The rich history of Constantinople and Ephesus. The nightlife and culture of Istanbul. The beaches and coastline of Bodrum and Antalya. Turkey is a fascinating, economical country, with some of the most unique and tasty cuisine in the Mediterranean, amazing shopping and smiling, friendly people. Most award travelers will begin their sojourn in Turkey in Istanbul, a phenomenal city of mystery, heritage and hidden bazaars. The brand new İstanbul Havalimanı airport (IST) is very well served by most international carriers, and can be a particular sweet spot for award travel as the hub for Turkish Airlines.
In April 2019, Istanbul's main passenger airport moved from İstanbul Atatürk airport to İstanbul Havalimanı airport. At the same time, the airport code IST also moved to the new airport. Don't be confused: search for flights to IST (not ISL!). IST is extremely well served by most of the world's carriers, and in particular by Star Alliance carriers as it's the hub for Turkish Airlines, which has excellent direct service to IST from US gateways such as New York (JFK), Atlanta (ATL), LA (LAX), Houston (IAH), Miami (MIA), Detroit (DTW), San Francisco (SFO), Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Washington (IAD), Philadelphia (PHL) and Dallas (DFW).
Award tickets using United Mileage Plus can be found regularly, even in busy summer months, and other Star Alliance carriers such as Lufthansa offer connections via their European hubs to Istanbul. For SkyTeam, Delta and its partners Air France & KLM offer numerous connecting flights to IST via hubs in Paris and Amsterdam. And Oneworld users can find connections via BA's hub in LHR or Iberia's hub in Madrid. Be wary of tax surcharges on BA award flights via the UK.
You might be surprised, but really the art of optimizing miles and points involves knowing
when NOT to use them, and instead use cash. (Domestic US flights are often an example). While AwardSecrets are huge fans of award travel, domestic Turkish flights are great
occasion to actually use cash.
Turkish Airlines offers frequent and inexpensive service to the key coastal towns such as Bodrum (BJV), Antalya (AYT) and Izmir (ADB). For example, flights can be found in the summer months to Bodrum, a beautiful town on the Aegean sea from Istanbul's Sabiha Gökçen airport (SAW) for as little as USD $30 one-way. Flights to Bodrum can be convenient to access the Dodecanese Islands of Greece such as Kos and Rhodes. When in Turkey, always triple check your departure airport, particularly with domestic flights.
Turkey can provide some sweet spots for hotel awards. For example, some extraordinary deals can be found in Istanbul for some tryly aspirational hotel stays. Using World of Hyatt points at the Park Hyatt Istanbul, you can stay for 15,000 points or EUR €234 per night. An amazing points deal can be had at the Ritz Carlton Istanbul for EUR €1214 per night (!) or 35,000 Marriott points. This last stay values the points at almost USD $0.05 per point, a remarkable deal.
On the coast, some great ideas include the Bodrum Edition Hotel for 50,000 Marriott points or EUR €640 per night. Or, for IHG fans, try the Crowne Plaza Antalya for 20,000 IHG points or EUR €86 per night.
We have 3 tips for traveling in Turkey:
Tip #1: Be sure to spend a few days in Istanbul, the crossroads between Europe and Asia (literally). Take a boat across the Bosporus Strait and marvel at the grand villas along the water. Visit the Ayha Sofia and the Blue Mosque. Get lost in the Grand Bazaar. And don't plan long trips by car - Istanbul's traffic is some of the worst in the world.
Tip #2: English is not widely spoken, especially by older Turks. Learn a few phrases in Turkish and you'll make friends everywhere you go. "Merhaba" means "Hello". "Teşekkür ederim" means "Thank You."
Tip #3: The Aegean coast of Turkey is just as beautiful as the Greek Islands, yet greener and less touristed. Spend a week on the coast to relax and swim in the crystalline waters. If you're looking for a splurge, try for a booking at the Hillside Beach Club in Fethiye, near Antalya.