Due to snafu, tickets to Israel go on sale for as little as $330

Two months ago, Miriam Leichtling’s parents lost their jobs within a week of each other.

For several months, Leichtling, a New York designer who has led several organized trips to Israel, had been agonizing over how to scrape together enough money to send her parents, ages 66 and 71, to Israel. But the cost of airfare for three – normally starting at about $1,000 per ticket, with a layover—was prohibitive.

“My parents were teachers who worked hard all their lives,” Leichtling said. “Whatever extra they had went to sending their kids through Jewish schools.”

Then, on Monday, she got an email from a neighborhood friend alerting her that round-trip tickets to Israel were on sale for under $400. At first, Leichtling, like many others who got the news, couldn’t believe it.

“The subject line said ‘tickets to Israel under $400.’ It looked like spam; I normally don’t bother with these things,” she said.

But it was no hoax.

Due to an error by a subcontractor handling El Al’s winter promotional fares, flights to Israel from a few U.S. cities, including New York, Boston and Chicago, on Israel’s national airline and codeshare partners were selling for as low $330. Many other tickets from November through March were available for less than $460, including all taxes and fees. The snafu affected El Al codeshare flights routed through a number of European cities and was available for several hours on Monday.

“On a daily basis, any published airfare consists of the basic fare, a fuel surcharge and taxes,” El Al later said in a statement. “In this situation, the fuel surcharge was omitted.”

When bargain websites began alerting readers to the fares, a buying frenzy ensued.

“It eventually took my entire server down,” said Daniel Eleff, founder and owner of the bargain hunting website DansDeals.com, which posted an item about the fares around 11 a.m. “A hundred thousand people tried accessing the site within a couple of hours.”

Word of mouth, Facebook and Twitter fueled the buying spree.

James Lapin, a grant manager at Columbia University, saw the deal posted at 12:15 p.m. on the Twitter account @YeahThatsKosher run by Jewish blogger and social media professional Dani Klein. He went to Expedia.com and booked a flight.

“My wife is actually the one that is subscribed to airfare alerts but usually more for domestic flights since going to Israel is so out of our price range,” Lapin said.

For Lapin, as for many others who have not visited Israel in years, the fare presented a unique opportunity to make a trip they otherwise could not afford.

“The last time I was there was right after I got married more than 10 years ago,” Lapin said. “My three kids have never been and I had been bemoaning the fact that we weren’t able to go. I was actually thinking of saving up just to send my wife with one of them.”

Despite the cheap fares having been offered in error, El Al said it would honor the tickets, which reportedly numbered in the thousands.

“An outside company posted incorrect fares on travel websites, so all tickets sold will indeed be honored,” the company wrote via Twitter at around 6 p.m. Monday, when the inexpensive prices were no longer available.

This is not the first time in recent years there have been super-cheap flights to Israel. In July 2010, US Airways offered a promotional fare from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv for $278. But tickets for that promotion were limited to 30 seats.

David Zimet, 24, an airfare enthusiast and social media team leader for Domino’s Pizza, managed to book two tickets that time. On Monday, when the tickets seem unlimited, he wasn’t fast enough.

But Leichtling and many others were. “My friend purchased 19 tickets for her whole family; they go every six weeks,” Leichtling said.

She was able to buy tickets for herself and her parents for a total of $1,259 – slightly more than a third of what it normally costs to make the trip in late December.

“I must have cried four times just thinking about taking my parents to the Western Wall,” Leichtling said. “This is an opportunity that never ever would have presented itself any other way.”

El Al to charge for second bag on Israel trips

El Al Airlines soon will be charging $70 for the second piece of luggage checked on coach seats to and from Israel.

The new fee will affect tickets purchased after Nov. 1, two representatives of Israel’s national airline confirmed to JTA on Monday. The first bag will remain free.

Continental Airlines started charging $70 for the second bag checked on direct flights to Israel in mid-June. Passengers had been able to check two bags for free.

Delta is in the process of changing its price structure for bags checked to Israel but would not disclose the changes.

US Airways provides free checking for the first and second bag for all visitors to Israel.

Fly the Mitzvah Skies


El Al, Israel’s national airline, is the only airline that keeps kosher, observes Shabbat and even gives out doughnuts on Chanukah, but recently it has been doing other mitzvot as well.

On Nov. 3 Edith Krygier boarded an El Al flight to Los Angeles in Tel Aviv because she wanted to visit her children and grandchildren who live here. The plane stopped in Toronto, and as Krygier was standing on the jetway waiting to board again, she suffered a stroke and collapsed just a few feet from the aircraft door.

El Al immediately called an ambulance and got Krygier to the hospital, and in the meantime it also called David, Irit and Karen Krygier — Edith’s children in Los Angeles, and helped them get on a plane to Toronto. In Toronto, the El Al staff sat by Edith’s bed until her children got there, while other staff helped shuttle the children to the hospital. Stanley Morais, El Al’s general manager in Toronto, even visited Edith in hospital just to see how she was doing.

“Even the doctor and the medical staff commented that they had never seen anything like it,” David Krygier said.

Thanks to El Al’s quick action, Edith was able to recover from her stroke quickly and without side effects.

But that’s not all. In early December, some rabbis from the National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) boarded an El Al plane in New York carrying some bulky but holy hand luggage — Sefer Torahs. They were six torahs in all, the final installment of 100 torahs that NCYI brought to Israel over the past three years to donate to IDF soldiers. Not only did El Al not charge freight costs for the Torahs, but they allowed those carrying the Torahs to board first so that they could put them into closets, or on free seats if there were any available.

“From the beginning, El Al was unlike any other airline,” said Sheryl Stein, El Al’s U.S. manager of advertising and public relations. “It’s an extension of the spirit of Israel.”