It had been a busy summer/Chagim season, with some of our married children, half a dozen grandchildren, and many other relatives and friends visiting for days or weeks at a time. All in all, it was a hectic but happy whirlwind, and by the time regularly scheduled programming resumed, we were equal parts content and spent. And other than a 24-hour last-minute escape to the north of the country, we had not managed to get away at all.
So when I received repeated warning emails from my frequent flier club informing me that a significant number of my hard-earned miles were due to expire in the coming months, I took it as a sign that my husband and I were being subliminally advised to take a belated but much-needed vacation.
A quick check of the mileage rewards chart made our decision easier still: At that time of the year, the “cheapest” destination from our home in the Holy Land was – hands-down – Athens. Fine with me. A mere two-hour flight and lots to see, both historical and scenic. Hotel and Airbnb arrangements could likewise be found on a budget. I began looking for available dates that worked.
That’s when I hit the first snag: Over $130 per person in additional taxes and surcharges on top of the the required sum of air miles. I was about to reluctantly book anyway when I had an uncharacteristic lightbulb moment – perhaps it was worthwhile to check the regular airfares first.
And that’s when the real shocker hit: That same airline’s standard no-frills fare was $128 per person, with no air miles required! The fare did not include checked luggage or advanced seat selection, but for a two-day stay and a two-hour flight, neither seemed crucial. I booked the tickets. Since we were now paying for our tickets out of pocket and earning additional miles, we figured that we should earmark our soon-to-be-expired mileage points toward renting a car or purchasing duty-free items onboard instead.
Then I encountered the next “fashla.” Both my Israeli and American passports were valid for a few more years, and it seemed foolish to even check my husband’s passports, as he had just returned from a trip to the U.S. days earlier. But when I asked for his documents anyway, he belatedly shared, “Oh, by the way, they gave me a hard time at the airport because my Israeli passport is about to expire… I really have to get down to the Misrad Hapnim [Interior Ministry] and take care of that.” Now he tells me!
I reminded him that the government had recently changed the rules and an appointment was now required. He dutifully went online and scheduled the first available appointment – for a week before our scheduled flight! He subsequently surmised, as you probably have as well, that the timing of his appointment was than promising.
Since he had a few hours to spare before returning to yeshivah on Sunday morning, he decided to make a dash to the Ministry of the Interior and pray for a lucky break. He arrived shortly before the office officially opened, and explained his dilemma to the clerk. “We’re pretty booked with appointments this morning,” the clerk responded. “Maybe run some errands nearby for the next hour or two, and then come back and try your luck.” My husband did not have that much time to spare, so he decided to hang around and hope for the best.
At precisely 8 a.m. the first number was called, and a man approached the desk.
“Passport and Teudat Zehut [National Identity Card]?” the clerk requested.
“Um, I have my old passport, but I was not aware that I needed my ID card too,” was the disappointed response.
“How far from here do you live?” asked the kind officer.
And when he responded, “Ten minutes,” the agent instructed him to return with his missing document, assuring him that he would hold his place in line.
This time a woman approached the desk. She had her Teudat Zehut but did not realize that she also had to bring her old passport. After determining that she too lived just ten minutes away, the man instructed her to come back as soon as possible while he held her space in the queue. It was too early for the next appointment, so he then motioned to my husband, “You!”
And that is how my better half, who, unlike the two people ahead of him, did not technically have an appointment, but Baruch Hashem did have both his passport and Teudat Zehut, was able to apply for his updated passport well ahead of his scheduled appointment.
If nothing else, I hope that our experience teaches you to check whether (incredibly!) the airfare may actually be lower than the hidden surcharges on a mileage ticket, and to sometimes have a little chutzpah (and hopefully a lot of Siyata D’shmaya) when the occasion arises.
As we learned once again, with a little help from Above, truly anything and everything is possible.