Budget Travel Case Study: Israel

Western Wall - Kotel | Jerusalem

If you read my site regularly or follow me on Twitter, then you no doubt know that I recently returned from a trip to Israel. It was a remarkable adventure that created memories which I will carry for a lifetime. Given the location and length of the trip, it is even more remarkable that it was the most budget friendly trip I have ever planned.

I started LandLopers for a variety of reasons, one of which was to help people travel more often, more comfortably and more affordably. The opportunities I took advantage of in planning this trip were available to anyone and are not the result of any special deals or offers afforded to just me. I will detail the major cost points of the trip and along with each of these components you will see ways in which you too can travel the world without spending a fortune. (Lord, I sound like an infomercial – Call in the next 5 minutes!)

Airfare

Without question, the most expensive part of a trip like this is usually airfare. In general, airfare at the time of year in which I traveled ranges from $1,000 – $1,400, for the same itinerary. I paid $277.69 round trip, all taxes and fees included. There is no doubt that this was a phenomenal deal – it costs more to fly to Florida.

I was able to get this special fare thanks to a promotion U.S. Airways ran in June/July 2010. For a week, US Air ran special Twitter only deals for routes all over the US and a few international ones as well. There were many restrictions as well though. Each amazing deal was only available to a limited number of people, usually 15-20, had to be used during a very specific window and were usually originating only from their hubs or airports of interest. That being said, on the last day of their promotion they announced a nonstop flight from Philadelphia – Tel Aviv for $99 each way.

There were no additional hidden fees or fine print tricks related to these deals. My grand total was $277.69 and that was it. There’s no reason why anyone reading this post couldn’t have participated in the offer. The key is how to find out about these deals.

Hezekiah's Tunnel - City of David, Jerusalem
Emerging from the very wet and dark Hezekiah’s Tunnel in the City of David

Most people don’t have all day to play around on Twitter  – I certainly don’t. I found out about the Twitter specials from the US Airways newsletter. One of the best ways to find deals is to simply ask for them by signing up for newsletters. Long ago, I signed up for the newsletter of every hotel and airline I could find. Do they get annoying sometimes? You bet. But it’s not difficult to click the Delete button, especially when compared to the great deals offered in the newsletters. You also have to be flexible with these deals and keep an open travel mind. The US Airways Twitter deals were restrictive, but I found a way to make it work.

Hotels

Once I had the airfare in place, I had to find somewhere to stay. My research quickly unearthed the fact that Israel is a pricey country. What I would normally consider average hotels were very expensive and I was shocked at the prices. It took me a while to find a budget travel solution to this conundrum, but just a few weeks before I was scheduled to leave, the muse of travel inspiration paid me a visit.

When I fly, I try to use the same airline in order to maximize miles, as long as it’s the same price as the lowest option and makes sense for my travel destination. Of course it doesn’t always work out and sometimes I have to fly another airline. When I first entered the work world, I opened frequent flier accounts with all of the major airlines and over time, I accumulated a fair amount of miles on several airlines. Not necessarily enough for a great trip but, as it would turn out, more than enough to pay for a few nights at a hotel.

I had miles with two airlines in particular that I knew I would never redeem for airfare and so I used one to pay for four nights in Jerusalem and the other to pay for my Tel Aviv stay. A lot of people won’t bother to open accounts with airlines they only use once or twice a year, but it’s foolish to let these miles disappear. While it may take a few years, periodic use of the accounts can really pay off.

Everything Else

Ok, so far the two major travel expenses were under control. For $277 I had purchased a round trip, nonstop flight to Tel Aviv and 5 nights lodging. Not bad for a week away.

The only remaining costs were incidentals while traveling. I know from past experience that slow nickel and diming on trips can add up to a lot of money. A bottle of water here, a cab ride there and suddenly you have spent a fair amount of cash.

Israel is an expensive country, but I did a good job of keeping expenses down. I first made sure that both of my hotels included breakfast in the rates. I’ve mentioned this before, but free breakfast is pretty common to find outside of the U.S. and is essential when traveling. If you’re anything like me, you usually get up early to go play tourist. Not to sound like your mom, but a proper breakfast really does make a huge difference and there is no reason to pay for it when many hotels include it in the room rate.

Falafel Pita

I also minimized my use of cabs by walking more and using public transportation. Public transportation obviously varies from city to city, but this is almost always a feasible and low cost way to get around town. Hotel location is also key. Even if it means a few more dollars a night, choosing a well situated hotel will not only save you money in the long run, but a lot of headache as well.

