WOW air has plastered Israel with advertisements about its bargain flights there featuring its distinctive purplish logo. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

There’s a $149 deal on flights to Israel? Don’t believe the hype.


Wow, what a deal! Or not?

The headlines screamed at me from every Israeli newspaper, in both English and Hebrew: only $149 for a flight from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv to New York on WOW air.

The Iceland-based airline has plastered Israel with advertisements featuring its distinctive purplish logo for the new deal, and many Israelis are talking about it. Flights begin on Sept. 20.

Of course, the no-frills flight goes through Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, but that is not much of a hardship — people travel through European capitals all the time in search of cheap flights between Israel and the United States.

However, the Israeli business daily Globes helped to put the $149 fare into perspective.

For starters, the $149 price is only for a one-way ticket, and there is no guarantee that you will get the same fare for a return trip. The cost of flying home on the airline is more likely to cost around $400, according to Globes.

In addition, one suitcase of 44 pounds or more costs $70 dollars, each way — though a personal item such as a purse or backpack is thankfully still free.

Choosing a seat costs another $10 each way, which is not necessary but comfortable, especially if you are not travelling alone or cannot live without an aisle seat.

As for food, don’t even think about free snacks on a no-frills flight like this one. You will be brown-bagging it, unless you want to buy very over-priced offerings once you’re in the air.

After adding all of those considerations together, a round trip between one of several major cities in the United States and Israel on WOW air would cost around $700 or $800.

To put this into perspective, El Al, Israel’s national carrier, has $665 mid-week one-way fares on a round-trip flight to New York in September, the round trip being some $1,170.

And for all of you who do not live in New York or one of the major cities served by WOW, you would need a separate flight to your final destination. WOW does not appear to have any add-on deals with any domestic U.S. airlines — so if I wanted to travel to visit my family in Cleveland, for example, I would have to pay hundreds of dollars more. My total with an add-on to Cleveland on El Al comes out to $1,400. A stand-alone New York to Cleveland round trip is about $400, bringing my bargain WOW total to $1,200.

WOW isn’t sounding so, well, WOW anymore. I’ll take one of the major airlines, please.

Flights between Israel and U.S. delayed due to Sandy


Flights between Israel and the United States continue to be delayed as superstorm Sandy continues to batter America's northeast coast.

Thousands of Israeli airline passengers had their flights to the United States canceled on Monday and Tuesday.

Israelis trying to get home remained stranded in New York, New Jersey and the D.C. area as well.

In all  more than 14,000 flights reportedly have been canceled due to Sandy.

Passengers will be able to take a different flight or get their money back under a new law on flight delays.

Ynet reported on Jacob, a young religious resident of Jerusalem, whose wedding is scheduled for Thursday in New York.  Flights from Tel Aviv to the East Coast for Jacob and 30 of his family members have been  delayed since Sunday. The groom and his family are concerned that the wedding may not take place on the scheduled day.

El Al to honor cheap tickets to Israel from glitch


El Al Airlines said it will honor all tickets purchased during a glitch that had thousands of round-trip tickets selling for as low as $330.

The airline also announced Thursday that those who purchased tickets three days earlier at the hugely discounted fare would be given the opportunity to convert their tickets to a direct flight provided by El Al for an additional $75 each way rather than fly with a codeshare partner with a connecting flight in Europe.

“Although a review of this occurence has not been finalized, a decision was made to accommodate El Al passengers who purchased these low fares because we value our reputation of offering excellent customer service,” said Danny Saadon, El Al’s vice president of North America, in a statement released Thursday. “Hopefully we have provided an opportunity to many first timers to visit Israel as well as reconnect family and friends.”

A full refund without penalty also will be offered to passengers who wish to cancel their ticket.

The glitch was the result of a third party subcontracted by El Al to post the Israeli airline’s winter promotional fares online. According to El Al, the discounted airfares were the result of the subcontractor failing to add the fuel surcharge to the total price.

In an interview Thursday with JTA, Saadon took credit for pitching the idea to honor the fares to El Al President and CEO Elyezer Shkedy, but said the decision for the direct flight add-on was Shkedy’s.

