Many people are enrolled in one or more frequent flyer programs. Most common plans are to get an airline credit card, the first year no fee, get the 30-40K free miles and then “churn” this card to a different carrier each year, so that you don’t end up paying more than your reward. Others prefer to use hotel chain cards. One advantage of the frequent flyer is that you can change your route on the return. So if there is a low cost flight from Prague, but a later flight leaving from Tel Aviv to Brussels on the day you want to leave, you can get more time in Israel.
For those looking to travel to Israel over the Thanksgiving holiday–about 11 days–you need a minimum of 85,000 miles. This would involve a stopover flight in Amsterdam, with taxes for the trip averaging about $131-150. By adding 5,000 miles, you can get business class. Direct non-stop would involve 150,000 frequent flier miles and a lower tax.
Another option is to spend 60,000 miles and get as far as Prague, which has three to four low- cost airlines flying to Tel Aviv, all direct flights, and costing about $140 RT for the base ticket. You can add about $20 for one piece of luggage and $10 for a reserved seat. This option is probably good for people who have difficulty flying (don’t we all?) and can spend some time on the ground.
There is much to see in Prague for the Jewish traveler, and there are many good three and four-star hotels at low rates, starting at $35/night. Other cities within three to four hours of flying time to Israel are Budapest, Brussels, and Milan. Brussels has a low-cost carrier, JetAirFly, which recently moved the Israel flights to the main Brussels airport. The price for the direct flight starts at $150 each way.
Of course, there is also Istanbul, but many people have concerns about traveling there at this time. A travel agent I spoke to recently who specializes in Israel travel said that they have sold only two tickets in recent months to Israel via Turkey. Others who had tickets, canceled them. The two travelers did report that all went well. With any airline nowadays, but low cost ones especially, be aware that they do cancel flights for any number of reasons. By flying via Prague, you have good options for a new ticket.
Recently, Easyjet expanded into the Europe-to-Israel market, using their London hub as a main base. But they also have direct flights from other cities like Milan and Rome. Some are direct flights, others go through London. Prices start at $55 each way. Recent media reports that Ryan Air, another major low-cost European carrier, is looking to make Tel Aviv one of its hubs.
Be aware that low-cost carrier flights are frequently canceled. While the fare is refundable, it can reduce your time in Israel. By choosing a city like Prague, you have alternatives in case of a cancellation. Wizz Air, Smart Wings, and El Al vie for this market. Prices start at $70 each way. With these new age low-cost no-frills carriers, you do need to pay for luggage, seat reservation, food, and whatever else they can think of, but, oftentimes, one can shed some luggage and can return with just a carry-on.
Once your trip is over and your miles balance is at the zero level, the work begins again on how to accumulate more miles. We will cover some of the best methods for this, in a future article.
After beating the world record for travel planning to Israel, I offer the benefit of my travel experience, and hope to learn of new travel opportunities. Please forward any travel questions to: [email protected]
By Phil Kestenbaum