Meals are another budget travel danger area, so I made sure that lunch was always low key. I love street food, so this wasn’t hard for me to accomplish, but there’s no reason to go to a mid-range restaurant for lunch when there are many other low cost alternatives. The best lunch I had in Jerusalem was when I bought a shawarma pita and sat down at the Jaffa gate to people watch. That travel experience was infinitely more satisfying than having generic food at a generic restaurant.

Overall, the grand total for a week in Israel, EVERYTHING included from airfare to an iced coffee at the Café Hillel, was less than $1,000. Not too shabby if I say so myself. But more importantly, everything I did you can do. I wasn’t offered anything special or took advantage of some secret deal. As long you plan, you can find these opportunities too.

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

Tags: , ,

Subscribe and get my free ebook!

Subscribe to the LandLopers newsletter and get a free copy of my new book, "My Favorite 50 Travel Photos."

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

15 Responses

  1. Adventurous Kate

    Simply brilliant, Matt! Hell of a trip and HELL of a deal! Thanks for sharing your tips here — I know they’ll help lots of people! My mom rolled her Delta miles over to me, which I turned into an Entertainment Weekly subscription…which doesn’t really make sense now that I’m on the road until May. Will be searching through my FF accounts for more freebies.

    Reply
  2. adam

    Great!

    Also, I was sitting right next to you when you got that iced coffee at Cafe Hillel 🙂

    Reply
  3. Emily @Travelated

    Wow–I can’t believe your trip cost less than $1,000! That’s brilliant!

    Reply
  4. No Vacation Required

    You are talking our language with this post! Nice work on these deals. The US Air deal really is a show-stopper (even though it did mean you had to fly US Air!).

    PS – My stomach says thanks for the picture of the pita.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Yeah, that was a seriously good falafel. 🙂 And I’ve been flying US Air exclusively for a couple of years now and on the whole it’s been a positive experience. They’ve upgraded their intl biz product with the Envoy class. Looks nice.

      Reply
  5. Kier Matthews

    This is a great post filled with excellent information! Thank you for sharing your insights with us!

    Reply
  6. Andi

    I cannot freaking believe the deal you got. Whaaaaaat!!! I’m super de duper jealous. What a score! I’m dying to visit Israel.

    Reply
  7. Jaime

    WOW less than $1000 for everything, that is awesome!!! I am very impressed. Thanks for the tips on airline deals. I never thought about signing up for newsletters.

    Are you gonna post more pics of this trip? I’d love to see more! I can’t wait to visit this part of the world.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Oh yes, many pics and stories to share. All in due time 🙂

      Reply
  8. Sarah Hamm

    Loved these tips, and the glimpses of Israel. I was able to go to Israel last year and it was an incredible place. Thanks for the travel tips, hopefully they’ll help me get back to Israel sooner rather than later.

    Reply
  9. Camels & Chocolate

    Wow, that’s amazing! I didn’t pay my way to Israel as I was on assignment but I had no idea you could do it so cheaply!

    Reply
  10. Travel Agents in Artesia

    Great! Thanks for sharing the tips. It’s really amazing !

    Reply
  11. Christy

    Really excited to hear about your trip. I’m headed to Israel in November for two weeks. Found a flight for 1K, but cashed in miles, got it for $330. Staying in a Convent in the old city for $50/nt, private room. 2 weeks airfare + lodging for ~$800… not too shabby. Can’t wait! 🙂 I’m going to catch up on the rest of your Israel posts now.

    Reply
  12. Ted & Sheila

    ok read your article and its great but we are two srs dont travel that much by air we drive woud like to visit Israel we have no time limits as we are srs

    when wouild you suggest to be the most economical time of year to visit

    also need some suggestions on sites to use for airlines

    we have found sites where we can rent condo/apts in jerusalem prices look reasonable

    how did you get fm airport to the tel aviv or jerusalem center city have been told its terribly expensive

    have heard that the public transportation system is great can take it to anywhere but is it reasonable as compared to renting a car and buying gas

    would appreciate any and all suggestions you can give

    thanks
    ted &Sheila
    two happy srs in Conway SC

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Your questions are very specific and I haven’t spent that much time in Israel. I would contact a travel agent that specializes in Israel travel to be honest. For condos I’d use HomeAway, for airfare watch AirFareWatchDog.com and the shuttle from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem may have been $50 or so? Have fun!

      Reply

Leave a Comment