel is by using ANA Mileage Club. A round-trip flight from the U.S. to Israel costs 104,000 miles and $49.81 roundtrip in business class. You can transfer Membership Rewards to ANA at a 1:1 ratio. Unfortunately, you can’t book one-way tickets with ANA. Instead, book these with other Membership Rewards transfer partners like Air Canada Aeroplan and Avianca LifeMiles.

ORD TLV Round Trip Pricing ANA Mileage Club
(Image courtesy of ANA)

On the Delta side, the carrier flies to Tel Aviv from its hub at New York-JFK. You’ll want to check prices with Air France/KLM Flying Blue and Delta SkyMiles. Both programs employ dynamic pricing, so prices vary by day and route. You can expect to pay between 60,000 and 90,000 Flying Blue points for a one-way ticket in business class, but this isn’t guaranteed. Membership Rewards transfer to both programs at a 1:1 transfer ratio.

Related: How to get to Israel using points and miles

Bottom line

While it’s never great to see your credit card lose a transfer partner, El Al isn’t one to mourn. You can always get a better deal by transferring your Membership Rewards points to Qantas Frequent Flyer to book El Al award tickets. Likewise, there are plenty of airlines that fly to Israel from the U.S. once travel resumes. Make sure to assess all of your options before you book a post-coronavirus trip to the country.

Feature photo by Lerner Vadim/Shutterstock

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Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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