Turkey is open to tourists – here’s how to get there on points and miles
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Turkey is currently one of just 45 countries Americans can travel to. As one of my favorite countries to visit, I’m always shocked to find out how under-the-radar it still is among frequent travelers. Sure, you’ve probably seen the odd influencer posting shots of hot air balloons flying over a majestic desert in Cappadoccia. You’re probably even more familiar with popular landmarks like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
Whether you’re a foodie, history buff or art aficionado, Turkey has countless incredible places for you to explore. While I could go on and on about how amazing Turkey is (and I will, some other time), today I’ll focus on how to get there on points. Surprisingly, it’s easy and affordable.
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Airfare to Istanbul
When it comes to flying to Turkey, there are lots of options using points and miles. Airlines across all three alliances offer service from the U.S. to Turkey. Turkish Airlines offers nonstop service to several U.S. cities, including Boston, New York, D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. But you might not find award space, in which case it’s good to familiarize yourself with other options. Here’s an overview of some of the cheapest awards to Turkey.
Oneworld award flight to Istanbul
With limited partner flight options, the Oneworld Alliance is probably your worst option for getting to Istanbul on points. Round-trip economy flights booked through the American AAdvantage program cost just 60,000 miles while off-peak awards (Jan. 10 – March 14, Nov. 1 – Dec. 14) price out at 45,000. Business class costs 115,000 round-trip and first class is 170,000.
Though award space is generally plentiful on British Airways, you’ll pay substantial fuel surcharges exceeding $1,000 round-trip on premium cabin flights. The better option would be to fly Royal Air Maroc, which imposes minimal taxes and fees.
Star Alliance award flights to Istanbul
The Star Alliance offers a vast network of member airlines who fly to Istanbul — most notably Turkish Airlines, the country’s flagship carrier. Not only is award availability pretty good, but redemption rates are also solid. If you’re flying in economy class, Asiana Club offers the lowest rates: 50,000 round-trip in economy class, 80,000 in business and 100,000 in first class. Unfortunately, Asiana Club miles are tough to earn since you’re limited to a Bank of America-issued card and transferring points from Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 ratio (plus a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer).
ANA Mileage Club is another great option for getting to Turkey on points. You’ll need 55,000 miles round-trip in economy class and 88,000 in business class and 165,000 in first.You can transfer these points at a 1:1 ratio from your Membership Rewards account. If you don’t have enough points, the following Amex cards offer welcome bonuses that may cover your flight completely:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: 75,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms apply.
- American Express® Gold Card: 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in purchases in the first 6 months of account opening. Terms apply.
- American Express® Green Card: 30,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. Terms apply.
The information for the Amex Green Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
SkyTeam award flights to Istanbul
The SkyTeam alliance is great for travel to Europe, thanks to member airlines KLM and Air France. In fact, through their joint Flying Blue rewards program, you can book some incredibly cheap flights to Istanbul using points. Awards start at just 43,000 miles round-trip for economy and 106,000 for business class. Sometimes Flying Blue runs Promo Rewards, which can offer additional discounts of up to 50%.
Incidentally, FlyingBlue miles are one of the easiest currencies to earn, since the program is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Capital One Venture Rewards. Here are a few credit cards that offer welcome bonuses which will cover at least one round-trip fare:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after $4,000 spent on purchases within the first three months of account opening
- The Platinum Card from American Express: 75,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms apply.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
Hotels in Istanbul you can book with points
There is no shortage of points hotels in Istanbul, with every major hotel having a significant presence in the city. Whether you’re looking to explore the historic Sultanahmet area, looking to do some shopping on Istiklal Street or wanting to take in the beauty of the Bosphorus, there is lots to choose from.
Hilton hotels in Istanbul
Hilton has the biggest footprint of any hotel chain in central Istanbul, with 20 hotels. With so many options, there really is something for everyone. Narrowing it down to the best options for tourists, there are six Hilton hotels worth considering. Since Hilton doesn’t have an award chart, the number of points per night will vary. However, these rates are pretty consistent during non-peak travel dates.
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Istanbul Piyalepas: 18,000 points
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Istanbul Sirkeci: 19,000 points
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Istanbul Old Town: 22,000 points
- Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus: 25,000 points
- Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus: 27,000 points
- Hagia Sofia Mansions Istanbul, Curio Collection by Hilton: 29,000 points
I’ve stayed at the Doubletree Istanbul Old Town and the Doubletree Sirkeci. The Sirkeci property isn’t as nice and I didn’t enjoy the view of the abandoned building next door. However, the service is great and the location can’t be beat. While both the Old Town and Sirkeci properties are within walking distance of Sultanahmet, the Sirkeci hotel is in the middle of a quaint neighborhood. You’ll find a convenient array of little shops steps from the hotel and the best kebab place across from the entrance. There’s even a tram stop on the side of the hotel facing the main street, so you can easily get around the city.
