DansDeals reader and CEO of Shmais.com Levi Hodakov reached out to me last week to figure out how to send his daughter to seminary in Israel.
Israel’s borders are closed to foreigners, but Yeshivas and Seminary programs there have been hopeful based on government advice that they will be allowed to open this fall and students will get permission to fly to Israel and quarantine upon arrival. With COVID-19 cases there spiking, that will be an open question until they actually board the plane. Israel has previously shut down student travel without any advance warning unless you were already en-route.
There are a few factors to unpack here:
- Which airline is most likely to operate
- Which airline will be the best in case they need to cancel
- Which routing is best given the current situation
While in normal years it would probably make sense to look into connections in other countries, I’d be wary of doing that now. The situation is just too fluid and you don’t want to have your teenage child stuck in a terminal on another continent when the rules suddenly change.
El Al is not currently selling flights in August, though they may be open to operating charter flights. Personally I’d be wary of these as the odds of getting a refund from El Al or a travel agent chartering a flight if things go south are slim.
If you want a direct flight from the US, that leaves just Delta and United.
Delta has the advantage of blocking middle seats for social distancing. If you book your ticket by 7/31, you can cancel your flight for free, but you’ll only have 1 year from the time of booking to finish using the ticket and it will have to be used in the passenger’s name.
United isn’t blocking middle seats, however if you book your ticket by 7/31 they will allow you to cancel a flight and request an electronic travel certificate in its place. That certificate will be valid for 2 years (or potentially even longer) and can be used by anyone for travel on United.
If you have Delta miles, you can book a Delta flight and get a refund of the miles and taxes as long as you cancel before departure.
If you have United miles, you can book a United flight and get a refund of the miles and taxes as long as you cancel 30 days before departure. Alternatively you can change your ticket for free at any time and make the date later in 2020 in order to allow yourself to cancel 30 days before departure for free. 😀
While students often pay extra for an open ended ticket, both Delta and United tickets are essentially open ended as change fees are waived. If the price of a ticket goes up though, you would be responsible for the change of fare, though that should be fairly minimal for the return portion of a ticket.
While there is currently United saver award space from Newark to Tel Aviv on August 25 for 32K Turkish miles or 42.5K United miles, that would get his daughter into Israel a day late for school.
He could also wait to book tickets, but with fewer flights operating, there’s a good chance that seats will sell out. Thanks to flexible ticket policies, the risk to book now is fairly low.
In the end he booked a round-trip from Tampa to Tel Aviv on United via Newark for about $1,000. If school gets cancelled he’ll have a $1,000 voucher that anyone can use on United for at least the next 2 years. The voucher can be used an unlimited amount of times until the funds are completely used or it can be used in combination with any other United vouchers for more expensive tickets. And assuming that school does start on time, the return flight will be changeable for free.
What tickets are you booking for your kids learning in Israel this year?