Recently, I have been studying some of the more far-flung airline rewards programs to complement my knowledge of the big US programs. There is huge potential in these alternative programs for cheaper award redemptions and finding award availability on routes that may seem impossible with the big US carriers.
Prompted by an old schoolmate's query about how she could get to Israel cheaply, I realized this gem of a redemption from Flying Blue. For those that have already taken advantage of their Jewish Birthright or if you're just interested in visiting this fascinating country, here is the best award redemption out there:
Flying Blue is the awards program for Air France and KLM, along with a number of European airline partners. They are also partnered with American SkyTeam airlines, including Delta and Alaska Airlines. Through these programs, there are a number of above-average redemptions, but the one I want to focus on is North America to Europe.
At 50,000 miles round-trip in economy, Flying Blue already offers a cheaper-than-average opportunity (typical for most airlines is 60,000 miles), but they have included Tel Aviv as part of Europe (Hat tip: Travel Is Free). That means we can fly from North America to the Middle East for 50,000 miles through Flying Blue, as opposed to 85,000 miles for United and 90,000 for American.
Use the Flying Blue Award Calculator for proof of this crazy redemption!
How do you get Flying Blue Miles? They are partnered with Citi, AMEX, and Starwood, so you have a number of credit card signup options.
In a recent post, I mentioned how 146,000 Citi ThankYou points could be acquired, and since Flying Blue is a partner, those points could become Flying Blue Miles. That's nearly enough for three to fly to Israel and back! I also recently took advantage of a limited-time offer from American Express for a 100,000-point bonus on their Platinum card (also a Flying Blue transfer partner). Short-story...if you want to fly to Israel for 50,000 miles, there are lots of options for acquiring the miles in a matter of two or three months.
So what's the availability picture? The flights with lowest taxes and fees tend to be Flying Blue redemptions using Delta Flights. For example, one can fly from LAX to TLV via JFK on Delta for 25,000 miles each way plus taxes and fees between $25-$100. These deals are available on multiple dates each of the next few months, with availability opening up to nearly every day the farther out we search.
Just to give another layer of perspective, I picked a round-trip LAX to TLV trip departing February 11th and returning on the 18th. Looking across all airlines, the flights on these dates are going for between $800-$1100. This trip would be 50,000 Flying Blue Miles plus $120 in taxes and fees per-person. The same exact flights, booked directly with Delta Skymiles would cost 160,000 miles and $300 per-person. Ridiculous!
To sum up, if you want to go to Israel, it can be accomplished on lots of upcoming dates with one credit card sign-up bonus and $50-200 in taxes and fees. In the process, you'll save 35,000-110,000 miles versus redemptions from other frequent-flyer programs.
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