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