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

Dec. 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.

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.

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.

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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 image 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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Cons

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  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
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  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
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  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
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Apply for The Platinum Card® from American Express
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best luxury travel rewards card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 80,000 Points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • 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

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees