Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
After being closed for 18 months, Israel has reopened its borders to vaccinated and recovered travelers. If you’re planning a trip there, chances are you’ll spend some time in the nation’s second-most-populous city, Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv is a destination on many travelers’ bucket lists for good reason. From UNESCO-recognized cultural attractions to gorgeous beaches, phenomenal cuisine and a vibrant nightlife scene, the city offers something for every type of traveler. Plus, other Israeli cities like Jerusalem and Haifa are pretty easy to get to from Tel Aviv by car.
But how can you get to Tel Aviv (and stay there) without spending a ton of cash? Here’s how to make the most of your next trip, with tips for getting there with miles, staying there with points and other fun things to do when you’re in town. Yalla! (Get going!)
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Flights from North America to Tel Aviv (TLV) consistently hover around $1,000 round-trip in economy and over $3,000 in business, so award redemptions are the way to go when booking travel to Israel. Luckily, thanks to new diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and recent route additions by the major U.S. airlines, there are now plentiful routing options.
After years of not offering nonstop service to Israel, American now offers flights to Tel Aviv from three U.S. gateways — New York-JFK, Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and Miami (MIA). You can book these flights through the AAdvantage program from 40,000 American miles in economy, 62,500 in premium economy or 70,000 in business. That said, finding saver-level business-class award space on the nonstop routes is extremely difficult. You might have better luck with American’s partners like British Airways through London (LHR), Iberia through Madrid (MAD) and Royal Jordanian through Amman (AMM). The redemption rates are the same, but you’ll typically face higher taxes and carrier surcharges with the partners.
If you need to earn more American miles, consider picking up a cobranded American Airlines credit card. New cardholders of the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® can earn a sign-up bonus of 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Alternatively, opening the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® can snag you a bonus of 65,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening.
The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select and the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
United operates nonstop flights to Tel Aviv as well, including from Newark (EWR), Chicago (ORD), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington Dulles (IAD). Even better, most flights offer the “true” Polaris business class product. The MileagePlus program’s redemption rates are dynamic, but economy awards start at 42,500 miles one-way and business at 75,000 miles.
A potentially better option for booking United and other Star Alliance member airline awards would be through ANA Mileage Club, a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards. Round-trip awards cost just 65,000 miles in economy and 104,000 miles in business. However, there are two caveats: You can only book round-trip awards and ANA passes on fuel surcharges for partner awards. Otherwise, consider booking through programs like Avianca LifeMiles or Aeroplan, which also charge fairly reasonable rates and are partners of most transferable points programs.
If SkyTeam is your preferred alliance, you can either fly Delta nonstop from New York (JFK) or fly with a partner like Air France or KLM and connect through a city like Paris (CDG) or Amsterdam (AMS). However, since Delta SkyMiles and Air France/KLM Flying Blue don’t have award charts, redemptions can vary greatly depending on your travel dates and class of service. For instance, it’s not uncommon for Delta One awards to cost over 400,000 Delta miles one-way, though you can occasionally book them for half that.
Luckily, Delta has relatively fixed prices for award flights operated by partner airlines. Partner awards will set you back a much more reasonable 37,500 miles one-way in economy and 85,000 miles in business class. Alternatively, when prices for Delta-operated flights are sky-high, you may be able to get a better deal through Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club program, a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards.
Israel’s flag carrier, El Al, operates the most nonstop flights from North America to Israel and offers a competitive business-class product on its Dreamliners. However, there aren’t many ways to book these flights with points and miles, especially now that El Al is no longer a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards.
Your best option for booking El Al awards would be through Qantas Frequent Flyer. Redemption rates vary by distance but, to give you an idea, one-way awards from Newark (EWR) to Tel Aviv cost 37,800 Qantas miles in economy or 90,800 in business class, while flights from Chicago cost 45,000 Qantas points in economy or 104,500 in business class. You can transfer points to Qantas from American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Miles or Citi ThankYou, earned with cards like American Express® Gold Card and the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card.
Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport (TLV) is located about 15 miles from the city center. Although you could use the app to request a metered taxi, you won’t find an Uber in Tel Aviv. That said, the taxi drivers at the airport are under strict supervision, and as long as you request one via the taxi booth outside the terminals, you shouldn’t get ripped off. You’ll have the choice of either a private taxi or a “sherut,” which is essentially a shared taxi service carrying up to 10 passengers. Another option is public transportation. The airport offers both bus and rail services, but buses are a much more convenient (and cheaper) option since the trains stop at the edge of the city.
Once you’ve made it into the city, the best way to explore Tel Aviv is on foot. That said, the city offers high-frequency bus routes, which can help get you to many different places quickly. There are also plenty of shared electric bike and scooter services available. Just keep in mind that no public transportation operates in Israel from mid-afternoon Friday until Saturday night in observance of Shabbat.
Where to stay
While the selection of points hotels — more specifically, luxury points hotels — in Tel Aviv is lacking, it’s definitely on the rise and you shouldn’t have trouble finding somewhere to stay.
The nicest option is easily the Jaffa Hotel, part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection brand. It’s set within set within a restored 19th-century neo-Gothic complex. Aside from being a gorgeous hotel, it’s located in a fun and convenient neighborhood and has friendly staff. It’s a Category 7 Marriott Bonvoy property, meaning free nights will cost you 50,000, 60,000 or 70,000 points per night, depending on the dates of your stay. But keep in mind you could score lower rates by leveraging Marriott’s fifth-night-free benefit.
If you’re looking to spend slightly fewer points, Marriott also offers the Renaissance Tel Aviv and Sheraton Tel Aviv, both of which cost 40,000 to 60,000 points per night. Or, if you’d rather have a quieter beach experience, consider staying at the Ritz-Carlton (50,000 to 70,000 points per night) or Publica Isrotel (30,000 to 40,000 points per night) in Herzliya, a roughly 20-minute drive from Tel Aviv.
The other main luxury points hotel is the Norman Tel Aviv. It’s World of Hyatt’s only option in the city and costs a whopping 35,000 to 45,000 points per night. On the bright side, the hotel is part of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), so all World of Hyatt members get extra perks like free breakfast, early check-in, late checkout and a room upgrade — including general members.
You can earn enough Hyatt points for at least one free night here by adding the World of Hyatt Credit Card to your wallet. It’s currently offering a welcome bonus of up to 60,000 bonus points: 30,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 within your first three months from account opening, plus up to 30,000 more points by earning 2x bonus points total on purchases that normally earn 1x bonus point, on up to $15,000 in the first six months of account opening. Alternatively, you can transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio.
If you’re looking to be in the heart of the action, there’s the Hilton Tel Aviv. This property often costs around 80,000 points per night and isn’t that exciting. But its beachfront location is unbeatable and it has a massive pool. It also offers an executive lounge, which you can access through the automatic elite status provided by several Hilton credit cards.
Other solid options include the InterContinental David Tel Aviv (50,000+ IHG points per night), Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv Beach (34,000+ IHG points per night), the Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv City Center (31,000+ IHG points per night) and the Hotel Indigo Tel Aviv Diamond District (31,000+ IHG points per night).
Soak up the culture
Jerusalem isn’t the only Israeli city rich in culture and history — Tel Aviv is, too. Specifically, Tel Aviv offers an exuberant art scene that you can embrace sans admission fees. The city’s streets feature vibrant graffiti and thought-provoking messages — with art that is generally inoffensive and doesn’t involve politics. Although this feature has now spread throughout the city, you’ll find a high concentration of art in the Florentine section of south Tel Aviv.
Hit the beach
While Israel is best known for its historical sites, it’s also a fantastic beach destination. Tel Aviv offers 13 white sand beaches that sprawl out over nearly 10 miles of sand. The most popular stretches are Gordon Beach, Frishman Beach and Hilton Beach, which draws a predominantly gay crowd. You can comfortably swim in the Mediterranean and enjoy the sunshine from April through mid-November. If you want to fit in with the locals, be sure to pick up a Matkot set (Israeli beach tennis). Chairs, loungers and umbrellas are available for rent at most beaches for 6 NIS ($1.93), 12 NIS ($3.86) and 6 NIS ($1.93), respectively. The city sets the rates so you shouldn’t pay more than that.
Eat your heart out
Tel Aviv is basically heaven for foodies. Delicious hummus, shawarma and falafel are readily available (the best is in the Carmel Market), but the city offers much more than the standard Middle Eastern fare. Since Tel Aviv is largely a city of immigrants, you can enjoy phenomenal international cuisine as well.
For an authentic breakfast, head to Saluf & Sons in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market and order shakshuka (skillet eggs poached in tomato sauce) and malawach (a flatbread served with a hard-boiled egg, chopped tomatoes and a spicy cilantro-based sauce called zhoug).
Tel Aviv is back open and ready for visitors. Thanks to recent route additions and hotel openings, there are more ways to get to and stay in Tel Aviv with your points and miles than ever before. Just make sure to avoid these mistakes on your first trip there.
Featured image by Iuliia Serova/Getty Images.