If you really want to be in the middle of it all, the Hagia Sofia Mansions are an excellent choice. The rooms feature eclectic decor and the hotel is right beyond the famed monument for which it’s named. You can’t ask for a better location, especially at that price point.
How to earn Hilton points: If you’re ready to book your Istanbul adventure, now is a great time to stock up on points. You can earn lots of Hilton points by picking up an Amex Hilton credit card. Some of these cards even come with annual free nights, so you can piece together a one-week award stay fairly easily.
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Earn 150,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: Earn 130,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of card membership
- The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of card membership.
- Hilton Honors American Express Card: Earn 80,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening
Hyatt hotels in Istanbul
Hyatt has six hotels in Istanbul, but only three of them are well-suited for tourists.
- Grand Hyatt Istanbul: 12,000 points per night
- Park Hyatt Istanbul Macka Palas: 15,000 points per night
- TomTom Suites: 15,000 points per night
The Grand Hyatt Istanbul is a good choice if you want to be near Taksim Square. The hotel is on a quiet street away from the bustle and has a beautiful outdoor pool. The rooms are spacious with large windows and the club lounge is decent too. At just 12,000 points per night, the Grand Hyatt is a bargain, especially during peak travel dates (assuming Hyatt doesn’t reinstate off-peak pricing by then).
The Park Hyatt Macka Palas is about a 15-minute walk from the Grand Hyatt. A chic boutique hotel in the trendy Nisantasi district, its a great place to stay if you want to be in the midst of a high-end shopping district, within easy driving distance to Istiklal Street, Taksim Square and the waterfront.
Unfortunately, none of Hyatt’s hotels are located in the Sultanahmet area, which is where all the major tourist attractions are. However, the TomTom Suites puts you a bit closer to the action. Located in the Beyoglu area, this former convent-turned-hotel is close to the Galata Bridge, so you can easily hop on a tram to Sultanahmet.
TomTom Suites is also a great choice if you’re looking for a boutique hotel with spacious rooms. For 15,000 points per night, you get a standard suite with a separate bedroom and a sitting area that can double as a workspace.
How to earn Hyatt points: You can earn Hyatt points for one of these Istanbul hotels fairly easily. Between the cobranded Hyatt card and Ultimate Rewards points (which can be transferred to Hyatt 1:1), Hyatt’s Istanbul hotels are fairly attainable:
- The World Of Hyatt Credit Card: Earn 25,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Earn an additional 25,000 points after you spend $6,000 total on purchases within the first 6 months of account opening.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after $4,000 spent within the first three months
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Earn 50,,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first three months
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 in the first three months
IHG hotels in Istanbul
IHG doesn’t have the most luxurious hotel line-up in Istanbul, but the redemption rates are relatively low and the locations top-notch.
- Holiday Inn Istanbul Old City: 9,375 – 12,500 points per night
- Crowne Plaza Istanbul Old City: 12,500 points per night
- InterContinental Hotel Istanbul: 22,500 points per night
How to earn IHG points: Earning IHG points is easy enough, thanks to a cobranded credit card and partnership with Chase Ultimate Rewards.
- IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card: Earn 140,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first three months of account opening
- IHG Rewards Club Traveler Credit Card: Earn 100,000 points after spending $2,000 within the first three months of account opening
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after $4,000 spent within the first three months of account opening
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Earn 50,,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 in the first three months from account opening
Marriott hotels in Istanbul
Marriott has 20 hotels in Istanbul, though only about seven of them will appeal to travelers who want to be close to the major sights. Most hotels fall in the Category 3 – 5 range, meaning the number of points required isn’t outrageous. Plus, you can apply one of your free night awards from Marriott credit cards to most of these stays.
- Orientbank Hotel Istanbul, Autograph Collection: 20,000 – 30,000 points
- JW Marriott Istanbul Bosphorus: 30,000 – 50,000 points
- Gezi Hotel Bosphorus: 20,000 – 30,000 points
- W Istanbul: 20,000 – 30,000 points
- Ritz Carlton Istanbul: 30,000 – 40,000 points
- AC Hotel Istanbul Macka: 15,000 – 20,000 points
- St. Regis Istanbul: 40,000 – 60,000 points
Unlike some of the other chain hotels, Marriott’s Istanbul properties are top-notch. The Orientbank Hotel Istanbul, a Autograph Collection property isn’t taking reservations right now, but its location in the Sirkeci area is great — especially for 20,000 – 30,000 points per night.
