We’ve written quite a bit about taking advantage of the big Turkish Miles & Smiles sweet spot for award travel within the US, recently consolidating information and publishing a post on How to book flights on United using Turkish Miles & Smiles. However, domestic US flights are not the only sweet spot; given the recent development that Citi Double Cash rewards can transfer 1:1 to Thank You points, this program deserves even more attention. Here’s a look at some of the Turkish Miles & Smiles sweet spots for business class travel to/from the US.
Caution: you may have trouble booking
Since late last week, we’ve had some reports from readers who have been told by phone agents that the computer system for booking Star Alliance awards is being upgraded or has been upgraded and the ability to book Star Alliance award is temporarily unavailable. Despite that, I was able to book an award this week, so I wouldn’t put 100% faith in whatever one agent says.
One reader reports being told by more than one rep that the system has been down and they have been unable to search for any Star Alliance availability “since September 20th”. I called twice on September 21st and both agents with whom I spoke were able to find availability on United with no mention of a problem (neither agent saw the direct flight I wanted, but both did find connecting itineraries).
I then called again on Sunday night and was told the system was down for an upgrade. As such, I emailed a ticket office on Monday. Within about an hour, they responded with the reservation on hold (for the nonstop flight I wanted). I called the hotline later that evening to pay for the held award and had no problem getting it ticketed over the phone (another reader reported success with the same yesterday). After ticketing, that agent was able to search for Star Alliance flights with no issue.
The fact that I was able to get an award put on hold and ticketed on Monday and that this agent was additionally able to do further Star Alliance award searching leads me to believe that it is still possible to book Star Alliance awards over the phone if you get the right agent.
However, it may not be easy to get the right one: we had one report yesterday from a reader who says he called 8 times and was either told the system was down or there was no availability each time. That’s frustrating.
Is it worth trying to book awards with Turkish Miles & Smiles given the potential struggle? I’d argue that in some cases, it is. I’ve gotten through to an agent quickly each time I’ve called (within a few minutes). The only long calls I’ve had are the ones where I’ve successfully booked an award. On the other hand, eight calls with no results would be frustrating. Given my success ratio is still relatively high and mileage savings is also quite high, I’ll continue to give them a shot — but it’s worth being aware that award tickets booked with Turkish Miles & Smiles may not be the easiest to book.
Turkish Miles & Smiles award chart for travel to/from the US
You can find the full Turkish Miles & Smiles award chart here (scroll down to “Award ticket table” and click the tiny red arrows to the right of those words to expand the chart).
However, I made a US-centric version of the chart here:
Note that I did some consolidation. For example, Turkish splits Europe into three zones (Europe 1, Europe 2, Europe 3). The price from the US to/from each of those zones is the same, so I consolidated that to “Europe” for the purposes of this chart.
Turkish Miles & Smiles award booking rules
There are a few things that make Turkish Miles & Smiles award bookings unique (or uniquely frustrating given their comparative restrictiveness). Here are the main things to note:
- You can only fly one carrier per direction. This means you can not match a United positioning flight with a Swiss transatlantic flight for instance. It’s either all Swiss or all United (or all one carrier).
- You can have a maximum of 4 segments per direction.
- Mixed-cabin awards are not allowed. This means you can not match a short segment in economy class with a long-haul business class flight. You’ll need to find availability in the same cabin the whole way.
- A stopover is allowed if booking a round trip award where the total price is at least 60K miles in economy, 90K miles in business, or 135K miles in first class. You can alternatively have an open jaw on a round trip award (no minimum mileage requirement) or if flying on Turkish Airlines you can have a stopover in Istanbul with no minimum mileage requirement.
- Fuel surcharges are added to awards. I’d recommend focusing on carriers known for having no fuel surcharges / low surcharges.
- You can not transit a third region. At least not technically. I’ve read some success stories here, so it may be possible if you get the right agent — but theoretically you can not connect in a third region when traveling between two other regions.
- You no longer need to go to a ticket office to ticket an award. In the past, Turkish required you to visit one of their (very few) ticket offices in person to ticket an award. Thankfully, this can now be done over the phone (or in some cases online). See the relevant section below.
Despite the above quirks, there is still plenty of value to be found in a few of the sweet spots.
How to book Turkish Miles & Smiles awards
You may be able to book an award online if you have enough miles in your account. Otherwise, it makes sense to first call and put an award itinerary on hold before transferring miles.
Start by searching for Star Alliance award availability at United.com.
To book a Star Alliance award ticket over the phone with Turkish Miles & Smiles, follow these steps:
- Call 1-800-874-8875
- Press 1 to continue in English
- Press 1 because you’re a Miles & Smiles member
- Enter your Miles & Smiles number
- Press 1 to confirm your number is correct
- Press 4 for reservations
When you call Turkish Airlines to book your Star Alliance award ticket over the phone, you will need to be prepared to tell the agent exactly which flights you want and then feed the agent one segment at a time.
