Bargain-hunting Israelis Head for Europe for Year-end Sales

If you are traveling abroad to take advantage of the feast of end-of-the-year sales in foreign lands, you are not alone. About 20,000 Israelis are taking off around now for just that reason, the head of the Israel Tourist and Travel Agents Association, Yossi Fattal said yesterday.

Fattal said most people were headed to destinations in Europe, and that the numbers of sale-seeking travelers might be slightly less than last year, but not significantly so.

The temptations of foreign shopping destinations are especially great this year due to a combination of three factors: seasonally low prices for plane tickets, unprecedented sales at chain stores and other retail outlets, especially in Europe, because of the economic crisis and low foreign currency rates compared to the shekel.

"London is now cheaper than New York because the pound and the euro are at the same rate compared to the shekel. Even economically, it's worth it to fly abroad especially to shop at rock-bottom prices," Fattal said.

As an example, he says Israelis who buy five iPhones only has to sell some of them to cover the cost of the trip when they come home.

London, New York, Paris and Barcelona are the most popular shopping destinations, according to travel experts.

The cost of a bargain-hunters' tour package to New York, for example, could run around $1,598 per person, not including meals. It includes a ticket on El Al and seven nights in a hotel in Pennsylvania, leaving December 24 and returning December 31.

The cost of a package to London is $699 per person in a double room. This also includes the cost of an El Al ticket and departs on December 25 and returns December 28. The package also includes accommodations and breakfast at the three-star Lords Hotel.

Sale-seekers who opt for Paris could pay $799 per person in a double room on a charter flight leaving Ben-Gurion on January 7 and returning on January 11, with stays at the three-star Alexandrine Opera Hotel, including breakfast.

The package to Barcelona is going for $679 per person in a double room, also a charter flight, leaving on January 8 and returning on January 11, at the three-star Aragon Hotel, including breakfast.

The ISSTA travel agency's deputy director general for marketing, Ronen Carasso, says jet-setting Israeli bargain-hunters can be spotted by a number of shared characteristics.

"They usually pick dates close to the time of the sales and ask the airlines to allow them to come back with overweight suitcases on their trip home," he said. "They are mostly women who travel in groups of three or four friends, and make purchases of clothes and toys for the whole family. They also take advantage of the trip to celebrate New Year's abroad."