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Beat the crowds: See Istanbul in March with Turkish business-class award space for two

May 19, 2020
12 min read
Turkish Airlines Business Class
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Early spring is an excellent time to visit Istanbul. The weather is warming up, and the Istanbul Tulip Festival is in full swing. Plus, Istanbul's high tourist season is usually over the summer, so visiting in March allows you to experience fewer crowds and more room to explore an amazing city that spans two continents.

If Istanbul is on your post-coronavirus travel list, now may be a good time to book. We're seeing wide-open, business-class award space from many of Turkish Airlines' North American gateways, with two or more people on many of these dates. Plus, there's connecting award space available to other amazing cities like Tel Aviv (TLV), Kiev (KBP) and Cairo (CAI) too.

In this article, we'll show you the all open award space we've found and give a quick overview on how to book it. But before that, let's discuss the risks of booking travel during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

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Should I book travel now?

As you're well aware, the world is currently in the middle of the global coronavirus outbreak. Despite signs pointing to a slowdown over the past couple of weeks, many travel restrictions remain in effect — and it could be years before the industry makes a full recovery. That said, now can be a good time to book future travel: We've seen great award availability (including recent deals to Paris and Tokyo during cherry-blossom season) and even some great cash prices for late 2020 and early 2021.

Of course, booking future travel in the middle of a pandemic doesn't come without risks. The coronavirus may not be contained by the time you're set to travel, so you may have to cancel your trip if things don't improve. Make sure you review the change and cancellation policy of the airline you're booking with; this will ensure you're not met with any surprise fees if you do need to cancel an award ticket (though coronavirus travel waivers could always be extended further).

In adddition, the coronavirus-related downturn is having a real impact on the travel industry's financial footing. We've already seen major airlines like Virgin Australia, South African Airways and Thai file or discuss bankruptcy, so the outbreak has made it clear that no airline is immune to the current drop in travel demand.

With that in mind, only transfer points to airlines you think will make it through the coronavirus outbreak without going into bankruptcy or insolvency. For example, if you're transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus miles to book a ticket, make sure you're confident in the future of United. If an airline whose loyalty program you booked with did go belly-up, your miles could be rendered worthless.

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Business-class award space to Istanbul

Business class on board Turkish Airlines' new Boeing 787-9. (Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy).
Business class on board Turkish Airlines' new Boeing 787-9. (Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy).

As discussed in the intro, Turkish Airlines has wide open award space in March 2021 from a number of its U.S. and Canadian gateways. This includes airports like Chicago-O'Hare (ORD), New York-JFK and Atlanta (ATL), among others. In fact, we're seeing award space from almost all of the carrier's Midwest and East Coast destinations.

Even better, Turkish Airlines' business class is well-known for its impeccable service, with great dining and entertainment options. Plus, the airline is slowly rolling out a new hard product in its business-class cabin that we should see on a number of North American routes next year. This includes 787-operated flights to Atlanta, but this is subject to change if Turkish decides to swap aircraft on this route.

Related: Review of flying Turkish Airlines business class on a 777 to Los Angeles

Want to skip Istanbul and explore another European, Middle Eastern or African city? We're also seeing Turkish Airlines award space to other major cities around the world, so you can connect through Istanbul and continue on to another destination of your choice. Search for open award space to other cities using your Star Alliance search engine of choice.

Here's a look at open Turkish Airlines award space from North America to Istanbul (IST). All of the dates listed below have award space for at least two passengers at the time of writing, but some may have space for as many as four:

Atlanta (ATL) to Istanbul (IST)

  • Outbound: March 2-3, 5-7, 9-10, 13-14, 16-17, 19-21, 23-24, 26, 28 and 30-31; April 3-2, 6-7 and 10-11
  • Inbound: March 2-3, 5-7, 9-10, 12-14, 16-17, 19-21, 23-24, 26-28 and 30-31; April 2-4, 6-7, and 9-11

Note that this flight is scheduled just 5x weekly, so just about every day has award space for two or more travelers.

Boston (BOS) to Istanbul (IST)

  • Outbound: March 1-3, 5-11, 13-25 and 28-31; April 1, 4-8 and 11-12
  • Inbound: March 1-31; April 1-12

Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Istanbul (IST)

  • Outbound: March 1-31; April 1-12
  • Inbound: March 1-24 and 26-31; April 1-10 and 12

New York-JFK to Istanbul (IST)

  • Outbound: March 1-18, 21-24, and 28-31; April 1-12
  • Inbound: March 2-5, 8-10, 12, 16-17, 19, 22-24, 26, 28-31; April 1-12

Be aware that one of Turkish's frequencies on this route departs at 12:20 a.m. Eastern Time, so you'll want to make sure to select the correct date when booking.

Newark (EWR) to Istanbul (IST)

  • Outbound: March 1-4, 8-10, 15-17, 22-24 and 29-31; April 5-7 and 12-13
  • Inbound: March 3-4, 10, 17, 24 and 31

The only flight from Newark departs at 12:10 a.m. Eastern Time, so like the JFK service, pay close attention to the date you're booking.