Turkish sweet spots for travel to/from the US
Here are the key sweet spots that stand out to me:
- Miles required: 45K miles each way in business class
- Best alternative programs for the same award: Asiana charges 40K each way for business class to/from Europe, but their only US transfer partner is Marriott (or they have a credit card). ANA Mileage Club (an Amex transfer partner) charges 88K round trip, but requires round trip booking. The most practical alternative for one-way awards is Aeroplan at 55K each way.
- Notes: Despite the fact that it isn’t the absolute lowest price to Europe, this is nonetheless a great deal for business class travel to/from Europe compared to what most airline programs charge. Just watch out for fuel surcharges, which you may be able to avoid by booking travel on United, Brussels Airlines, SAS, or Swiss.
- Miles required: 52.5K miles each way in business class
- Best alternative programs for the same award: Most programs charge at least 70K miles or more each way to this region. The probable best value alternative would be using Avianca LifeMiles to book the long-haul in business class, tagging a long economy class leg on one end or the other (See: Avianca LifeMiles’ awesome mixed-cabin award pricing. First Class for less.) — but even that most likely couldn’t compete with 52.5K each way (though Avianca does allow you to mix partners).
- Notes: At 52.5K miles one way, a business class award ticket to Central Asia could be a phenomenal value. Getting all the way to Nepal, for example, for 52.5K miles in business class looks like a great deal.
The difficulty here is likely to be the restriction that prevents transiting a third region: you technically can not transit Europe to get to these destinations. Thus I believe that Air India would be the only option for reaching most destinations in this region — though you certainly may have success bending the rules with the right agent.
Countries in the region include:
- Miles required: 47K miles each way in business class
- Best alternative programs for the same award: To my knowledge, Turkish has the best price to this region in business class. Asiana charges 60K each way in business class, but their only US transfer partner is Marriott (they additionally have a credit card).
- Notes: The difficulty here is likely to be similar to the above: if you can not find an agent willing to let you transit a third region, I think you may be limited to flying United to Tel Aviv as I do not believe there are any other direct Star Alliance flights between the US and this region.
Countries included in this region:
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
Central and North Africa
- Miles required: 49K miles each way in business class
- Best alternative programs for the same award: To my knowledge, Turkish has the best price to this region in business class. ANA Mileage Club (an Amex transfer partner) charges 105K round trip in business class.
- Notes: This would be an awesome sweet spot if not for fuel surcharges given the fact that Ethiopian could get you just about anywhere in the region. Still, fuel surcharges appear to be about $200 each way, which is manageable, especially given the price of an award.
Countries included in this region:
- Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda
- Miles required: 67.5K miles each way in business class
- Best alternative programs for the same award: ANA Mileage Club (an Amex transfer partner) charges from 90K round trip in business class (which must be booked round trip). Outside of the Star Alliance, Alaska Mileage Plan charges just 50K each way in business class on Cathay Pacific or Hainan or 60K each way on Japan Airlines (and first class can be had for 70K).
- Notes: While Turkish doesn’t offer the absolute cheapest deal to the Far East in business class, the number of Star Alliance carriers flying from the US to this region means you’ll probably be able to find availability (note that you could potentially fly Air Canada, ANA, Asiana, Air China, EVA Airways, or United for example).
Countries included in this region definition include:
- Brunei, Cambodia, China (except Hong Kong and Macao), China Taipei, Hong Kong – SAR of China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam
Turkish Miles & Smiles can be a challenging program in that many awards are not bookable online and phone bookings can sometimes require many phone calls. However, if you get lucky and get an agent who is able to find availability on your chosen route, some of these sweet spots represent the best options to the respective regions. With the Citi Double Cash now converting earnings to Thank You points 1:1, these deals are looking better than ever.
[…] there are insanely good sweet spots in the Turkish award chart. You might want to read a series of excellent Frequent Miler’s posts if you want to learn […]
I tried to book Barcelona-Shanghai-Kyoto with Turkish miles but two different agents weren’t able to find availability (on the flights I wanted or any alternative routings) – my date wasn’t flexible so I ended up booking through Lifemiles.
I think you mean on flights to Europe to recommend LOT not Swiss. Swiss usually has very high surcharges/fees, up there with Lufthansa and Austrian.
Strange – I just called Turkish 4x and was told each time by 4 different agents that they could not see the United flights (X Class) and all flights were unavailable from EWR-ORD-OGG and return for all of July. However, the last agent said I could create a reservation by booking with United, place a hold on it, and call back Turkish within 24 hours and then would be able to feed them the res # where it could be booked from Miles&Smiles. Any experience booking this way?
No. That’s definitely wrong. You’re not the first person to be told that, but it’s not at all how it works.
Frustrating when phone agents don’t see the availability for one reason or another. Out of curiosity, which leg didn’t they see available?
