How to Use Airline Miles for Award Travel to Istanbul

Apr 2, 2015

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Istanbul has been topping jetsetters’ hot lists for a few years now. With historic palaces and mosques, a beautiful waterfront, trendy neighborhoods and an up-and-coming restaurant scene, Turkey’s biggest city is one of the world’s most fascinating destinations. So if you haven’t had a chance to visit Istanbul yet, now is the time…and it’s easier than ever to use your miles to get there.

As a follow-up to his installments on strategies to get to Tokyo using miles and how to book awards to Sydney using miles, I asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to put together a handy guide for using miles to get to Istanbul.

When I think over my travels from the past few years, one of my favorite destinations (and one I reached using miles) has to be Istanbul. This bustling metropolis has it all: historic sights, world-class museums, delicious restaurants, great shopping and more. So for this installment of my series on how to use award miles to get to various destinations, Istanbul was the clear choice.

This post is going to look a little different from the previous two, since there are just so many options. Instead of separate sections on all the airlines that fly to Istanbul, and then a recap of the miles and points necessary to get there, I’m simply going to include a recap of Turkish Airlines and the airports it services in North America, and then a quick list of the other airlines that fly from North America to Istanbul via their various hubs.

The imposing exterior of the Blue Mosque, one of Istanbul's most-visited landmarks.
Visit the imposing Blue Mosque on your trip to Istanbul.

For the main part of the post, though, I’m going to get right into the mileage numbers for the major programs you’re likely to use, the airline partners to use them on, and the search strategies for each.

This guide will not contain every imaginable option for getting from North America to Istanbul. Instead, I decided to focus on the airlines, routes and miles you’re likely to use to get there fastest and cheapest. However, feel free to leave comments with your own strategies.

For more ideas on what to see and do, check out the Destination of the Week guide to Istanbul, and this recent post on what to do during a layover at Istanbul Ataturk International Airport.


For those of you who just want the information in one place, here’s a table showing the various miles and points you can use to get to Istanbul, as well as which airline and transfer partners you can use with each program.

The mileage numbers listed are for round-trip travel using an airline’s own miles, not those of its partners (I’ll get into that more later in the post).

Miles/Points Transfer and Airline Partners Miles Needed Round-trip
Alaska Air France/KLM, American, British Airways, Delta, Starwood Preferred Guest Economy: 40,000-65,000, Business: 100,000-125,000, First: 125,000-140,000
American Airlines AAdvantage Air Berlin, Alaska, British Airways, Iberia, SPG Economy: 40,000/60,000, Business: 100,000, First: 140,000
Delta SkyMiles Aeroflot, Air France/KLM, Alaska, Alitalia, Virgin Atlantic, Amex, SPG Economy: 60,000, Business: 125,000, First: N/A
United Air Canada, Austrian, Brussels, LOT, Lufthansa, SAS, SWISS, Turkish Airlines, United, Chase Ultimate Rewards, SPG (2:1) Economy: 60,000, Business: 115,000/140,000, First: 140,000/220,000
Aeroplan/Air Canada Austrian, Brussels, LOT, Lufthansa, SAS, SWISS, Turkish Airlines, United, Amex, SPG Economy: 75,000, Premium Economy: 90,000, Business: 105,000, First: 145,000
ANA Air Canada, Austrian, Brussels, LOT, Lufthansa, SAS, SWISS, Turkish Airlines, United, Amex, SPG Economy: 45,000, Business: 72,000, First: 110,000
Air France/KLM Aeroflot, Alaska, Alitalia, Delta, Amex, Citi ThankYou Rewards, SPG Economy: 50,000, Premium Economy: 100,000, Business: 125,000, First: 300,000
British Airways/Iberia Air Berlin, American Airlines, Amex, Chase, SPG Economy: 60,000-70,000, Business: 120,000/300,000, First: 180,000/
Lufthansa Miles & More Aeroplan, ANA, Austrian, Brussels, LOT, SWISS, Turkish Airlines, United, SPG Economy: 65,000, Business: 105,000, First: 170,000
American Express Membership Rewards Aeroplan, Air Berlin, Air France/KLM, Alitalia, ANA, British Airways, Delta, Iberia, Virgin Atlantic
Chase Ultimate Rewards British Airways, United, Virgin Atlantic
Citi ThankYou Rewards Air France/KLM
Starwood Preferred Guest Aeroplan, Air France/KLM, Alaska, Alitalia, American, ANA, British Airways, Delta, Emirates, Lufthansa Miles & More, United (2:1), Virgin Atlantic


