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Sweet Spots with Turkish Miles & Smiles (Cheap Awards to Hawaii!) Ricky January 20, 2020

Sweet Spots with Turkish Miles & Smiles (Cheap Awards to Hawaii!)

Miles & Smiles is the name of Turkish Airlines’s loyalty program. Although it generally doesn’t receive a lot of coverage due to the rather limited ways to earn miles, there is extreme value to be extracted from the program with a little patience and motivation to go the extra mile (and smile!)

Prior to 2017, Turkish Miles & Smiles was mainly known for being generous with their Star Alliance Gold status matches, but when Citi in the US added them as a transfer partner, we all started looking at the program a little more closely to find the sweet spots lying within. 

In This Post

How to Earn Turkish Miles & Smiles

Let’s get this out of this way first: there are only a handful of ways to earn Turkish miles here in Canada, and none of them are necessarily the most straightforward. 

If you dabble in the US credit card game and have gotten started with Citi cards, you can transfer Citi ThankYou points to Turkish Miles & Smiles at a ratio of 1:1. 

Otherwise, Marriott Bonvoy points can be converted at their usual optimal ratio of 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points = 25,000 Turkish miles. Note that none of these transfers are instant, as Citi ThankYou points take 1–2 days to transfer and Marriott Bonvoy points even longer.

Of course, it’s possible to earn Turkish miles when flying on paid Star Alliance flights – simply attach your Miles & Smiles number to your booking and accrue miles that way. Also, you can earn miles when booking car rentals, hotels, and other travel through Miles & Smiles’s list of partners

Turkish Miles & Smiles has a rather draconian expiry policy, in which your miles will expire in three years, regardless of activity. Keeping miles alive for another three years costs $10 per 1,000 miles, and that can get very expensive for large balances.

I would therefore only recommend earning miles within the program, or transferring points over, if you have a specific use in mind under one of the sweet spots we’ll discuss below.

Redemption Rules 

The rules and charts for mileage redemptions can be found on this page on the Turkish Miles & Smiles website.

Turkish uses award charts based on geographic zones, and there are quite a number of different award charts listed on the page, which can be confusing at first glance. The chart we want is the “Promotional Award Ticket Table”, which applies to the regular award inventory on Turkish Airlines and Star Alliance flights.

The notable rules that apply to Star Alliance awards are as follows:

  • Maximum of eight segments on a round-trip ticket and four segments on a one-way

  • Round-trip awards allow a stopover or an open jaw, but only on itineraries that cost more than 60,000, 90,000, and 135,000 miles in economy, business, and First Class respectively

  • One-ways cost half the price of a roundtrip, but no stopover and open jaws are allowed

  • Cancelling or changing an award costs US$25

    • No changes to Star Alliance partner awards allowed; only cancelling and rebooking

  • No backtracking through the same city twice

We’ll move on to discuss some of the sweet spots within Turkish Miles & Smiles, beginning with the one that’s easily the most attractive for Canadian travellers. 

10,000 Miles One-Way within North America (Including Hawaii!)

The most prominent sweet spot within Turkish Miles & Smiles is the fact that they only charge 10,000 miles one-way for flights within North America.

Furthermore, if we take a closer look at how they define North America, we’ll see that unlike most other award charts out there, Miles & Smiles does not distinguish between Continental North America and the more faraway destinations such as Hawaii and Alaska.

That’s right, for only 10,000 miles one-way in economy class, you can fly from anywhere in North America – including the East Coast cities like Toronto and Montreal and even as far as St. John’s – to Hawaii, which represents a phenomenal value.

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If you’re interested in flying to Hawaii in greater comfort, you could book Air Canada’s 787 on a direct lie-flat route from Toronto to Honolulu, or you could fly to Vancouver in a lie-flat seat and take a connection onto one of the Hawaiian islands. 

With a US connection, you could fly with United through any of their gateways in Newark, Chicago, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, although business class space is generally tougher to find.

Indeed, the business class award rates are also spectacular under Turkish Miles & Smiles, costing only 15,000 miles one-way or 30,000 miles round-trip. And as a comparison, a program like Aeroplan would charge you 40,000 miles for a round-trip in economy class – and 80,000 miles, almost three times the amount, if you wanted to fly in business. 

If we look deeper into how North America is classified, we see that it includes Mexico and Bermuda as well. I see an excellent opportunity to jaunt off to Cancún or Puerto Vallarta from anywhere in North America for only 20,000 Turkish miles round-trip in economy or 30,000 miles in business, while Aeroplan would charge you 40,000 or 80,000 miles for the exact same journey.

