Turkey for Pennies: Chicago to Istanbul, Antalya & Luxembourg

Turkey for Pennies: Chicago to Istanbul, Antalya & Luxembourg


Image courtesy: Surreal Name Given

Trip Information

PointsAway reader Donna is planning to meet up with her family in Turkey. Coming from five different locations, they plan to converge on Istanbul on February 14th, 2014. From there, she wants to continue on to Antalya, Turkey on February 17th, then spend a few days in Luxembourg starting on February 22nd before returning home to Chicago on February 24th.

Donna knows that this itinerary can be most effectively built by using an open-jaw and stopover, but isn’t certain how precisely to piece the trip together. She’d like to fly in business or first class if possible.

Current Program Status

Donna has a very handsome balance of 300,000 Ultimate Rewards points and 200,000 United MileagePlus miles.

Our Take

With so many miles to work with, availability is our only potential obstacle. We also need to determine where and when using miles makes the most sense on this trip. As you’ll see, one award can’t cover every stop, but some award configurations are better than others!

Optimal Award Flight Structure

Donna is correct that using an open-jaw and stopover can maximize the value of this award. Given her high points balance with United and Ultimate Rewards – a 1:1 transfer partner of United – finding a flight that utilizes United and its partners makes the most sense for this case.

The question is how to structure this award. It seems obvious that the flights from Chicago to Istanbul and Luxembourg to Chicago should be part of the award. That introduces the open-jaw into our flight. In theory, we could have a layover in Istanbul, continuing on to Antalya and then find our own way to Luxembourg or save our stopover for the way back, flying from Antalya to Luxembourg for the stopover then continuing on to Chicago from there.

The correct answer to this question is based on two simple factors: price and availability.

Searching on ITA Matrix, one of our Seven Essential Tools for Every Traveler, we find several flights daily from Istanbul to Antalya on AtlasJet, a domestic Turkish carrier, for 230TRY. That amounts to roughly $115 USD per person, making it a very affordable flight.

By comparison, the cheapest flight from Antalya to Luxembourg comes in at 494TRY, or about $247 USD per person.

Based on this check, it looks like using the award flight to travel from Chicago to Istanbul, then from Antalya home through Luxembourg with the one allowed stopover, is the best option. This means paying for a ticket – or using a separate points allocation – to travel from Istanbul to Antalya. But at just $115, and at just 1 hour 5 minutes flying time, this seems perfectly reasonable.

This is also in line with Donna’s goal to fly business class or first class as much as possible on this trip, as a business/first award booking with a stopover in Luxembourg takes no more points than a direct flight back to Chicago would entail. That keeps Donna flying comfortably as often as possible without being wasteful with points.

Finding the Flights

As we learned in our last reader trip, searching for one-way possibilities for each flight on United.com, then stringing together these specific dates into a multi-destination itinerary, is the best way to avoid errors with the site’s award booking engine. We’ll follow that same approach today.

Chicago to Istanbul

United makes this one easy for us: a direct flight is available with upper class service on the day Donna is looking to fly!

United makes this one easy on us. For the day Donna would like to leave, a Saver Business Class Award for a nonstop flight is available. This is a bit deceiving, because the flight is operated by Turkish airlines, which does not offer a first class ticket. As such, this ticket is good for the best experience Turkish Airlines has to offer, including spacious seating that converts into a bed, a full menu of food and beverages and access to the International Lounge in Istanbul, which includes shower facilities and all day food and beverage privileges. We’re off to a great start!

Istanbul to Antalya

As mentioned earlier, this short, inexpensive flight is the best one to simply purchase separately. As such, it should not be included in the United award itinerary at booking. This might be a good opportunity to take advantage of the Barclaycard Arrival’s $466 in free travel for some readers, but because Donna has so many Ultimate Rewards points, it may make sense for her to use some of them to pay for the booking as opposed to transferring the points out to United to book a one-way award flight.

Unfortunately, the flight we’re looking for – on domestic Turkish carrier AtlasJet – isn’t available via Ultimate Rewards’ booking engine. The cheapest flight they show is a non-stop on Turkish Airlines for $307.70. With the 20% discount Chase offers when paying with points, that comes to 24,615 points. Yuck! Booking through Ultimate Rewards can sometimes be a fair option, but not in this case.

At that rate, using United miles is a far better deal at 12,500 points with high Saver Economy availability on multiple flights per day.

If Donna’s really insistent on traveling in style the whole trip, 20,000 points will net her a Saver Business Class fare, as well. Personally, I’d rather simply pay the $115 cash fare on AtlasJet or use points from an Arrival card in order to cover the cash cost, but that’s only because this many points are a relatively poor redemption value when compared to the obscene value Donna can attain with the rest of her itinerary.

This one really comes down to personal choice. We’re going to assume she uses her United miles for an Economy fare in our wrap-up, since she has so many miles on hand, but I’d probably take a different approach.

