Israel Airfare for Passover

TLV2JFK presents the 2010 Pre Pesach Price Planner for those taking the family to the states for Passover. The sooner you start hunting for tickets, the better. Right now ElAl, Delta and Continental are charging around $1500 for non-stop. Adding a stop can get you down to about $1200 and even down to about $1000 if you are ready to spend a night somewhere and trek from one airport to another. Here are some tricks to help in your search:

  • Orbitz is easiest to use for the big picture
  • AA is best for finding alternate dates – but make sure to indicate “All carriers” on search
  • ElAl site often has lower prices than shown elsewhere
  • Children pay about 10% less – usually best to see that on the airline site
  • AlItalia comes up with great deals if you can catch it (was $800 for pesach, last week) – but not on their site! Use Orbitz. And take a day off in Rome or Milan.
  • Prices go down a bit if you can return the week after Pesach
  • Forget about free tickets from Israel, but if you can pay your way to Europe – you may have some luck using that free ticket.

And finally, an idea that most of my readers (and my family) will ignore. Royal Jordanian via Amman.

You can find these flights by “including nearby airports” on Orbitz (not on Kayak). A random search today turned TLV to Amman to JFK (non-stop) and then return to Amman for under $800. Thats a savings of about $400 per person. But, you have to make your way back to Israel from Amman. Its a 4 hour drive to Aquaba and a simple crossing into Israel. Make the trip less painful by spending a day in Petra in Jordan and a day or two in Eilat. It will cost less and the kids get to miss more school. In another post I will discuss Jordan and the option of crossing directly at the Allenby bridge.

A word about passover destinations in the US. If you have to go to the catskills, take a day off for the local attractions,  like the  Kykuit Rockefeller Estate. If you end up in Disney, you can save money at the Prime Outlet Orlando Mall.  LA is a good passover destination – check out the Fun Things to do in Southern California.
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Personal Reflections on Air Travel Changes

Looking back on the previous year I realized that the travel world has changed me.

After decades of showing up 1 hour before my flight (and that’s for international flights, mind you) now I end up showing up so early – I have 2 hours at the gate.

I credit that to ElAl.

A good friend of mine showed up 2+ hours before his flight to Madrid and made it to check in with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately for him, the flight was overbooked. Rather than bump a happy bumpee, they dug up the fine print and informed my friend that he did not show up on time. Don’t worry – the story has a happy ending.

For ElAl. Not for my friend, who was shipped to Barcelona and had to find his own way to Madrid. Cost – 1/2 day of vacation and at least $500. So, now I get there 3 hours before the flight. I am a changed man.

Second big change was reported in the New York Times.

Not about me, personally, but about the average traveller is ditching the web and booking flights through their travel agent. For the first time, I called a travel agent and had them do all the work. Changed flights ten times, paid later, speak to a human – it was all new for me and quite refreshing. (Kind of like my 8 year old kid discovering the VCR – you just put the tape in and press play. What a great idea! No menu! No scratched disk! No Estonian subtitles! – Just play the movie.) I actually had a good travel agent honest enough to tell me if I could get it cheaper online. But, I must admit that I still enjoy using the Western Union hold from time to time in online bookings.

And of course, if you need to decide where to do your Hannukah shopping on Long Island – at Roosevelt Field Mall or at Smithhaven Mall – you need the web. Or for conditions at Mt Baldy Ski Resort. If you just like reading blogs – try this travel blog and this vacation blog.

I guess this is a good place to introduce my readers to Josh Herst – blogger and Web entrepreneur, founder of TripHub. For our Canadian readers – check out this post with a rabbi’s experiences in the Canadian tundra (that’s a bit north of Hampstead, eh?).
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El Al Frequent Flyer Stealth Program

stealth-fighter1

No – El Al is not using stealth technology on their planes, but they are trying to use  stealth sneaky shady methods to steal poach the competition’s frequent flyer data. And they were not very shy about this disgraceful business tactic.  From the Jerusalem Post:

El Al reached out to the travel agent community last month, requesting hard information on the frequent fliers of several airlines.

Their request was simple: “Send us your list of frequent fliers on the following airlines: British Airways, Continental, Delta, Lufthansa and Turkish Air. Send us their ID number, mailing address, cell phone number, email address, and birth date. Send us their complete travel plans rom 2008, indicating to where they flew with dates and cities.”

Now to be fair to El Al, the airline made it a competition among the travel agent community. The agent who sent the most names could win big money – $1,000.

The story was picked up quickly by international frequent flyer communityThe general sentiment was that El Al was “Doing business the Israeli way”. And that link went out to 190,000 FlyerTalk subscribers. Just when our PR machine was recovering from an accused rapist President, a war that BBC did not find to their liking and a Prime Minister under investigation for more shady dealings than Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon put together.

I guess the marketing guys forgot to ask the lawyers for their opinion beforehand (hey, at $300/hour can you blame them?) but the lawyers did put an end to this plan.

Hats off to:

1. The lawyers

2. The travel agents for not cooperating (they would have lost their licence)

3. Turkish Airlines (and others) for not making a shwarma out of ElAl’s management.

4. The Jerusalem Post for reporting this, and

5. You, for reading my blog and for using TripCart’s Road Trip Planner to pick up some New York City family vacation ideas for the summer.
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El AL Nonstop to Brazil, South America

ElAl just GRU! (GRU is code for Sao Paulo, Brasil)

carnival2_isp
Starting May 2, ElAl flies 3 time a week non-stop to Sao Paulo.

Through interline agreements, passengers can continue on to most main South American destinations. That means you have one ticket and your bags are checked all the way through. It is not a code share.

SCHEDULE – Flights leave Israel on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday evenings arriving early the following morning. Returning flights leave Brasil on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evening (715p) arriving in Israel the next day at 310p. (Schedule is similar to TLV-JFK-TLV).

