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Update: I had to cancel my trip to Israel, but I got all my points back

December 11 2021
7 min read
Western Wall, Jerusalem
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Editor's Note

This post has been updated with details of the author getting his points refunded.

Editor's note: This post has been updated with details of the author getting his points refunded.

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?

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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.

Shortly before I was supposed to go to Israel, the Israeli government shut the borders to all International visitors.

Here’s how I booked it, cancelled it and details on how I got my points back.

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Transferring Amex points to Flying Blue

Tel Aviv Beach Promenade. (Photo by Dana Friedlander/Visit Tel Aviv)

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.

Related: 7 things you must do during your first trip to Tel Aviv

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.

(Screenshot courtesy of American Express)

Surprisingly to me, the transfer happened pretty much instantaneously, with the points showing up as miles in my Flying Blue account right away.

Related: Some of the best ways to use American Express Membership Rewards

Booking via Flying Blue

(Screenshot courtesy of 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.

(Screenshot courtesy of Flying Blue)

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.

(Screenshot courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

Then I began to have second thoughts.

Related: Complete country-by-country guide to reopenings

Israel is now closed to most Americans

Old Jaffa and a distant view of modern Tel Aviv buildings. (Photo by kolderal/Getty Images)

Israel was closed to most Americans for much of the pandemic. It did slowly begin opening back up to allow a few tourists. In fact, as my trip approached in early November, Israel threw open the doors to American visitors.

But then came the omicron variant. As of Nov. 28, Israel restricted tourists from all countries due to how quickly the variant was spreading.

Even before that, though, I was rethinking my trip. Israel added further restrictions because of the delta variant of COVID-19.

Israel began requiring 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 was 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.

Related: Israel to lift tourist ban on Dec. 22

Even once it reopens to tourists again on Dec. 22, to enter Israel, you must either have gotten your vaccination in the past six months or have had a booster shot. So, I would have needed a booster if I wanted to go since I was vaccinated back in March.

Related: Book this, not that: SkyTeam award tickets

With all the uncertainty, I decided to cancel the trip. And it's a good thing I did too as the country shut the borders in late November.

What happened to my miles?

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 was fairly straightforward to get a refund of my Flying Blue miles.

Fortunately for me, the program relaxed its refund rules for flights booked for travel on Dec. 31 or earlier. A simple phone call to Flying Blue is all it took to instantly refund my miles penalty-free. I was dreading the call, but it literally took less than five minutes (Shout out to the call center in Chile). I also got a refund for the taxes I paid.

My biggest challenge now is 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. So far, I've had a lot of trouble trying to duplicate the trip.

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 Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
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  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points
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  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees