My daughter Lindsey lives in London. Often, when I go visit her we take off for a few days to visit another part of the world because London is so centrally located to the rest of Europe. She has always wanted to visit Istanbul, Turkey so I used award points to make that happen.
I traveled to London initially by using 70,000 United miles to fly from Newark, New Jersey in business class in lay-flat seats. I had a delicious meal on board, watched a movie, and slept six straight hours. This is the way I like to travel abroad!! You could earn these points through the United Mileage Plus Explorer Credit Card or the United Mileage Plus Quest Card. Additionally, you could always transfer to United with Ultimate Rewards from Chase.
For our trip to Istanbul from London, I used Avianca miles to purchase tickets on Turkish Airways. I had signed up for an Avianca Credit Card (no longer available) for both my husband and myself about 18 months ago and had earned 80,000 miles after reaching the minimum spend. I used those miles to get us to Istanbul in economy class and a return flight home in business. Boy, did I miss business class on the way over as I was crammed into my economy seat! Surprisingly, the food in economy class was quite good. The flight was about 4 hours long and the airport was pretty far from the city so we didn’t arrive until about 7:00 pm.
I had booked us four nights at the Ritz Carlton Istanbul using points. My husband and I had signed up for Ritz Carlton cards ( no longer available except as a product change) the last month they were offered in 2018. When we signed up, we each received two free nights after minimum spend. These were going to expire in a couple of months so I really needed to use them. The room was beautiful with a beautiful view of the Bosphorus Strait.
I have the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Credit Card so my plan was to use the $300 Marriott credit for use at the restaurant at the Ritz Carlton. Award points and deals were really working in my favor on this trip to Istanbul.
Did you know that American Express offers special offers that you can link your card to? If you have an American Express card, you should check out those deals on a regular basis. You can find these deals when you log into your account or they send them out in emails. Recently, I found one that gave me a $40 credit if I spend $200 on this card so that was like $40 of free food on this trip! Score!
Really all I paid for on this trip were a few snacks while we were out and admission to some sites. Istanbul is a fascinating place. It felt more European than the other predominantly Muslim countries I had traveled to recently. I was so happy my daughter had talked me into using award points for Istanbul.
The Hagia Sofia was spectacular. Built as a Mosque and later converted into a museum, it is a popular tourist spot.
Sadly, one of the most popular sites in Istanbul, the Blue Mosque, is under extensive remodeling so we only saw a portion of its splendor. We were there on a Friday and it was very interesting watching all the Muslims leaving after their prayers. Friday is their Sabbath day so the Mosque was closed until the afternoon.
Topkapi Palace is another popular tourist attraction. It is a large, opulent 15th-century palace that was occupied by sultans for 400 years. It now is the home to Ottoman treasures. The most interesting room here was the circumcision room. Our guide told us that unlike, the Jews, Muslims are often circumcised up to the age of 6 or 7! Ouch!! It is a huge celebration and the boys wear fancy outfits and receive coins and other gifts. Not too sure the gifts and fancy outfits make up for the pain though!
The Grand Bazaar houses spices, Turkish Delight (their special candy), souvenirs, and jewelry. I had previously had Turkish Delight in London and hadn’t really liked it. It is a type of confection or candy based on a gel of starch and sugar. To my surprise, I found some I really enjoyed – especially the fig and almond ones!
One of my favorite things to do in any city is to check out the neighborhoods. One of my favorite neighborhoods this trip was Karakoy – so many cute streets, especially this umbrella street!
Anyone who travels to Istanbul has to go have a Turkish Hammam or Bath. It is truly luxurious bathing and I will dedicate an entire post to the experience.
Istanbul has two sides to it, one in Europe and one in Asia separated by the Bosphorus Strait. We took the ferry from Europe and eight minutes later we were in Asia to have breakfast! We landed in the town of Udustar and then took a taxi to the cute neighborhood of Kurguncuk.
One reason I wanted to fly back to London on business class seats via award points was to take my daughter to the Turkish Airlines airport lounge. When I flew Turkish airlines to Greece a year ago, I thought it was the best airport lounge I had ever been in. Unfortunately, they opened up their new airport since then and so we didn’t go into the same airport lounge. The new airport is beautiful though and the lounge was actually amazing!!
The food was so, so good. I had freshly grilled chicken, amazing rice, and some Turkish flatbread with melted cheese and olive tapenade on it. The desserts were so good that I had two plates of them. They had shower rooms available, sleeping rooms, and the cutest kids area complete with a huge airplane to play on. Virtual golf was available, an ironing station, and plenty of seating. I absolutely loved this lounge. We were so disappointed when we had to leave and wished we had arrived earlier!
Even though we hated leaving the lounge, our flight home in business class to London was the perfect ending to our time in Istanbul. Turkish Airlines’ business class seats are very large and their service is impeccable. After a nice lunch and movie, we were landing at Heathrow Airport. Istanbul booked with award points was a great trip, made possible by this crazy hobby of travel hacking!
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