Turkish Airlines presents a great option to get to Istanbul from more and more cities around the world.
Turkish Airlines presents a great option to get to Istanbul from more and more cities around the world.

Of course, the major carrier to consider is Turkish Airlines, which has made a huge effort in recent years to expand its fleet (and services international routes with its flagship 777-300ER’s and A330’s) as well as its global route network, including flights to the following North American gateways:

  • Boston
  • Chicago O’Hare
  • Houston
  • Los Angeles
  • Montreal
  • New York (JFK)
  • San Francisco
  • Toronto
  • Washington DC (Dulles)
The airline has a rapidly expanding route network both in Europe and North America.
Turkish Airlines has a rapidly expanding route network both in Europe and North America.

Apart from North American gateways, Turkish Airlines also flies to a number of hubs in Europe that you can connect from, including:

  • Amsterdam (KLM-SkyTeam)
  • Barcelona (Iberia-Oneworld)
  • Berlin Tegel (Air Berlin-Oneworld)
  • Brussels (Brussels Airlines)
  • Copenhagen (SAS)
  • Dublin (Aer Lingus, United)
  • Dusseldorf (Lufthansa)
  • Frankfurt (Lufthansa)
  • Lisbon (TAP)
  • London Gatwick (British Airways-Oneworld, Virgin Atlantic-none)
  • London Heathrow (British Airways-Oneworld, Virgin Atlantic-none)
  • Madrid (Iberia-Oneworld)
  • Milan Malpensa (Alitalia-SkyTeam)
  • Munich (Lufthansa)
  • Paris (Air France-SkyTeam)
  • Stockholm (SAS)
  • Stuttgart (Lufthansa)
  • Vienna (Austrian)
  • Warsaw (LOT)
  • Zurich (SWISS)

That’s a lot of names, but what it should tell you is that you have tons of options to connect through various cities on different Star Alliance and other carriers.

For instance, though SAS does not fly to Istanbul from its hubs in Copenhagen and Stockholm, you can get to Istanbul by flying SAS from one of its North American gateways like New York or San Francisco, and then connect on Turkish Airlines there. Or you could fly to Lisbon on TAP and catch Turkish from there.

Turkish Airlines' business class is pretty snazzy too.
Turkish Airlines’ business class is pretty snazzy too.

In terms of miles (which I will get into in more detail below), Turkish Airlines is a member of Star Alliance, so your best bet is to use one of the following mileage programs to book an award.

  • Aeroplan: 75,000 economy, 105,000 business class
  • ANA: 45,000 economy, 72,000 business class
  • United: 60,000 economy, 140,000 business class

In addition to Turkish Airlines’ services, here are some other airlines to consider flying from the US to Istanbul via their various hubs and partner hubs.


Miles to use: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan (not in alliance, but partners with several of these airlines), American Airlines AAdvantage (SPG), British Airways Avios (Amex, Chase, SPG).

  • Air Berlin flies to Berlin Tegel (TXL), but you would need to connect there.
  • American does not actually fly to Istanbul, but you can connect in other Oneworld hubs.
  • British Airways flies from London Heathrow (LHR).
  • Iberia flies from Madrid (MAD).


Miles to use: Alaska (not in alliance, but partners with several of these airlines), Delta SkyMiles (Amex, SPG), Air France/KLM Flying Blue (Amex, Citi, SPG).