Washington-Dulles (IAD) to Istanbul (IST)

  • Outbound: March 1-4, 6-11, 13, 15-26 and 28-31; April 1, 3 and 5-8
  • Inbound: March 1-31; April 1-6

Montreal (YUL) to Istanbul (IST)

  • Outbound: March 2, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 16, 19, 21, 23, 28 and 30; April 4, 6 and 11
  • Inbound: March 2, 7, 9, 14, 16, 21, 23, 28, and 30; April 4, 6, and 11

Note that this route only operates 3x weekly, so almost every flight is available.

Toronto (YYZ) to Istanbul (IST)

  • Outbound: March 1-3, 7-11, 14-18, 21-24 and 28-31; April 4-7 and 11-12
  • Inbound: March 30; April 4, 6 and 11

Other gateways

Unfortunately, the other North American cities with nonstop service on Turkish Airlines — including Miami (MIA), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and Vancouver (YVR) — all have limited to no business-class awards available right now.

How to book Turkish Airlines awards

Turkish Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance, so you can use a number of different loyalty programs to book these tickets. However, we're going to focus on two of the most popular transferable point currencies.

Using American Express Membership Rewards

If you have Amex Membership Rewards points on hand, your best bet for booking a Turkish Airlines award is ANA Mileage Club — as long as you can travel round-trip.

Watch now: TPG Talks session on under-the-radar loyalty programs, including ANA

You can transfer your Membership Rewards points to Mileage Club at a 1:1 ratio and book a round-trip ticket to Istanbul for just 88,000 miles and $413.30 in taxes and fees. Despite having high taxes and fees, this is by far the best way to book this award ticket as you'll save thousands of miles when compared to booking with American Express' other Star Alliance partner, Air Canada Aeroplan.

JFK-IST ANA Booking screen shot

Unfortunately, you can't book one-way tickets with ANA Mileage Club. On the bright side though, you can book open-jaw tickets. This means you can book a ticket from New York to Istanbul and return on a United flight from Frankfurt (FRA) to Newark (EWR) in Polaris business class. Doing this doesn't require additional miles — though you would need to get from Istanbul to Frankfurt — giving you a cheap and easy way to plan a mini-tour of Europe.

If you need to book a one-way ticket, your best bet is transferring Membership Rewards to Aeroplan, where a one-way ticket from North America to Istanbul costs 57,500 miles and $5.60 in taxes. Just keep in mind that Aeroplan's website is notoriously buggy and its customer service center can be hard to reach, so you may need to dedicate some time to actually book this ticket.

ATL to IST Aeroplan screen shot

Turkish is one of the airlines on which Aeroplan doesn't impose fuel surcharges, so you can save some out-of-pocket expense with this option. Note that if you connecting through Istanbul to a Central or Eastern European city, your award rate would drop to 55,000 miles each way. You can also transfer Capital One points to Aeroplan — though at a 2:1.5 ratio.

There are some other options to book Turkish-operated flights with Amex points — including transfers to Avianca LifeMiles or Singapore KrisFlyer — but you'll need even more points, so we'd recommend sticking with the above options.

Read more: Best ways to redeem Amex points on Star Alliance airlines

Using Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Chase Ultimate Rewards also partners with Singapore, but it has a unique Star Alliance transfer partner that could be a good option: United MileagePlus. One-way partner awards booked through United cost 77,000 miles one-way from North America to Europe with minimal taxes and fees. Just note that this pricing isn't guaranteed — the airline removed partner award charts, so award prices are subject to change — as we saw less than 24 hours after it pulled partner charts.

ORD IST United Booking Screen Shot

While expensive compared to ANA Mileage Club, there is an upside to booking with United: the Excursionist perk. This lets you add a free, one-way flight (within certain parameters) on any round-trip award ticket. As a result, you could fly from Chicago to Istanbul on Turkish, stay for a few days, and fly from Istanbul to Frankfurt for free. Then, you can return from Frankfurt to Chicago on Lufthansa or United.

If you go this route, the intra-Europe flight should price at 0 miles:

Earning transferable points

If you don't currently have any of the aforementioned transferable points, you may want to consider adding one of the following cards to your wallet so you can jump on deals like this in the future:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $6,000 in purchases in your first six months of account opening, though be sure to check the CardMatch Tool to see if you're targeted for a 125,000-point offer (offer subject to change at any time).
  • American Express® Gold Card: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases on your new card in your first six months, though be sure to check the CardMatch Tool to see if you're targeted for a 75,000 -point offer (subject to change at any time).

Note that Chase and Amex have both announced temporary changes to many of their cards in light of the coronavirus outbreak, and Citi will be updating the Premier card's earning rates in August. In addition, American Express is extending the timeline for meeting minimum spend thresholds for all cards approved from Dec. 1, 2019 through May 31, 2020 — giving you extended time to earn a welcome bonus.

You can also review our guide to choosing the best Amex and our post on the perfect Chase quartet to see if another card might be a better fit.

Bottom line

Turkish Airlines is an excellent way to fly from North America to Europe and beyond. It's rare to see this much award space available at once, so now may be the time to book a post-coronavirus vacation to Istanbul. Just make sure you understand the risks of booking travel during the coronavirus outbreak, and check CDC's website when it's time to travel.

Featured image by (Photo by Dmitry Birin/Shutterstock)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.