I went with 2 of my 5 brothers to Israel in 2007 and we traveled from Nimrod’s Fortress in the Golan Heights down to Eilat and everywhere in between for a month. We lived it up at Starwood properties thanks to Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.
According to my research notes from that trip there were at least 13 Starwood properties in Israel. There was the category 1 Le Meridien Haifa, Le Meridien Dead Sea, Sheraton Tiberias, Sheraton Eilat, and the Sheraton Dead Sea. There was a category 2 Sheraton Tel Aviv. And there was the category 3 Herod’s Eilat, Sheraton Towers Tel Aviv, Sheraton Ramat Gan, Le Meridien Eilat, Sheraton Eilat, and of course the Sheraton Plaza Jerusalem located just minutes from the old city. There was also the awesome category 3 Herod’s Vitalis Spa in Eilat where for 2,800 points and $45 as a lowly SPG Gold member we were upgraded to an incredible ocean suite with 3 balconies and relaxed under their hot and cold waterfall massage fountains. We never could have traveled like that if was had to pay hundreds of dollars per room per night, but I had no problem swinging for a few thousand points a night.
Today that trip would probably never have happened as they are nearly all gone from SPG and are mostly under Fattal management.
Between the hotels on that trip and flying in Continental’s BusinessFirst we really lived it up. Of course it helped that Continental.com (which is identical to today’s United.com) upgraded all 3 of us from coach to BusinessFirst in both directions by typing in a simple $100 coupon code that I had from purchasing a Continental Privilege Pack. Definitely one of the more rewarding aspects of spending too much time playing around with an airline website. I even have a video recording of exactly what I did to get that to work though it’s got too much personal info in it to upload.
At any rate as of 01/01/14 the Le Meridien Dead Sea will be leaving SPG. That leaves just the category 4 Le Meridien Eilat and the category 5 Sheraton Tel Aviv as the remaining Starwood properties in Israel. The Le Meridien Eilat will also eventually leave Starwood as well once its SPG contract runs out though that date has yet to be announced.
The Le Meridien Dead Sea is a complete anomaly within the Starwood system. It has $500 room rates which should make it a category 5, 6, or 7 property and yet it is priced as a bargain category 1.
Those with good memories will recall that we have been down this road before. In 2011 there was a similar announcement made and SPG.com even showed that they would be leaving. However they had a change of heart and decided to renew their SPG contract, apparently for 2 more years through 01/01/14. This time there is going to be a much larger management shakeup and such a change of heart seems unlikely.
At least you can still travel to Israel for free by transferring Starpoints to airlines like AA for travel on El Al, to ANA for dirt-cheap surcharge free travel on United and USAirways, to USAirways for travel on any Star Alliance carriers, or to Air France/KLM Flying Blue for cheap Delta and Skyteam travel.