I spent most of my American Express points on a trip to Israel. Did I make a big mistake?
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Back in February of this year, I found a great opportunity to visit Israel. Thanks to the advice of several colleagues, I was able to book a round-trip ticket in business class on Delta Air Lines using just 144,000 miles from Air France and KLM’s joint Flying Blue loyalty program to fly from New York-JFK to Tel Aviv (TLV).
I had a stash of American Express Membership Rewards points burning a hole in my pocket that I could transfer to Flying Blue, so I figured, why not?
Surely, I thought, by December 2021, the pandemic would be behind us, right? You know that old saying, “We plan, God laughs?” I feel like that’s been the story of my international travel plans for the past several years, and this trip proved to be no exception.
Here’s how I booked it and why my plans are currently up in the air.
For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Transferring Amex points to Flying Blue
This was a pretty big move for me. While I consider myself pretty advanced in the points and miles game, I’d never used my long-open Flying Blue account to actually book an award. It was scary for me to send a huge number of my hard-earned Amex points to a program I’d never used before.
But I was willing to test it out as Delta can charge as much as 415,000 SkyMiles for this route. I considered this a screaming deal. Though not the best redemption ever, it was a pretty fun one, and I could learn something new along the way.
I simply went to my American Express Membership Rewards transfer page and sent 144,000 Membership Rewards points to Flying Blue as a 1:1 transfer.
Surprisingly to me, the transfer happened pretty much instantaneously, with the points showing up as miles in my Flying Blue account right away.
Booking via Flying Blue
I wasn’t, however, able to make the booking online. I kept getting an error message. I finally gave up on booking via the website and called the Flying Blue toll-free number.
It didn’t take long for the friendly agent (based in South America) to find the inventory and ticket the reservation. I had a confirmation number not long after. I ended up spending 72,000 Flying Blue miles each way for the flights — not a bad deal when compared to how much Delta charged for the same ticket.
The same flights booked with Delta SkyMiles would have been 210,000 miles plus $50.42. If I were buying these tickets in cash, the price would have been at least $3,693.
Then I began to have second thoughts.
Israel still closed to most Americans
Israel was closed to most Americans for much of the pandemic. Only now is it slowly beginning to allow a few tourists. But unfortunately for me, Israel is only allowing small-group tours right now.
The U.S. Embassy in Israel reports that foreign nationals who are not Israeli citizens/residents must apply in advance to the Israeli government for a permit to enter Israel. And it’s not just entry requirements that could prevent me from going in December.
According to the Associated Press, Israel is in the middle of adding further restrictions because of the delta variant of COVID-19. Israel now requires booster shots if people want to use its so-called Green Pass, which allows Israelis to go into indoor venues like coffee shops, restaurants, retailers, gyms, concerts and more.
Israel is the first nation in the world to make booster shots a requirement for its digital passport. That is also a new requirement for foreign tourists.
To enter Israel now, you must either have gotten your vaccination in the past six months or have had a booster shot. So, I’ll need a booster if I want to go since I was vaccinated back in March.
That said, there are reports that Israel could further ease restrictions sometime in November, so I will wait until then to cancel the trip.
What happens to my miles if I can’t go on the trip to Israel?
It’s looking increasingly likely that I will not be able to make this trip happen. I really thought by now, things would be easier for foreign travel, but it’s still pretty tough out there in many cases.
The good news is that it should be fairly straightforward to get a refund of my Flying Blue miles. Fortunately, the program relaxed its refund rules for flights booked for travel on Dec. 31 or earlier. A simple phone call to Flying Blue, and they will be able to refund my miles penalty-free. But, I’ll wait until November to cancel to be sure.
If I have to cancel, though, my biggest challenge will be finding a new way to spend 144,000 Flying Blue miles. Unfortunately, I can’t simply transfer those miles back to American Express. In Amex’s own words: “Please note that once your points have been transferred, they cannot be transferred back. Redeemed rewards are not refundable, exchangeable, replaceable or transferable for cash or credit.”
My other option, of course, is to hope that a really good phone agent will be able to just find the same trip inventory for some time in 2022. I still want to visit Israel, so maybe finding another series of dates would be the simplest solution. Either way, I’m sure I’ll be writing a follow-up post on what happens, so stay tuned!
Finally, learn from my (potential) mistake: Only transfer Amex points — or any transferable points, really — when you’re absolutely sure you are going to put them to use soon since you can’t get them back in your credit-card account. And if you think you might end up needing to cancel or change your plans, make sure to transfer your points to a program that will let you do so without charging you massive fees.
Featured photo by Nick Brundle Photography/Getty Images.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees