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Update: The deadline to buy tickets that can be exchanged for a voucher has now been extended to December 31st.
Originally posted on 8/30:
For the past couple of years, El Al has offered passengers the ability to convert their ticket into a voucher without charge. That’s one of the most passenger friendly policies out there and it can be requested on their website. While other airlines allow free changes, this allows you to use the voucher to book travel for anyone, not just for the same passenger. You can also use 2 vouchers to purchase another ticket or 1 voucher can book multiple tickets.
The vouchers are valid for bookings made by 12/31/23 for travel by 11/30/24.
Another good use for this program is if you have an AMEX Business Gold Card or AMEX Business Platinum Card. With those cards you can receive a rebate of 25% or 35% respectively of the points used for a paid ticket. That effectively values your AMEX points at 1.33 cents or 1.54 cents each towards paid airfare. The catch is that the rebate is only available in economy or premium economy tickets on selected US airlines. It’s only available in business or first class on all other airlines worldwide.
However thanks to the voucher system, you can book El Al business class tickets at a value of 1.54 cents per AMEX point, turn them into a voucher, and then use the voucher to book economy or premium economy tickets for anyone.
Unfortunately it does take several days from when you cancel a ticket until you get the voucher.
I used this strategy when I wanted to book 6 El Al economy tickets for $8,100. I first booked 2 round-trip El Al business class tickets from Tel Aviv to Toronto which cost $8,100 for 810,000 AMEX points. Thanks to my Business Platinum card I got a rebate of 283,500 points, making the actual cost 526,500 points for $8,100 in tickets. I then converted those tickets into an El Al voucher and used that credit to book 6 round-trip economy tickets.
From what I understand, US travel agents like AMEX collect a commission from El Al for flights that originate in the US, but not for flights that originate from Israel. That’s why I booked 2 business class tickets from Tel Aviv to North America with my AMEX points rather than the reverse when converting them into an El Al voucher. By booking the flight from Israel and then converting it into a voucher, there’s no unnecessary loss or cost to El Al.
El Al’s website currently says that the voucher program will end on 8/31, though contacts in the airline tell me they plan to extend the program through mid-September, likely for tickets purchased by 9/14. After that point, tickets between North America and Israel will remain free to change, but they won’t be convertible to a voucher useable by anyone.
Of course the airline can always extend the program, but if you want to convert some AMEX points into El Al vouchers at a value of 1.54 cents per point, now is the time to act.
If you plan to fly to Israel in general, booking El Al before the voucher program ends is a great option as you can effectively cancel for free and have a voucher that anyone is able to use.
When I spoke with El Al CEO Dina Ben-Tal Ganacia earlier this summer in her office at the airline’s Ben Gurion headquarters she explained that she was a fan of the voucher program. However there were concerns regarding paying travel agents commissions on the original booking and then again when the voucher was rebooked. There were also concerns about people cancelling tickets at the last minute, causing spoiled inventory for the airline. Those both seemed to me to have easy solutions, the airline could either stop paying commissions on voucher redemptions or they could claw back commissions on cancelled tickets. And they could require that tickets be cancelled a certain amount of time before the flight in order to qualify for a voucher exchange.
Hopefully the airline will reconsider and allow the program to live on, as it’s a great competitive advantage for the airline that encourages bookings on El Al, locking in funds with the airline that may have otherwise gone to another carrier.
Will you take advantage of this program before it ends?