For years I’ve been wanting to visit Israel and fly EL AL. For many of my trips, the journey is the destination, so I can easily review several airlines with just a day or two on the ground. Israel is different, as it’s a country where I’d like to spend more than a few days on the ground.
I tend to plan last minute, and it’s tough to carve out that much time. So I realize that it’s time that I plan this trip in advance so that I make sure it actually happens.
Best of all, there has never been a better time, given that EL AL is soon introducing their 787 into service, which features a much improved business class product. With the introduction of this, EL AL will actually finally have somewhat of a competitive product. EL AL’s first 787 destinations will be London Heathrow, Newark, and Hong Kong.
What I’d like to get out of my EL AL flights
On one hand, EL AL’s future is the 787, so I absolutely want to try that plane. What I can’t decide is whether it makes sense to fly the 787 in both directions (to get a sense of how consistent the product is), or if in the other direction I should try:
- Their old first class, which looks worse than their new business class, but I’m very close to having reviewed every single first class product in the world
- Their old business class, given that it will presumably still be flying for a while
The challenges with booking EL AL
While EL AL’s business class fares aren’t that expensive compared to some other airlines, they don’t have that many sales either. Furthermore, unlike other airlines, they don’t publish good one-way fares, so you’re stuck paying their not-cheap fares roundtrip.
Usually I’d rather redeem miles, but there are very few circumstances under which redeeming miles is a better value than paying cash on EL AL, and that’s my main issue. I’ll provide examples of that below.
My options for booking EL AL
Flying their 787 roundtrip from Newark to Tel Aviv seems like the best way to experience the product, since that would give me two longhaul flights. However, the paid fare is ~$3,840.
If redeeming through the EL AL Matmid Club program as an Executive member (which you get when you transfer points from Amex), I’d pay 4,000 points roundtrip. Amex points convert to Matmid Club points at a 50:1 ratio, meaning that a roundtrip award ticket costs 200,000 Amex points, plus taxes and carrier imposed surcharges.
For now I have a grandfathered 50% Pay With Points refund on the Amex Business Platinum Card, meaning that I could book the above paid ticket for ~384,000 points, and then get 50% of those points back, for a total of ~192,000 points. So paying cash for the ticket through Amex is a better deal than transferring points.
Alternatively, a lower cost option is to book London to Tel Aviv roundtrip on the 787, which would cost ~$1,500. That’s much more reasonable, though at the same time those aren’t longhaul flights, so I’m not sure how much the experience differs on that plane.
That would require 2,200 points roundtrip, which would be 110,000 Amex points. Again, the 50% Pay With Points deal would be a better value.
One potentially interesting thing about the London flight is that I could fly one direction in business class on the 787, and one direction in first class on the 777, and you’d pay the one-way costs of each. So you’d split the difference between the cost of the above and below itinerary, and would end up paying ~$2,100 for such a ticket. Again, you’re not getting a true longhaul flight, though.
Lastly, if just purely redeeming points, I guess one other option would be to do Newark to Tel Aviv in 787 business class, and something like Tel Aviv to Los Angeles in 777 first class. That would cost 5,500 Matmid Club points, or 275,000 Amex points. *Gulp*
To add a further wrinkle, Ford will be joining me on this trip. Ultimately he’d be happy to fly separately since I don’t think EL AL will be all that much of a treat, given the high cost. But it would also be nice to fly together, if at all possible.
As you can see, flying EL AL won’t be cheap. Personally I’m leaning towards booking London to Tel Aviv roundtrip on the 787, since ~$1,500 is a more reasonable amount to spend than ~$3,800. With the Amex Pay With Points 50% discount, the ticket would end up costing ~75,000 Amex Membership Rewards points per person. That’s not ideal for such a short flight, but does seem like the best option.
At the same time, I would love to try EL AL’s longhaul 777 first class service. But at the cost of 175,000 Amex points one-way per person in seats that look subpar for business class, I’m having a really hard time justifying that.
I really want to lock in this trip and am serious taking it, so if anyone has any thoughts on which option I should go with, or if there’s anything creative I’m overlooking (cheap one-way codeshare flights somewhere, etc.), I’d love to hear it. There’s gotta be a better way, no?!