  • Delta does not actually fly to Istanbul at this time, but you can fly it to one of its European partners’ hubs. It should begin seasonal non-stop service from JFK-IST June 18, 2015.
  • Aeroflot flies from Moscow (SVO).
  • Air France flies from Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG).
  • Alitalia flies from Rome Fiumicino (FCO).
  • KLM flies from Amsterdam (AMS).

Star Alliance
Miles to use: Air Canada Aeroplan (Amex, SPG), ANA (Amex, SPG), United MileagePlus (Chase, SPG)

  • Air Canada flies from Toronto (YYZ).
  • Austrian does not fly there, but you can connect to Turkish in Vienna.
  • Brussels Airlines does not fly there, but you can connect to Turkish in Brussels.
  • LOT flies from Warsaw (WAW).
  • Lufthansa flies from Frankfurt and Munich (FRA, MUC).
  • SAS does not fly there, but you can connect to Turkish in Stockholm or Copenhagen.
  • SWISS flies from Zurich (ZRH).


Here are some ideas about which miles to use to get to Istanbul, both on the specified carriers and their partners. I have included the number of miles you’ll need, airline partners, transferable points partners, and where to look for awards using each kind of mile.

Aeroplan is the mileage program of Air Canada. Canada’s national carrier flies to Istanbul from its gateway in Toronto, but it’s also a Star Alliance member, so you can use your Aeroplan miles to fly Turkish Airlines from either Toronto or Montreal.

Partner airlines: Air Canada, Austrian, Brussels Airlines, LOT, Lufthansa, SAS, SWISS, Turkish Airlines, United.

Transfer partners: American Express, Starwood Preferred Guest.

Miles needed round-trip:

  • Economy: 75,000
  • Business: 105,000
  • First: 145,000

Search for awards on: or

Aeroplan has one of the best Star Alliance award search engines. To use it, you just need an Aeroplan account to log in and search for awards (it’s not necessary to have miles in your account). The search will pull in Air Canada’s own flight availability as well as United and Turkish Airlines.

A mixed award itinerary pulled up by Aeroplan.
A mixed award itinerary pulled up by Aeroplan.

Here’s an example of a mixed award on both Air Canada and Turkish.

Aeroplan AC TA econ tax

And here’s an all-Turkish Airlines itinerary in business class.

Aeroplan YYZ IST Turkish

While taxes and fees on a ticket including segments on Air Canada are well above $200, if you book the Turkish Airlines itinerary instead, you’ll only pay about $60.

Air France/KLM Flying Blue
Thanks to its partnerships with several transferable points programs and membership in SkyTeam, this mileage program might be worth considering.

Partner airlines: Aeroflot, Air France, Alitalia, Delta, KLM.

Transfer partners: American Express, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest.

Miles needed round-trip:

  • Economy: 50,000
  • Premium economy: 100,000
  • Business: 125,000
  • First: 300,000

*Flying Blue also offers periodically rotating Promo Awards that knock 25-50% off award flights from certain US gateways. Also beware that you can end up paying hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees on tickets in premium cabins. Fees tend to be lower when flying Delta or Alitalia.

Search for awards on:

Air France actually has one of the best search engines for SkyTeam award availability, especially on its own Air France/KLM flights. All you have to do to use it is register for a Flying Blue account, log in and search for awards.

Here are example itineraries from Boston to Istanbul via Paris, with availability in economy, premium economy and business.


Alaska Airlines
Though not a member of any airline alliance, Alaska actually partners with tons of great airlines, so you can use your miles to get to Istanbul on either Oneworld or SkyTeam carriers.

Alaska has a lot of great partners that you can fly to Istanbul.
Alaska has a lot of great partners that you can fly to Istanbul.

Partner airlines: American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Air France and KLM.

Transfer partners: Starwood Preferred Guest.

Miles needed round-trip: Depends on carrier.

  • Economy: 40,000-65,000
  • Business: 100,000-125,000
  • First: 125,000-140,000

Search for awards on:,, or

Alaska’s site actually does a pretty decent job at pulling in partner award availability (though there seems to be an issue with Delta flights for now, and it seems to be prioritizing American and British Airways flights rather than Delta/Air France/KLM options).

Just note that you can’t mix and match alliances, so if you fly on American, you’ll have to connect with British Airways in Europe, or if you fly Delta, you’re looking at Air France/KLM. To solve this, just book one-way awards.

Here’s a sample search result for awards from San Francisco to Istanbul in November with tons of options on British Airways in each cabin class.

Alaska SFO IST

If you want to find awards on Delta, Air France and KLM, I suggest using to search for saver award space and calling Alaska to book it.

American Airlines
As a member of Oneworld, American partners with Air Berlin, British Airways and Iberia, giving you options to connect in Berlin, London, or Madrid on your way to Istanbul.

Partner airlines: Alaska, British Airways, Iberia.

Transfer partners: Starwood Preferred Guest.

Miles needed round-trip:

  • Economy: 40,000-60,000 (depending on time of year)
  • Business: 100,000
  • First: 140,000

Search for awards on: or

American’s site is great for finding awards on American and British Airways, and Air Berlin to a certain extent (though you would need to then buy a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul from there). What’s nice is that you can use your American miles to book one-way or round-trip awards, and off-peak awards to Europe from mid-October to mid-May mean you can score economy awards for just 20,000 miles each way.

Here’s an example itinerary flying both American and British Airways to Istanbul via London.


The reason you might want to avoid this option, though, is that British Airways levies enormous fuel surcharges on London awards that can be near $400 each way on economy tickets, and up to $700 each way on premium-cabin awards.

So you might want to fly Iberia to Madrid and on to Istanbul from there instead, since the taxes and fees will be much lower. For that, you should search either Iberia’s own site, or on the British Airways website. You might have to piece an itinerary together by first finding a flight from the US to Madrid on Iberia, and then an award on the connecting flight to Istanbul from there, like this one I found on BA’s site.


If you find an Air Berlin award using American’s site, you might just want to book it and then simply purchase a round-trip flight from Berlin to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, because it could still be cheaper than paying the taxes and fees on an itinerary that routes through London. Here’s an example award search from Chicago to Berlin in November with one option on Air Berlin’s flight, and another flying American to Paris and connecting to Berlin on Air Berlin from there.


The taxes and fees on this ticket are just $5.60, a potentially huge savings over flying British Airways.

This Japanese carrier is a member of Star Alliance, and has some amazing award chart values.

Airline partners: Air Canada, Austrian, Brussels Airlines, LOT, Lufthansa, SAS, SWISS, Turkish Airlines.

Transfer partners: American Express, Starwood Preferred Guest.

Miles needed round-trip:

  • Economy: 45,000
  • Business: 72,000
  • First: 110,000

Search for awards on:,

Though ANA’s award search is widely acknowledged to be the best for finding Star Alliance award availability, it’s rather unwieldy, and its options are not at all intuitive. I find it easier to look for awards either through Aeroplan or United, and then call in to book if you want to use your ANA miles.

Just beware that despite some amazing mileage values (especially with the upcoming award chart changes), ANA adds sometimes huge fuel surcharges to award tickets. Check out this post for more information and what to expect.

British Airways
Thanks to partnerships with three of the major transferable points programs, along with Oneworld and other airlines, British Airways has some great redemption values, at least for now.

Airline partners: Air Berlin, American, British Airways, Iberia.

Transfer partners: American Express, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest.

Miles needed round-trip: This varies because British Airways is a distance-based program. However, here are the ranges for most North American gateways. The two numbers noted in each class are pre- and post-April 28 devaluation.

  • Economy: 60,000-70,000
  • Business: 120,000-140,000/180,000-210,000
  • First: 180,000-210,000/240,000-280,000

As you can see, the prices are going to skyrocket after April 28, so if you have some premium awards in mind, book them before then! Also keep in mind that BA award tickets carry fuel surcharges and taxes ranging from about $500-$1,400 depending on the class of service, so if you plan to fly BA itself via London, plan to spend some cash as well.

