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Since the demise of BMI Diamond Club, many UK-based frequent flyers / travel hackers have struggled to choose a new programme from the Star Alliance. Lufthansa’s Miles & More is large and well known – and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a co-branded UK credit card for those who earn most of their miles on the ground. But Miles & More has too many downsides to list in full, starting with the huge surcharges applied to award flights.
For several years now, Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles has been my main loyalty programme in the Star Alliance. Recently InsideFlyer UK’s editor, Joe, asked me to explain how it works. This request is actually far harder than it seems, because Miles & Smiles is one of the most frustrating and inscrutable loyalty programmes out there…
It Will Drive You Crazy!!!
For anybody tempted to become a Miles & Smiles member, you need to use Flyertalk. Of course, many of us enjoy Flyertalk in the first place, but when it comes to Miles & Smiles, the Turkish Airlines board on Flyertalk is essential. Here’s why:
- The Miles & Smiles website is poorly laid out, and doesn’t provide many of the details you might require, even in the “complete” terms & conditions
- If you call a Miles & Smiles call centre for clarification, you quite possibly will be given incorrect information or be told that it can’t be done
- If you receive something in writing from Miles & Smiles, it will probably be a cut-and-paste job that doesn’t answer your query. Or it can be disavowed at any time
So… the only way to find out anything remotely reliable about Miles & Smiles is to visit Flyertalk and ask the question, where yours truly and a few members – most notably @ISTflyer – will do our best to provide our own experiences that might be relevant.
Potentially even worse, many simple transactions will require visiting a ticket office. Yes… you’ll need to go to the airport and find the Turkish Airlines ticketing counter. And NO… the Turkish Airlines CALL CENTRE cannot handle it for you!?!?! If you don’t live close enough to an airport that Turkish Airlines serves (therefore almost certainly having a ticket office), then you’ll be back to Flyertalk. A couple of members have managed to figure out the email addresses for airport ticket offices that are sometimes willing to handle your transaction via email. (but they won’t accept credit cards via email so you’ll have to pay taxes, etc, via bank wire transfer!)
I’m not talking about really complicated matters… simply booking an award flight on a partner airline often requires visiting a ticket office. Especially if you are trying to book for more than just yourself. Sometimes you can book partner awards online. Sometimes you can’t… but a ticket office can. Or sometimes M&S simply can’t see the award space that you found via United, Aeroplan, etc.
In addition, the Miles & Smiles award chart shows First Class as an option, even though Turkish Airlines does not offer a First Class cabin. For as long as anybody can remember, “technical difficulties” prevent M&S members from actually booking an award flight in First Class on partner airlines.
So Why Is Miles & Smiles so Appealing?
The Award Chart
More strangeness from Miles & Smiles… When you look for information about redeeming your miles for award flights, you will see this:
One might assume that “promotional award ticket table” refers to a time-limited promotion, perhaps limited to selected routes. Not at all! This is your standard “saver” award chart. The “Award ticket table” is actually the very expensive way of using lots of miles to grab the last seat on the plane.
But the “Promotional award ticket table” is very good!
Europe 2 is where most of my readers will find themselves. And if you are trying to fly to the Far East (Japan, Singapore, China, etc.) you will only pay 45,000 miles each way in Business Class! If you are aiming for North America… again just 45,000 miles each way in Business Class! South America or Australia? 52,500 miles… again in Business Class!
As a comparison, British Airways will charge you 105,000 Avios each way for a Business Class flight between London and Singapore on a “peak” date, with even higher surcharges than Turkish Airlines!
Travelling With a Companion
If you thought that the standard award chart looked good, the ever-so-elegantly-named “Promotional companion ticket table” is even better. You will essentially pay 70% of the miles of the above award chart in order to bring your partner, making it 31,500 miles each way in Business Class to Asia or North America.
In order to book a companion award, the only requirement is to book any paid fare that earns miles with Turkish Airlines.
Restrictions do apply however:
- You can only fly on Turkish Airlines (no Star Alliance partners or codeshares)
- The companion can only be booked in the same cabin as the paid ticket (i.e. only an Economy companion award is allowed with a paid ticket in Economy)
- You can only book one companion per paid ticket
- You cannot subsequently upgrade both the paid fare and the companion award to Business Class (you can upgrade the paid ticket, but your companion would remain in Economy under all circumstances)
But if you imagine a pretty simple scenario where you – the status / miles conscious traveller – book a cheap paid fare in Business Class. Your partner can then come along for relatively few miles, plus the standard taxes and surcharges of an award ticket.
Turkish Airlines allows you to upgrade ANY cheap Economy fare to Business Class. It will cost you the same number of miles as booking a standard “promotional” award.
Even though this might not appear to be the optimal choice, upgrading an Economy Class ticket has the following advantages (versus just booking an award):
- No additional taxes or surcharges to be paid, even the additional APD for booking a “premium” class ticket
- You can access revenue fare buckets – J and occasionally K (these are the cheapest Business Class fare buckets)
- You can book the upgrade online
- You will of course earn miles on the underlying paid ticket
Again… compared to BA’s Upgrade Using Avios with fare restrictions, additional surcharges, incorrect online pricing and limited availability… the Turkish Airlines upgrade using miles is simple and straightforward.
Turkish Airlines offers one of the easiest methods of earning Star Alliance Gold status. Miles & Smiles actually offers two levels of elite status that are equivalent to Star Alliance Gold – Elite Plus and Elite.
British Airways Gold members can request a status match to Elite status. Click here to read my explanation of how the status match works.
Once you’ve reached Elite or Elite Plus status, your elite status will be valid for 2 years. During your two-year requalification cycle, you have the option of requalifying during the first year, simply by flying:
- 40,000 miles for Elite Plus re-qualification
- 25,000 miles for Elite re-qualification
To put this in context, flying between London and Singapore via Istanbul (and back) in Business Class (on Turkish Airlines) would earn you approximately 21,000 miles. i.e. very similar to qualifying for BA Silver with a Qatar Airways return, with a handful of flights on BA… except you’d be renewing two years of Star Alliance Gold status instead of BA’s one.
A Skiing Analogy to Conclude…
If any of you are downhill skiers… Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles is like a slope that is labelled with a Black Diamond and signs saying “Expert only”. If you have put in the practice to be a really good skier, that piste (or lack thereof) can be highly rewarding. But if you aren’t, you’ll be begging for a helicopter evacuation part way down!
Miles & Smiles is great for elite status purposes, and I love the award chart pricing, especially to Asia. It certainly doesn’t hurt that I enjoy flying on Turkish Airlines itself and their lounge at Istanbul airport is one of the best in the world. But you must be aware of the pitfalls, and to accept that you will often have to rely on your own research and experience, instead of picking up the phone or visiting a website…