For Canadian travellers, this presents a lucrative opportunity for those of you who’ve collected Marriott Bonvoy points, but would rather redeem them on flights instead of hotels (perhaps because you prefer to stay at Airbnbs or other accommodations when you travel). 

60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points would get you a round-trip flight to Hawaii from anywhere in North America (which can’t be said about any other airline transfer partner) with some miles left over, while 240,000 Marriott Bonvoy points would earn you 100,000 Turkish miles, which would be enough for a family of five to fly to Hawaii and back.

The Hawaii sweet spot also ranks among one of the most ideal uses of Citi ThankYou points, and could be a huge motivator to sign up for your first Citi credit card. The single signup bonus of 60,000 ThankYou points on the Citi Premier Card, for example, would be enough to fly round-trip to Hawaii for three people!

Finally, note that this sweet spot could potentially get even better – the Turkish Miles & Smiles search engine isn’t exactly the most technologically sound (as we’ll see further below), so sometimes these awards even get priced at the staggering pre-devaluation rates of 7,500 miles one-way in economy class!

Low Redemption Rates to Other Regions

Taking a quick glance through Turkish’s “Promotional Award Ticket Table”, it’s easy to see that Turkish generally charges lower than usual rates for international business class bookings to other regions as well. 

For example, Turkish Miles & Smiles would charge:

  • 45,000 miles one-way in business class between North America and Europe and Turkey (compared to 57,500 miles with Aeroplan)

  • 47,000 miles one-way in business class between North America and the Middle East (compared to 82,500 miles with Aeroplan)

  • 52,500 miles one-way in business class between North America and Central Asia (compared to 82,500 miles with Aeroplan)

Overall, if you’re sitting on a stash of Turkish miles, the Middle East is probably the most compelling redemption from North America in a premium cabin. 

However, even though these are excellent sweet spots on paper, they’re not necessarily the most realistic redemption options for Canadians due to our limited methods for earning Turkish miles.

Assuming you’re starting from zero in both programs, I’m sure most of us would find it easier to transfer 57,500 Amex MR points to Aeroplan to book a one-way flight in business class to Turkey, rather than transferring 120,000 Marriott Bonvoy points to Turkish Miles & Smiles in order to book the same trip.

Therefore, as far as the best Turkish Miles & Smiles sweet spots go, I’d focus my efforts primarily on the redemptions within the generous definition of North America, unless you have a stash of existing Turkish miles or Citi ThankYou points to burn. 

Searching and Booking

Here’s where the going can get a little tough.

In November 2019, Turkish Miles & Smiles made improvements their website for searching and booking Star Alliance partner awards online, introducing a dedicated search engine for Star Alliance awards (make sure to follow this link, since the regular search engine that you get from clicking “Book an award” on the Turkish Airlines homepage can only be used to search for Turkish flights).

However, the online search engine remains rather unstable, and often fails to show the award space that’s available when you look at other search engines. 

As seen below, for example, while ExpertFlyer and Aeroplan both show award space in economy class for United Flight 1158 on May 14, 2020, the Turkish website fails to bring up the search result. The same is true of many other searches of domestic itineraries that one might try.

Another bug I discovered was that the website routinely gives you errors if you attempt to search for award space for more than one person, as it asks you to issue the first ticket in your name first before issuing tickets for your fellow passengers, but the website frequently errors out on that step. 

However, many data points indicate that Miles & Smiles call centre agents are able to resolve all these issues, as they can book Star Alliance award space that’s not showing on the website while also completing the booking for multiple passengers. 

Their call centres seem to generally be competent and have the ability to piece different flights together into a single award as long as they fulfill the rules outlined above, so you’ll almost certainly have to call the contact centre and piece together your itinerary segment-by-segment if you’re looking to take advantage of one of the Miles & Smiles sweet spots.

Failing that, there are data points on FlyerTalk indicating that you can get your itinerary ticketed by emailing a Turkish Airlines reservations office and simply including screenshots of award space you’ve found on other search engines. This might be a more straightforward way of getting the job done compared to picking up the phone.

Either way, given the difficulties associating with redeeming online, I’d also recommend confirming the award space with the call centre agent and placing the award on hold before transferring your points over. Turkish Miles & Smiles is very much friendly to the practice of placing awards on hold, since it was a routine occurrence in the old days of the program when members often were required to make a physical trip to a ticketing office to complete their booking.