Antalya to Luxembourg

There’s no way around it: this flight will take some time. Not only is there no direct service from Antalya to Luxembourg; there’s no direct service from Istanbul on a United partner, either. This means hopping around a bit, but still flying in comfort. Heading first from Antalya to Istanbul in Turkish Business Class, Donna will then jump from Istanbul to Zurich in Swiss Business Class, then Zurich to Luxembourg in Swiss Business Class.

Although the below video is more applicable to long-haul Swiss flights, their Business Class is well-appointed, meaning this should be a comfortable series of flights. With layovers between 1 and 2 hours, the waits in Istanbul and Zurich are not onerous but do provide enough time to get from gate to gate with ease. The layover in Istanbul is a good opportunity to take advantage of the Turkish Airlines lounge again and grab some free lunch!

Luxembourg to Chicago

Here we run into a problem after a trip full of relatively smooth sailing. The award chart indicates Business Class availability for the flight home, but this is hardly a practical option: the “best” flight with availability has a 9 hours 40 minutes overnight layover in Munich, boosting the total travel time to more than 24 hours. The good news is that a far better option exists the next day, February 25th, with a total travel time of 12 hours 45 minutes on Lufthansa.

If Donna absolutely must return home on the 24th instead of spending one extra day in Luxembourg, Saver Economy is available on both Swiss Air and Lufthansa routes, each taking roughly 12 and a half hours total travel time, but we’ll assume she’d rather wait a day for a better ride home.

Finding the Miles

Donna couldn’t have made this one easier on us, given her healthy miles balances in Ultimate Rewards and United MileagePlus. Assuming Donna uses United miles to book an Economy fare from Istanbul to Antalya, her entire itinerary would cost 112,500 miles and $66.40.

This is doubtless a large amount of miles, but consider the miles cost if each flight were booked as a separate one-way trip:

Trip Segment Miles for 1-Way Fees for 1-Way
Chicago to Istanbul (Business) 50,000 Miles $2.50
Istanbul to Antalya (Economy) 20,000 Miles $15.00
Istanbul to Antalya (Economy) 12,500 Miles $4.00
Antalya to Luxembourg (Business) 20,000 Miles $15.00
Luxembourg to Chicago (Business) 50,000 Miles $45.20
Total: 152,500 Miles $81.70

Not only does Donna save a few bucks on the trip by submitting all but Istanbul to Antalya as one award, she also saves a stunning 52,500 miles! That’s why it’s so important to be as efficient in award bookings as possible, as the value of an award can change dramatically. In this case – excluding Istanbul to Antalya – we arrive at an award worth $12,740.30, which after subtracting tax equals an insane 12.6 cents per mile worth of value, truly an exceptional deal.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully today helps you to see why maximizing the value of stopovers and open-jaws is so vital to getting the best possible deal on a trip like this. It’s certainly worth the time and effort to do the digging going city-by-city instead of accepting that a basic roundtrip is the best you can do.

While United’s rules in this area are certainly among the most generous, these same rules can apply to other carriers, as well. Learn their rules and think about how you can use them for the most benefit!

While Donna is blessed with a substantial starting balance, this trip is possible for beginners with enough dedication. By only signing up for 2 cards – say Chase Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold, you can earn 90,000 total bonus points in the Ultimate Rewards program, plus an additional minimum of 1 point per dollar spent in meeting the combined minimum spend requirements of $8,000.

That alone would put you just 2,000 miles short of the amount needed for all but Istanbul to Antalya, which is a cheap cash flight, anyway. Plus, the likelihood of earning just 1 point per dollar is low with a little thought, given the significant category bonuses of each card. Check our Sign-Up Links page for all the details.

Trip Component Cash Price Points + Cash Savings
United Partners : ORD -> IST, AYT -> LUX -> ORD, 1 Adult Business Class, February 2014 $12,740.30 on United. 100,000 United Miles + $62.40 taxes/fees $12,677.90
Turkish Airlines : IST -> AYT, 1 Adult Economy, February 2014 ~$115 on AtlasJet. 12,500 United Miles + $4.00 taxes/fees on Turkish Airlines $111.00
Total: $12,855.30 112,500 United Miles + $66.40 in United taxes/fees $12.788.90

Happy travels!

  1. Donna C

    You are awesome, thanks! Now to do some booking. Thanks, Casey.

  2. Donna C

    a not so quick call to the premier desk and we are booked. Thanks, again! This itinerary is so much better than what was available when I originally booked so you were able to help me get a much better itinerary. I love THY already so am very excited to try the business product!

  3. Donna C

    Now if I can only keep checking and find my husband better flights!

    • PointsAway


      That’s AWESOME! So glad it worked out for you, best of luck finding an itinerary that works for your husband, too :) Hope it’s a great trip!

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Casey Ayers is a consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for travel. After amassing enough miles and points to travel anywhere in the world for almost free in less than six months, he developed PointsAway as a way to help others make travel dreams big and small come true.
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