“If we’re honoring passengers’ tickets, let’s also offer them an opportunity to fly with El Al, and make life easier for families that might lose baggage and lose a connection,” Saadon said in explaining the company’s rationale behind the add-on offer.

On Tuesday, the day after the glitch set off a three-hour buying frenzy, an El Al spokesperson told The New York Jewish Week that the status of tickets purchased during the frenzy was “unclear.” The position was reinforced Wednesday by a follow-up statement posted to the company’s Twitter feed.

“Thanks for your patience,” the tweet read. “Details/decisions re incorrect fares that were briefly sold on Monday are not finalized.”

The wavering was in contrast to two separate Twitter posts on Monday afternoon that pledged to honor the tickets. Saadon in the JTA interview acknowledged that the company’s posts via Twitter on Monday may have been a contributing factor in the decision to honor the tickets.

“Once we said it, we may as well follow our word,” Saadon said.

The decision to honor was “mainly to save face with El Al,” he said. “We’re talking about thousands of passengers. Most are customers anyways, they just took advantage of a ticket that was available at a low price. We’d rather keep them flying with El Al without disappointing them.”

To minimize exposure to similar glitches in the future, Saadon said that El Al will review fares before they are posted online and maintain a buffer of two hours before the process is finalized.

“I’m very pleased with the decision we made,” he said. “Our customers are very important to us and we want them to fly El Al.”

El Al dithers on honoring cheap fares


An El Al spokesperson said the airline had not decided whether or not to honor round-trip tickets to Israel that were offered erroneously for prices as low as $330.

On Wednesday afternoon, the airline issued the following statement via Twitter: “Thanks for your patience. Details/decisions re incorrect fares that were briefly sold on Monday are not finalized. We will update tomorrow.”

The announcement came two days after El Al codeshare flights from several U.S. cities to Israel went on sale for bargain-basement prices due to an error by a subcontractor handling El Al’s winter promotional fares. The round-trip tickets ranging from $330 to $460, including all taxes and fees, were for travel between November and March and included layovers in Europe.

On Monday, El Al said via Twitter that 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 at around 6 p.m., once the inexpensive prices were no longer available.

But on Tuesday, the airline appeared to backtrack, suggesting in a comment to The New York Jewish Week and later in emails to JTA that El Al had not decided conclusively whether or not to honor the purchases.

Israeli hotels showcase a summer medley of adventures


Spurred by a record-breaking number of foreign tourists who visited the Holy Land during the first quarter of 2012, Israel’s burgeoning hotel industry is gearing up for a busy summer tourism season by sprucing up their facilities and offering a variety of titillating vacation packages.

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the 752,000 foreign visitors who entered the country between January and March 2012, not only eclipsed last year’s figures by 2 percent, the first-quarter figures also represent a 1 percent increase over 2010, which Israel’s Ministry of Tourism declared was Israel’s best year ever for incoming tourism.

Despite the generally optimistic picture, many hotel managers aren’t assuming that North American Jewish tourists will reflexively book a vacation to Israel when there are myriad interesting destinations to choose from. In order to attract both veteran and new foreign tourists to their facilities, some of Israel’s best-known hotels have undergone a series of physical transformations in order to broaden their appeal, while others have focused on offering newfangled experiences to both couples and families with children.

Ilan Brenner, executive assistant manager of marketing and sales at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, said that the hotel’s staff knows its clients, and in a growing number of cases they have literally grown up with entire families.

“So when a new generation emerges, we already have a good idea about their needs. Both returning and new tourists are always searching for and asking about upgrades, so we are constantly adding incentives, whether it’s a free car, a multimedia game room for youngsters, new spa treatments, trendy gastronomic experiences in the dining room,” he said. 

Rafi Beeri, the Dan Hotel’s vice president of marketing and sales, said renovations at Dan properties have included some innovations. “The King David has undergone a major makeover with a new section of rooms and suites. At the Dan Carmel, which debuted in 1962, we have completed a top-to-bottom renovation [that] includes new executive rooms, which overlook Haifa Bay and the Carmel Mountains. With the Dan Jerusalem, which we acquired in 2010, we realized that renovating this huge hotel would have to be done in phases and feature some unique aspects.”

According to Beeri, the Dan Jerusalem highlights a unique hotel-within-a-hotel concept, where both guests and groups can benefit from more personalized services and amenities.