Search for awards on:

The British Airways website tends to prioritize BA’s own flights over those of all its other partners. But it has also become very good at finding most Oneworld award availability, so it can still be a tremendous resource. If you’re looking to fly a combination of American and BA anyway using Avios, this will be the fastest way to hone in on your award.

Here’s a quick example search from Los Angeles to Istanbul with itineraries on both American and British Airways.


Thanks to its own expanding route network as well as European partners that include Alitalia, Air France and KLM, and non-alliance partner Virgin Atlantic, Delta offers a few great options to fly to Istanbul as well.

Partner airlines: Air France/KLM, Alitalia, Virgin Atlantic.

Transfer partners: American Express, Starwood Preferred Guest.

Miles needed roundtrip:

  • Economy: 60,000
  • Business: 125,000

Search for awards on: recently improved its award search dramatically with the ability not only to book one-way awards, but also to search more partner airlines, view availability calendars and award levels over a period of several days up to 5 weeks, and more.

Delta seems to prioritize Air France/KLM flights, and the site is also giving the profusion of Aeroflot award availability prime billing these days, like on this sample itinerary:


So if you want to search another partner like Alitalia, you might have to piece together the itinerary by putting it together one segment at a time, like this one from JFK-Rome…


Followed by this continuing flight from Rome to Istanbul:

Delta FCO IST AZ does not do well at mixing alliance and non-alliance partner awards, especially because Virgin Atlantic does not fly to Istanbul. If you’re interested in flying Virgin Atlantic, you’ll probably have to search for awards from the US to London individually, find continuing flights to Istanbul via Amsterdam, Paris or Rome on another partner like Air France/KLM or Alitalia, and then call in to book it.

If you want to fly Virgin Atlantic, you might have to just book an award to London, and then either try to purchase a continuing flight to Istanbul on another carrier, or piece together an award from there on one of Delta’s other partners.

United is the only major US-based Star Alliance carrier remaining since the departure of US Airways, so it’s a great choice to use miles to get to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines or other partners.

Airline partners: Air Canada, Austrian, Brussels Airlines, LOT, Lufthansa, SAS, SWISS, Turkish Airlines.

Transfer partners: Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest (though at an unfavorable 2:1 transfer ratio).

Miles needed round-trip:

  • Economy: 60,000
  • Business: 115,000 on United itself (if the transatlantic segment is on United), 140,000 on partners
  • First: 140,000 on United, 220,000 on partners

Search for awards on:

United’s website does a fairly great job of pulling in all Star Alliance award availability (with a few notable exceptions like Singapore Airlines). However, it prioritizes United flights, so you might have to do a little extra sleuthing if you are looking to fly partners. I suggest searching for transatlantic segments individually first, followed by intra-European segments, and then calling in to book if the award doesn’t price out for you all at once.

You’ll probably have good luck finding some mixed awards easily, though, like these that blend itineraries on SAS, Lufthansa and Turkish in various configurations.

United mixed partners

Or these that offer choices between United, Lufthansa and Turkish.

United mixed partners 2


As a reminder, most of the major mileage options above partner with one or more of the transferable points programs:

American Express Membership Rewards

  • Aeroplan
  • ANA
  • British Airways
  • Delta
  • Flying Blue
  • Virgin Atlantic

Chase Ultimate Rewards

  • British Airways
  • United
  • Virgin Atlantic

Citi ThankYou Rewards

  • Flying Blue
  • Virgin Atlantic

Starwood Preferred Guest

  • Aeroplan
  • Air Berlin
  • Alaska
  • American
  • ANA
  • British Airways
  • Delta
  • Flying Blue
  • United (2:1)
  • Virgin Atlantic

This post has a lot of information and numbers, but your main takeaway should be that there are tons of options to get to Istanbul using your miles and points. You might have to be creative and think outside the box in terms of partners and transfers, but if Istanbul is your destination, then rest assured that you can get there, and you will have an amazing time once you do!

Have any more questions or opinions about flying to Istanbul, or what to do while you’re there? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.