The closest option is the JW Istanbul Bosphorus, which is about a 10-minute drive (without traffic) or 35 minutes by tram. The hotel is right on the water and within walking distance of Namli, my favorite breakfast spot, as well as the Ali Pasa hamam. The only thing to keep in mind is that back in January, there were some complaints on review sites that the hotel was next to a construction zone. It created a lot of noise during the day, so be aware of that before booking your stay.
How to earn Marriott points: Marriott offers several cobranded credit cards that offer enough points for at least two nights in Istanbul. You can also earn Marriott points by transferring them over from Amex Membership Rewards. Normally, that’s not a great value but the current 40% transfer bonus might make it worthwhile.
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card: Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Terms apply.
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Earn up to 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy points: 100,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months. Plus, earn an additional 25,000 bonus points after your first anniversary of card membership. Offer ends 1/13/2021.
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card: Earn 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Earn up to $150 in statement credits within your first 6 months of Card Membership for all eligible purchases on your Card on U.S. Advertising in select Media. Plus receive complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status for one year (February 1, 2021-January 31, 2022). Offer ends 1/13/21.
- Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card: Earn 30,000 Marriott points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Terms apply.
Radisson hotels in Istanbul
Radisson has 16 hotels in Istanbul, but really four of them are worth considering if you’re visiting the city as a tourist.
- Radisson Hotel Istanbul Sultanahmet: 42,000 points
- Radisson Hotel President Beyazit Istanbul: 42,000 points
- Radisson Blu Bosphorus Hotel: 70,000 points
- Radisson Blu Hotel, Istanbul Pera (near Galata):
The Radisson Blu Bosphorus is perhaps Radissonn’s the most impressive property. Located on the waterfront in Ortakoy, the hotel offers impressive views of the Bosphorus. At 70,000 Radisson points per night, you’ll want to make sure room rates are at least $280 or higher (TPG values Radisson points at 0.4 cents each).
How to earn Radisson points: You can earn Radisson points very easily through both credit card sign-up bonuses and everyday spending. That’s because the Radisson cards are incredibly generous in terms of offering rewards.
- Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature® Card: Earn 50,000 points after your first purchase plus 35,000 points once you spend $2,500 on your card within the first 90 days
- Radisson Rewards Visa® Card: Earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on your card within the first 90 day
Activities in Istanbul you can book with points
What’s so great about Istanbul is that all the most important sights (the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern) are practically right next to each other. So you don’t really need to get one of those bus tours because it’s all easily accessible. Still, if you want a guided tour you can use the Ultimate Rewards Travel portal to score a great deal.
For example, a 2-hour guided tour of Topkapi Palace is just $21.19, including the cost of admission. You can opt to redeem 1,695 Ultimate Rewards points as a Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholder. Sapphire Reserve cardholders redeem just 1,412 points.
You can also opt for a 9-hour tour of all the most important sights in Sultanahmet for $62.81 or 5,024 points. Again, Sapphire Reserve cardholders get a discount that drops the redemption to about 4,187 points.
Istanbul ground transportation
Getting into and around Istanbul is fairly easy, thanks to a great public transportation system and shuttle services. You can off-set the cost of these rides with a card like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, assuming it gets coded as a travel purchase. Here’s a look at your best options:
When I visited Turkey two years ago, Uber was technically illegal, so getting a ride from the airport was not possible without the nearby taxi mafia threatening to call the police if the driver pulled up to the curb. Since then, Uber has begun partnering with taxi companies so you can hitch a ride virtually anywhere without worrying about cops or carrying cash to pay the cab driver.
Cabs are very cheap in Istanbul to begin with, but the partnership with Uber makes it more convenient. A ride from Istanbul’s main airport to the Sultanahmet area will set you back around 118 – 181 Turkish Lira (LT), which amounts to $15 – 23 USD.
You can charge Uber rides to your Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and use the rewards to offset your expenses.
If you’re looking for cheaper transportation, consider the Havaist shuttle bus, which costs just 25 TL ($3.21) between the airport and Taksim Square
For large groups, you can book an entire shuttle bus fairly inexpensively. I once booked a 10-passenger minibus through KiwiTaxi for a flat rate of $51. This worked out great, because we arrived during peak traffic hour and didn’t have to deal with a rising taxi meter while stuck in traffic.
Getting around the city
When it comes to navigating the city, your best bet is to take public transportation. The tram in Old Town is clean, cheap and fast. Load some funds onto the Istanbul Kart and you’ll have all you need to get around Istanbul in the most convenient and affordable way possible
Istanbul is a magnificent city that everyone should visit at least once. It’s filled with well-preserved treasures from the ancient world and caters to a wide variety of travelers. The fact that it’s affordable and you can fund a trip on points and miles along should be another incentive to add Istanbul to your list once it’s safe to travel again.
Featured photo by Shaoyang Zhou/EyeEm/Getty Images
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