“It can be compared to an airline’s business-class environment,” he said. “We’ve upgraded a wing of 120 rooms, where guests or groups who wish to stay in this section will enjoy a separate check-in area, separate lounge and dining facilities, as well as a special staff that will cater to them in a more personalized manner.”

The Ramada Jerusalem Hotel has acquired a stellar reputation among families who seek discounted long-term vacation packages (from seven to 21 days) with a variety of summer activities for adults and children, including its “We Love Kids” program, which features daily entertainment for children, including magicians and petting zoos.

“During weekdays, we offer complimentary shuttle bus service to the Old City, which is an attraction for the parents. And, our outdoor American-style barbecues out by the pool area during August always attracts a large audience of both adults and children,” said Yacov Shaari, general manager of the Ramada Jerusalem Hotel. The growing Rimonim chain recently rebranded four of its upscale properties to create the “Royal Collection,” which includes the Royal Dead Sea, Rimonim Eilat, Ruth Rimonim Safed and Rimonim Galei Kinnereth. Each hotel accentuates contrasting experiences for the mind, body and soul.

“During the summer months, the Royal Dead Sea will feature special spa packages that include the hotel’s new Royal Lounge,” said Anat Aharon, Rimonim’s vice president of sales and marketing. “At the Ruth Rimonim in Safed, we invite guests to let their soul breathe amid the mystic beauty of the hotel’s Galilean surroundings. The hotel also features a wine cellar, where you can sample the best Israeli wines and enjoy small talk.”

At the Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel, where North American, British and French tourists converge during the summer months, the “accent” will be on indulging kids and parents alike.

“Last year, we opened a children’s pool. This year, we will complement it with a guarded kids’ playground with games and toys, where families can relax and enjoy the pool while their children are playing,” said Jean-Louis Ripoche, general manager of the Sheraton Tel Aviv. “During the summer, we will be extending breakfast hours in the dining room till noon, so couples and families can enjoy a longer, relaxed morning. After breakfast, we offer adults a free bicycle, so they can pedal around the seaside boardwalk area and beyond.”

It’s important to note that despite a 15 to 20 percent rise in the cost of airline tickets to Israel since last summer, many Israeli hotels have not raised their basic rates. Israeli hoteliers are cognizant of the fact that families are looking to maximize their vacation experience without blowing a hole in their budget.

Here is a guide to some of the hottest summer deals across Israel:

Inbal Jerusalem Hotel
July rates begin at $150 per person in a double room, based on a minimum five-night stay. The hotel’s Web site features several unique summer deals. Guests who book three consecutive nights in a “superior room” are entitled to a free car. Guests who book at least three consecutive nights in “executive rooms” or higher category are also entitled to a vehicle upgrade (such as Mazda 6). In August, the hotel’s popular Kids Club will feature a supervised multimedia game room and Gymboree. The Splash Bar situated poolside highlights an American-style barbecue menu as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for adults and children. The hotel’s Mediterranean-accented Sofia restaurant has received rave reviews for the unique fish and pasta dishes served up by executive chef Moti Buchbut. 
inbalhotel.com.

Ramada Jerusalem Hotel
The hotel’s “We Love Kids” rates start at $198 based on a seven- to 14-night stay, including two adults and one child in a room (including breakfast). Rates are discounted even further based on stays exceeding 14 nights. Amenities include large indoor and outdoor pools, health club and sauna, as well as supervised summer children’s camps and a teen corner during July and August. This hotel highlights OU mehadrin glatt kosher cuisine.
jerusalemramada.com.

Dan Hotels
Rates for July and August for guests who book “Golden 7 Nights” at the King David start at $480 a night per room (per couple) based on a bed and breakfast excursion. The “Golden 7” special also includes pampering amenities such as free round-trip transportation between Ben-Gurion Airport and the hotel. Guests who stay a minimum of three nights are entitled to a free voucher to the Dan Lounge at Ben Gurion Airport on the day of their departure from Israel. At the Dan Jerusalem, guests who book a minimum of three nights in “deluxe rooms” will receive a free upgrade to “executive rooms,” which includes the use of the hotel’s new King David Executive Lounge.
danhotels.com.

