Using Your Miles to Get to Israel: Part I
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Israel is an incredibly popular destination for award travelers from all over the world. It’s the number one destination request of my award booking service. Focusing on travel from the U.S., there are a limited number of direct flights from the U.S. to Israel. This post will be broken up into two parts. The first will focus on Star Alliance and Sky Team award availability to Israel. The second will focus on OneWorld and El-Al.
There are five direct flights from the New York airports to Tel-Aviv:
(Delta will be adding another frequency out of JFK this summer.)
Other nonstop frequencies:
- El-Al flies from Los Angeles, Boston and Toronto;
- United will soon begin service from San Francisco;
- Air Canada flies from Toronto
Unfortunately, a few weeks ago, American airlines discontinued their Philadelphia to Tel-Aviv service.
Miles Chart from U.S. to Israel
Let’s be optimistic and first look at some prices in miles. Please note: I am only going to look at the airline programs you’re likely to redeem on. Not all the programs that can be used. All prices are one-way, originating in NYC and terminating in TLV:
|Air France, KLM/SkyTeam||25,000||62,500||Fuel Surcharges both directions;|
|United/Star Alliance||42,500||70,000/80,000||Will pay more miles when flying on Alliance partners|
|British Airways/OneWorld||30,000 (from JFK on Air Berlin)||70,000||All flights on British Airways metal will levy significant fuel surcharges|
|Singapore/Star Alliance||37,500||57,500||All flights via Europe will have significant fuel surcharges except direct flights on United.|
|American Airlines/OneWorld||40,000 – 45,000 (off-peak vs. peak via Europe)||67,500||Minimal availability; availability on British Airways = high fuel surcharges|
|El-Al/Non-Alliance||See link below||See link below||See link below|
For a full Israel pricing chart check out DansDeals ultimate chart to Israel—bookmark this resource!
I mentioned ‘cons’ in the above chart because when examining availability trends we’ll see why some mileage programs are better uses than others.
Award Availability Trends
You can have all the miles in the world, but with so few seats, award availability on these direct flights is tight. And if you want to go business, there are even less seats.
Before getting into the specifics of each alliance/airline program these guidelines will help you in finding space:
- Be flexible. With Israel award flights this cannot be stressed enough.
- Book early, early; or right before the flight. You can get decent availability booking really far out, or really close-in; like two-days before, close-in.
- Search tips. Start-off looking one-way, one passenger at a time. Be willing to split up if going as a large group.
Best: Using United miles on direct or Star Alliance partner flights via Europe.
For one passenger from Newark-Tel Aviv, over the next 14 days, I found 5 saver seats. Anything not 42,500 miles is not saver and you will pay a premium in miles to book it. This is not recommended, unless you have no other choice but to be at your destination.
Close-in, via Star Alliance partners in Europe:
Now let’s take a look at close-in space over the next two weeks on Star Alliance partners that are based in Europe:
Nearly every day over the next two weeks had space for at least two passengers in either coach, business AND first class. So you see that coach via Star Alliance partners is the same price as United direct, but connecting flights via Europe in business are 10K more points. Still, a solid deal each way.
11 months out (United and Star Alliance):
The whole month of December (until December 28, 2016) has coach space via Europe. Why are there no direct flights so far out? Well that’ll be Christmas (of particular importance for the European alliance members) and winter break for a lot of travelers. United knows this. They also tend to release last minute space in coach and business on their direct flights, as we’ve seen.
Decent: Using Air France miles on Sky Team partners via Europe or Russia.
You noticed on the chart that redeeming Air France miles (a transfer partner of SPG, Citi ThankYou, and AMEX Membership Rewards) offers the cheapest coach award flights, at 25,000 one way and 50,000 roundtrip! (Air France considers Israel to be part of Europe!) So why didn’t this rank higher? Well, scoring direct flights from JFK to Tel Aviv on Delta is nearly impossible at saver levels. So those will very rarely show up on Air France search engine. Availability on Air France via Paris, Alitalia via Rome and Aeroflot via Moscow is solid. Air France also passes on fuel surcharges, so be aware.
Here’s close in in coach and business for two:
There’s a lot less availability in business, close-in, but there’s decent availability in coach for two. Notice the fuel surcharges. Also, the reason why many award travelers do not like to book business via Paris is that not all JFK-Paris routes have upgraded lie-flat business class space.
Here’s Sky Team availability in November 2016 for two in coach:
Wow! There’s coach for two everyday. And fuel surcharges are decently low. Why’s that? The first leg of these flights is on Delta, but that doesn’t mean they’re direct. You’ll connect in Amsterdam, Paris or Rome.
Here’s business for two, in November 2016 on Sky Team:
The same principle applies to the low fuel surcharges on above (long-portion of the flight on Delta, short on a partner). Still not bad. Perhaps even better than United/Star Alliance.
So which miles should you use?
It always starts with what balances you currently have. If you’re flush with AMEX Membership Rewards and Citi Thank You Points, you may be better of transferring to Air France for Sky Team availability (their fuel surcharges are less than Singapore/Star Alliance). If you have a lot of Chase Ultimate Rewards, United and the Star Alliance availability will be your friend. Plus, the biggest factor is that United does not pass on fuel surcharges. This keeps costs down significantly.
And if you want to book for a random time of the year, being flexible with dates, routing and class of service helps a lot when going to Israel.
That may not sound aspirational and points blogger-y of me, but it’s realistic.
Using your Miles to Get to Israel: Part II will focus on OneWorld award availability, using (or not) your miles on El-Al and the Wild Card Option.