Fuel Surcharges

The general pattern in terms of Turkish Miles & Smiles’s fuel surcharges seems consistent with Aeroplan, in that the fees are much higher on international itineraries than North American ones, and are only levied on specific airlines.

Successfully booked itineraries under the Hawaii sweet spot showed zero fuel surcharges on United-operated flights, and I imagine that Air Canada flights would also come with the limited surcharges of about $80 on one-way journeys within North America (as they do on Aeroplan). 

A few award searches for international flights on Air Canada and Lufthansa show fuel surcharges on par with the ones levied by Aeroplan – that is to say, approximately $450 for one-way from North America to Europe. Meanwhile, a similar journey on LOT Polish Airlines had about US$85 in total fees associated with it, so the fuel surcharges were minimal in that case. 

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(That last example is courtesy of research by Nick Reyes from Frequent Miler, who has done an impressive amount of digging into the Miles & Smiles program in recent times. If you’re looking to understand more about the program, I’d highly recommend going over Nick’s material with a fine-tooth comb.)

Unfortunately, there isn’t a very clear picture on exactly which Star Alliance carriers come with fuel surcharges, and which do not. Turkish Miles & Smiles only shows you the fuel surcharges on the booking engine’s final confirmation page once you have the miles in your account, so this is another instance where the call centre might be helpful in pricing out potential itineraries before transferring your miles over. 

Conclusion

Like most other niche programs we’ve covered, Turkish Miles & Smiles has its fair share of quirks, and you’ll definitely need to spend a bit of time with it to get familiar with the best ways to maximize.

If you’re interested in giving it a shot, I’d recommend reading up extensively on data points, and then calling the Miles & Smiles contact centre or emailing one of the reservation centres to locate availability and put an award on hold first, before transferring your miles over to fulfill the payment. 

By far the most compelling sweet spot up for grabs is the ability to book trips to Hawaii from anywhere in North America for only 10,000 miles in economy or 15,000 miles in business one-way; this is especially true for East Coast residents, as there really aren’t many outstanding sweet spots for making the long journey over to Hawaii without either paying a disproportionately expensive sum of points or simply outright paying cash.

Having recently applied for a Citi Premier Card, I myself will definitely be putting in an honest effort at booking this sweet spot the next time I’m planning a trip to Hawaii, and I’ll let you know how it goes when the time comes.

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8 Comments
  1. Avatar
    Jeff Hiemstra

    Good luck signing up for Turkish airlines Miles & smiles points program. Website severely flawed with errors unfortunately in my experience and I’m currently in Istanbul.

  2. Avatar
    Maaa

    Thanks for the post.
    If there are no restrictions on MPM and four segments allowed for one ways it might be possible to book crazy things like ANC-EWR-HNL-IAD on UA for only 10k/15k through the call center as long as there is availability?

  3. Avatar
    Ron

    Nice sweet spot Ricky.

    Not that I have any TK miles but I did sign up for the future, because I do want to go to Hawaii.
    I punched in the same info as you Toronto/Honolulu Feb 8, one way.
    And it keeps saying cannot find flight, please change date and location.
    It’s been doing since last night.
    I even changed the city to LA, Montreal to LA, etc and nothing seems to work.
    I have tried both award seat and $ seat.
    Did I miss something?
    Thanks.

    1. Avatar
      Rachel

      Make sure you’re using the link in this article.

      The Turkish award search engine is separate from the Star Alliance partners search engine.

      After logging in, navigate to your Miles Transactions. Then click Star Alliance Award Ticket on the top right to access the search engine for Star Alliance award flights.

      1. Avatar
        Ronald Au

        Thank you! I never would have figured it out.

  4. Avatar
    tony

    Great post Ricky. Just curious as to how hard it is to get the Citi Premier card for Canadian’s with ITIN with a relatively short credit history (3 months)?

    1. Avatar
      Eric

      Hey Tony

      While I believe Citi points are quite valuable, Citi cards are best suited for a mid-game set-up. it’s best to start off with Chase cards because of the 5/24 rule that Chase enforces. It may be difficult to get your first Chase card approved without a history with them so if you can set up a checking account with them it may be easier.

  5. Avatar
    Terry Zhang

    Great post as always Ricky. I just got my Citi Premier approved which puts me at 5/24 so this gives me a great option to maximize my Thankyou points.

Ricky

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