Hey Nick – they didn’t see any leg available. And that goes for 5 separate dates in July 2020. Every agent said the network was being upgraded and they did not have access to any X class tickets. Frustrating, but I figure I’ll HUCA for tonight and see what happens
Hmm. Trying to understand because this second comment of yours sounds different than the first: You said in your first comment above that they said all flights were unavailable from EWR-ORD-HNL and return for all of July. If they didn’t find EWR-ORD on any of the dates you gave them, I guess I don’t understand how you’d have been told that EWR-ORD-HNL and return aren’t available for all of July as you never would have gotten to the ORD-HNL leg nevermind the return.
Here’s what I guess I’m trying to figure out: Did you feed them the whole thing at once? If you did, that’s probably the first mistake. You have to feed them a single leg at a time. For example, “from EWR-ORD on July 8th, 2020.” Let them search for just that leg. I actually usually even tell them the flight number and departure time that I’m looking for. If they find it, say, “Ok, the next leg is from ORD-HNL on the same day”. I’ve found that telling them anything more than a single leg at a time leads to the “no availability” response.
Definitely frustrating and I obviously don’t know that doing it the above way will work either. You’re not the only person who has been told about upgrading the system. But like I said, I’ve booked one since they started saying that. I wish I understood how to make every agent helpful as nobody wants to call 10x to get a flight booked, myself included.
Hey Nick – I actually followed your example verbatim (https://frequentmiler.com/how-to-book-united-flights-using-turkish-miles-smiles/), feeding them one segment at a time as to not confuse them. Every single segment did not appear on their screens, EWR-ORD or ORD-OGG, and vice versa. I had a split screen open with every segment showing Saver award on United’s screen, for both departure and return.
And side note – they even had me attempt to book thru their portal, but as you guys pointed out, EWR does not show. I pointed this out to each agent, and they just poo-pooed it saying nothing in general.
Either way, frustrating, but heck, for 15K roundtrip, worth the frustration! I’ll keep you posted.
Excuse me for being late to this opportunity and a bit pedantic but just to clarify if I go on United.com and find business class award availability for say round trip Bangkok and United wants 360,000 miles that I can get the same itinerary with Turkish for 135,000 miles?
No. The first nearly universal truth about award travel is that you need saver award availability on the airline you want to fly in order to book it with a partner’s miles. Any availability you see on United.com for any airline other than United is saver availability (that’s why it’s available to book with United miles). In other words, if you look to fly to Bangkok, let’s say you see an option on United.com to fly ANA business class to Tokyo and connect to a Thai Airways business class flight to Bangkok from there. United will want 80K each way for that. Instead, you could book that with 62.5K Turkish miles each way.
If you’re looking to book on a United flight, you need it to say “Saver Award” above the total.
Question–in your example, you use a ANA flight to Tokyo connecting to a Thai business flight, but I understood from your post that only one carrier can be used in each direction.Am I misunderstanding or is that only for certain regions? Thanks!
I’m sorry. Should have made that third cup of coffee today. You’re absolutely correct. You can’t mix partners. In fact, that was a bad example on several levels since Japan is also a separate region. Queuing up the Keurig right now.
A more accurate example would be if you found an itinerary from Houston to Taipei to Bangkok on EVA Airways. If you see that available on United. Com, that’s saver availability that would be bookable with Turkish miles and smiles.
If you want to fly on United Metal, you’ll need to find an itinerary that says saver award above it. And then you’ll need some patients as you may need to call the Turkish hotline a few times to find an agent who can actually figure out how to book it. But they can. Definitely call first though because you can put an itinerary on hold for 48 hours without the points in your account yet. Get it on hold, then transfer from Citi Thank You points. Points transfer takes between 18 and 30 hours, so you have plenty of time to call back and ticket it after they move over.
Well good luck trying to find Business Class Saver Availability to Bangkok from LAX in December. I.ve been monitoring this for months and nothing comes up.
You cannot use “can not” 🙂
What is the fuel surcharge on Egyptair flights from iad/jfk/yyz?
>ANA Mileage Club (an Amex transfer partner) charges 105K round trip in business class, but their only US transfer partner is Marriott (they additionally have a credit card).
Think you may have gotten some Asiana language mixed in there?
Whoops — thanks, fixed that.
When you say that you cannot transit a third region, does this include a “connection” in Turkey also? Or does it only allow “stopovers”. Because if the program allows connections in Istanbul (even if only on their own metal) it would seem that there would be a lot of ways to reach cities in the Middle East and Central Asia, which you say now are limited to maybe one airline
It theoretically means you couldn’t connect in Turkey on the way to a region other than Europe, though in practice I imagine you can connect there on Turkish metal.
Thank you for this great post. Turkish does pass on fuel surcharges, right?
My only criticism of their otherwise cheap award chart is the placements of Sri Lanka and the Maldives in the “Far East” region while India remains in Central Asia. That one doesn’t make much sense to me from a geographical standpoint.
They do, yes.
I agree that the placement of those two in the Far East is curious. That said, regional quirks often open up other good opportunities to take advantage of award charts that classify countries in other regions if you’re putting together a multi-stop award.