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I fly to Israel often, sometimes a few times a year. It’s a great country to visit but getting there on points and miles could be a challenge, especially if you live near a secondary airport, like me. Often, like on this trip, instead of booking a return ticket, I booked two separate tickets with two separate programs. Sometimes I try to include another destination on the other side of the Atlantic. This time I’ve combined a trip to Berlin with a trip to Israel.
My trip home included a flight to fly to Miami and then to my home airport of Cleveland. Hurricane Dorian was still wreaking havoc over the Bahamas so I wasn’t sure if I’ll be able to get home when I was supposed to. Fortunately, Miami wasn’t on the direct path of the hurricane and my flight wasn’t affected.
When I boarded my flight to Miami, I wasn’t sure if my flight to Cleveland was going to be on time, or what was really happening on the East coast. I paid the taxes and fees with my husband’s Chase Sapphire Reserve, so I knew I had trip interruption insurance just in case things went awry in Miami.
El Al has a separate area for business class check-in. The first step of Ben Gurion Airport’s security procedure is a short chat with a screener who will ask you some questions about who packed your bag, if you received any gifts from anyone etc. I saw a long line for this first screening for economy class passengers. However, there was a separate line for El Al’s business class passengers that moved briskly.
There was nobody in line for the check-in and in a couple of minutes I was on my way to security and passport control.
King David Lounge
El Al doesn’t share its King David lounge with other airlines; instead, it’s only open to El Al’s business class passengers and El Al’s Gold and Platinum members. A couple of other lounges at Ben Gurion airport serve business class passengers on all other flights, as well as Priority Pass members.
My flight was at 12:30 A.M. when a lot of other U.S. bound flights depart from Tel Aviv. I can’t say that the lounge was crowded, but it was definitely busy. Second floor, or the “gallery floor” as they call it, was far less crowded so this is where I camped out while I waited for my flight.
I’ve always wondered why airport lounges often don’t have enough tables where you can eat or work. This was definitely the case here – the tables were in short supply. There aren’t enough outlets either – I saw passengers wandering around with charges in their hands, looking to plug in their devices.
All food at Ben Gurion airport for purchase and in the lounges is kosher. Therefore, there’s one kosher restaurant that serves meat, and all the other lounges and restaurants serve dairy food only. So if you think that food at King David Lounge looks like breakfast food, you aren’t wrong. It does look like a breakfast buffet. Meat or no meat, the food was delicious. There were a few Israeli salads, including very good humus, cheeses, breads and pastries.
I can’t eat dairy or gluten so I am always on the lookout for alternatives. Luckily for me, there was a sign saying to ask a staff member for gluten free items. I found a staff member right away and asked her about what they have. She offered me gluten free pizza, cake and bread.
There were a couple of self-serve coffee machines, free-flowing white and red wine and beer on tap.
Boarding and the Business Class Cabin
Surprisingly, boarding started about 15 minutes earlier than indicated on the boarding pass and we were ready to go a few minutes before the official departure time. El Al does boarding by groups and there’s a separate door at the gate for business class passengers.
The gate agent asked me if I had any liquids over 3 oz. and quickly looked inside my carryon bag. The only other time I’ve been asked about liquids was when I flew on United. European carriers don’t care how much liquid you bring on board.
The business class cabin on this Boeing 787 dreamliner reminded me of United’s Polaris cabin but done in dark grey and brown tones instead of blue and grey. I loved the wide seats, good sized footwell and the dimmable windows, a unique feature of Dreamliner aircraft.
While we were waiting for all the passengers to board, the flight attendants came around with welcome drinks and offered a newspaper.
I had a window seat in row 15 with the wide armrest between me and the window. I got less privacy this way, but I always get cold if I sit right by the window. The cabin temperature was on the cold side, definitely colder than on a European flight. My seat was very comfortable and I got a good six hours of sleep. I have trouble sleeping on planes, even in lie-flat seats, so that was a nice surprise!
The pillow was the standard size for a business class pillow, and the duvet blanket was really cozy.
The Amenity Kit
The amenity kit came in a cute white mesh bag and included all the usual stuff, like ear plugs, an eye mask and the standard toiletries. The kit is made by a well known Israeli brand Laline. I always keep the pouches and bags from business class amenity kits and use them to store small things like charges and cords.
A USB port was conveniently located near the little storage compartment with the headphones but the electrical outlet was almost under the seat, not the best location. It was hard to find it in the dark and I kept knocking out my phone charger with my blanket.
Inflight entertainment system came with a huge screen that swung forward and there was plenty of stuff to watch. The movie selection included tons of new releases and Hollywood classics, as well as Israeli and international movies. TV selection was good too (they even had Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. And if an airline is showing full seasons of Friends (my favorite show), I am happy!
There’s no free WiFi onboard, but you can purchase a plan from El Al.
A few minutes after reaching cruising altitude, the flight attendants came around with the menus.
This was a 12 hour 20 minutes flight but the menu only had dinner items on it. It wasn’t clear if, and when, we were going to get another meal. Flight attendants came around to pass some nuts and to take drink orders. By that time, it was almost 1:30 A.M. and I just wanted to go to sleep. Usually, I am not one to skip a meal, but even I was tired so late at night.
After I woke up, I asked for my dinner, which was really a breakfast at this point. The flight attendants told me that the dinner had been sitting in the oven for a few hours at this point and they could offer me a mid-flight snack of sandwiches and a small salad. Bread is a no go for me, so I insisted on dinner, even if it’s cold. They ran out of beef, my first choice so I chose salmon.
It was served cold, which was fine with me, as I was starving and I actually like cold salmon.
The entire meal minus the dessert was served on a single tray. My salmon was actually still quite tasty, but the appetizers could’ve been better.
Breakfast was served about 90 minutes before landing and again, I wished it was on the same menu as dinner, so I could see what we are going to be eating ahead of time.
Israel is my favorite foodie destination, but El Al’s onboard food wasn’t the best. I knew ahead of time not to expect too much, so I wasn’t disappointed. Food is never a determining factor for me anyway. I care most about the lie flat seat and being able to stretch out and sleep on the long flight.
How I Booked El Al Business Class
El Al isn’t a part of any airline alliance, but is a partner airline of Australia’s flagship carrier Qantas. This is when knowing airline alliances and partnerships really comes in handy! Who would have thought that you can book a flight on an Israeli airline with Australian carrier’s points?
Qantas has a distance-based award chart. At the time, I needed 86,000 points to book a flight from Israel to the U.S., including the domestic connection. Earning Qantas points by flying is really difficult for someone based in the U.S. but Qantas is a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou points. In March, Citi was running a 40% transfer bonus promotion so I transferred 63,000 points to my Qantas account. This was such a steal! It’s hard to find a program that’ll get you from Israel to the U.S. for only 63,000 points and minimal surcharges.
Since then, Qantas has slightly devalued their award chart and now you need 90,000 Qantas miles to get from Israel to the East Coast. If you need to add a domestic connection on American Airlines, it’ll cost at least 8,000 more miles, depending on the distance.
I am going to keep my eyes open for another transfer bonus. The food on El Al’s wasn’t my favourite, but I really liked the big comfortable seats, so I’d love to fly El Al again.
This was my first time flying El Al in about 25 years, and first time in business class. Flying to Miami is somewhat roundabout way of getting from Israel to Cleveland but I made it work.
My only other one-stop option is United, but it’s very hard to find award space on that route. I didn’t mind a slight detour in a very comfortable business class seat.