COACH PRICE – $1000 to Rio and Sao Paulo, $1100 to most other destinations.

FREQUENT FLYER MILES -120,000 American Airline miles will get you an economy seat to Sao Paulo, Chile or Peru on ElAl.  ElAl Matmid members flying economy class earn between 65 and 250 points one way, depending on type of ticket.  That’s the same as flights to Los Angeles.

The flight is one of ElAl’s longest at 14.5 hours. The following will be the route in the New Middle East – but until Libya and Chad are willing to have us  in their airspace the routing is a bit longer, via Spain.

gru

Finally – it is interesting that the flight is aimed at the religious pilgrim market originating in Brazil. Another notable entry in this field is Travelujah.
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More Israel Airfare Deals – ElAl, Air France, Delta, Everyone

It seems like the weak economy combined with drop in price of oil left the airlines with no choice but to reduce fares. ElAl’s website and promotional emails list so many deals – I have to pinch my computer to make sure I am not dreaming.  Besides the ElAl Spontani deals ($599 to US), they have deals valid on election day only, deals for residents of the south, etc.. I gave up trying to make sense of it – but you can buy tickets for as far off as the summer and get prices hundreds of dollars lower than last year.

The European carriers seem to be in the $650 to $800 range to New York. Air France has the lowest airfare between Israel and New York and you can spend some time in Paris, to boot. And Delta can do the trip for $775, includes luggage, fuel, water, pillows, the works. The jet age is back!

Equally amazing – Delta can get you  to the West Coast or Orlando for $800.

I will have to update the status of using ElAl Bonus tickets. The fuel surcharge went down, but the spread between bonus (“free”) tickets and paying got much closer.

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Israel FAA downgrade – Fire Shaul Mofaz!

Unfortunately, I was wrong in my November, 2008
post. I am shocked that Israel was, in fact, downgraded to a category 2 country. And there is no category 3 – we are as bad as it can get. Here is the FAA’s press release. And some discussion in the blogosphere.

I am further shocked this has been getting almost no press in Israel (small article in Sunday’s Calcalist on page 6 by Yasmin Gil – compared to a page 4-5 spread about a cleaning company that is going bust!). The Wall Street Journal did think it was important, though. No mention in Jerusalem Post.

And, I am further shocked that the FAA gave Israel enough warning to avoid this and did not succeed. I guess Transportation minister Shaul Mofaz is convinced that his re-election is much more important to Israel than the future of Israel aviation and tourism, not to mention our safety.

In Israel, we do have a tendency to underestimate threats to our safety (crazy drivers, Iranian dictators, Missile shooting fanatics and Amira Hess), and this one is quite serious. Israel is now a full fledged member of this club:

Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Croatia, Ghana, Guyana, Indonesia, Nauru, Philippines, Serbia and Ukraine.

What does it mean on a practical level? It means that Israeli carriers cannot expand service to the US. Its unclear what this does to codeshares. Of course, it means much more – it means that the FAA feels that the day-to-day oversight by the Israel government regulatory agencies are not enough to monitor safety.

What this is not:

  • Not political like the annual UN condemnation of Zionism
  • Not some silly bureaucratic issue – like ISO 9000
  • Not a minor issue blown up by the press
  • Not a statement about Israel’s airline security, still considered best in the world
  • Not a condemnation of any specific airline
  • Not a reason to skip your next meeting in Palo Alto or a romantic getaway in Southern California

But it is a very serious error made by the transportation ministry (among others), which citizens of Israel should know about. And, by the way, Mofaz is also in charge of Israel Road safety. Fire him!!!

mofaz_shaul

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Europe Family Vacation in 4 Hours

Readers complained that I got political with my gaza post. Sorry, but we did have a war. Back to the spirit of this blog – tips for the frequent flyer to the US.

Looking around for the best airfare to the States often results in a stopover in Europe. If the stopover is more than 5 hours you can “Do Europe” (or at least one city). This is aimed at families – business people should stay in the airport and polish up the PPT and couples might get more out of Paris by spending a whole weekend. Four basic rules:

  • Check bags all the way (and get boarding passes)
  • Take almost no carryons
  • Figure out in advance (down to the level of the train schedule and stops) how you will get in and out of the airport
  • Bring Euros

If you tried this in the past and it didn’t work, try again. Because:

  • Airport Transportation is really good in many European cities (but expensive)
  • Europe is too expensive for a real trip
  • Kids will remember 3 hours in Paris as if they were there for a week
  • Not enough time to buy gifts for everyone – a four hour trip might yield as much as a 4 day trip with shopping
  • Its really not much fun waiting in the airport for 6 hours
  • What used to be considered a primitive American style of “Doing” Europe is now quite cool.

I have tested two of these trips on my own family in the past year. We Did Paris (6 hr) and Rome (3 hr).

We arrived in Paris at midnight and grabbed a rented car (no good late night public transport). Took a nighttime tour of the Eiffel Tower, Arch de Triomphe, The Louvre, Notre Dame, The Sienne. The highlight was Ice Cream at McDonalds on the Champs Elysees. Everything else was closed (saved loads on admission). Back to the airport and after a short nap – ready for the 7am flight.

Rome was public transport. 30 minute train to the city followed by a walk past the Coliseum, Forum, the Synagogue and lots of monuments. Highlight was Ice Cream at the Trevi Fountain. We had planned on hitting a second country in the 4 allotted hours – but there was a train strike which caused us to lose some time – so we cut the Vatican.

Anyone interested in the detailed plans, contact me. Or tell me some of your “4 hour Europe” experiences. And by the way, Google now has walking directions. Here is how one might walk from Rome to Paris.
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