Sheraton Tel Aviv
Hotel & Towers

The hotel is offering an “early bird package” starting from $370 per person with a minimum booking of five nights, or three nights non-refundable. The charge for a child in the room under the age of 17 is $30 per child. There is no charge for children under 3 years old. There is a limited promotion whereby guests who stay for a minimum of five nights between Aug. 5 and Aug. 25 will receive complimentary tickets to the world famous Cirque du Soleil, which will be playing Tel Aviv during August. Rates start from $400 a night based on double occupancy. The special deal can be booked direct via the hotel’s Web site.
sheratontelaviv.com.

Rimonim Hotels
Various deals are available for guests who book directly via the Web site. Rates vary for midweek and weekend vacations. At the Royal Dead Sea
guests staying in suites and preferred room types will enjoy a separate check-in at the lounge, private breakfast and dinner, as well as snacks and drinks during the day. Galei Kinnereth’s luxurious spa highlights a “domed Jacuzzi” overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The Rimonim Eilat’s “Serenity & Action” package includes a choice of two hot attractions for the whole family: IMAX Theater/Underwater Observatory/Ice & Space, when reserving for a minimum of three nights. The hotel’s “Romantic Serenity” deal for couples features pampering amenities such as, breakfast for two in your room, one gift dinner, spa treatment for both, as well as a 45-minute pedicure and manicure.
english.rimonim.com


Rimonim Royal Dead Sea pool

In their off hours, El Al flight crews are now ‘ambassadors’


A good flight crew requires a certain amount of charm to keep passengers calm during turbulence, emergencies or pretzel shortages.

Five El Al Airlines flight attendants and a pilot put those skills to the test Monday at Rutgers University in New Jersey as they fielded questions on their personal lives and on Israel from an audience of more than 100 for nearly two hours.

It was the opening event for the El Al Ambassadors program, an initiative to put El Al crews to use during their U.S. layover time to create a positive image of Israel in the United States. The idea is to counteract the negative images of Israel in the news with the personal stories and faces of El Al pilots and flight attendants.

“This is a unique opportunity for a Zionist company in the private sector to do something meaningful,” said Alon Futterman, the program’s director and emissary development director at the Jewish Agency for Israel. “You have real people. You have people with families. You have people with the same range of ages talking about real life.”

El Al partnered with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the advocacy group StandWithUs and the Jewish Agency to select 60 El Al crew members from hundreds of volunteers to take part in the pilot program (no pun intended). The event at Rutgers, which boasts one of the largest populations of Jewish undergraduates in the country, was organized by members of the university’s Hillel.

Organizers say the El Al volunteers were chosen largely for their eloquence and English skills, but it did not escape the notice of students that the El Al delegation was unusually diverse: two gay men, a Druze Israeli, a woman who sidelines as an aerobics instructor and a pilot who also is a yoga teacher. The six also happened to be particularly attractive.

Futterman said El Al crews already have received 20 invitations to speak at events across the United States in 2012.

“We weren’t specifically looking for diversity, but it came out that way,” said Daniel Saadon, vice president of El Al’s North and Central America operations. He described the six participants as “the civilian wings of Israel.”

The Monday talk largely kept clear of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Questions ranged from what life is like for gay men in Israel—“We live a normal life. The nightlife is better than New York,” said flight attendant Kai Elias—to balancing a flying career with university studies to dealing with ear popping upon descent.

The crew members also discussed headier topics such as Israel’s changing society, the tent protests that sprung up in Israel over the summer and the changing role of Zionism. Crew member Yuval Vershavsky, a 34-year-old father of two, said Zionism is now about making Israel “a more just, liberal and secular country.”

One of the gay flight attendants, Gilad Greengold, said the only time he had felt the subject of discrimination in Israel was when he and his partner were denied an apartment lease after the landlady consulted with her rabbi.

“It’s not very common,” he said. “It’s just something we’ll have to deal with and change.”

Fares Saeb, a newly married Druze flight attendant, told JTA that the program was an opportunity to share a unique perspective.

“You talk to people from around the world and you get to see how they see Israel, how local press covers Israel,” he said. “They have a narrow perspective, and we have an opportunity to show something personal, private and human. You get a larger perspective from the air.”

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.