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.