One of the best ways to book domestic United Airlines flights is with Turkish Miles & Smiles. When you can find saver award availability, Turkish charges just 7.5K miles each way in economy class and 12.5K miles each way in business class within the United States (including to Alaska and Hawaii) and much lower change and cancellation fees than United for the exact same United flights. This is true whether booking one-way, round-trip, direct, or multi-segment connecting itineraries. We’ve published a number of posts about this major sweet spot. However, with the key information spread out over multiple posts, we’ve received many questions from readers about how it works. This post is an effort to consolidate information and fully answer the question, “How do you book United flights using Turkish Airlines miles?”.
6 things to know
Book over the phone: While some itineraries can be booked online, you’ll generally need to book these over the phone with Turkish Miles & Smiles at 1-800-874-8875.
Update: Phone agents have been having difficulty, saying that Star Alliance bookings are temporarily unavailable. Email bookings are still working, so try the email process instead.
- United Airlines Saver availability only: You must find United saver availability. Only United saver availability is bookable with partner miles. You can not book segments operated by Hawaiian or other airlines with Turkish miles.
- Connecting itineraries are OK: Award pricing is per direction regardless of segments (i.e. EWR-HNL is 7.5K one way in economy class. EWR-ORD-LAX-HNL is also 7.5K one way in economy even though there are 2 stops provided the layours don’t exceed maximum connection times).
- Award holds: Turkish will give you a hold for 48 hours if booking more than 7 days in advance, so there is no need to transfer before putting an award on hold in most cases.
- Transfers are not instant: Citi ThankYou points generally transfer in 18-30 hours. You can alternatively transfer from Marriott Rewards, but the transfer time is likely to be a week or more.
- No mixed cabin bookings: You can not combine an itinerary with some legs in business class and others in economy class. This makes it hard to book awards up front as United does not release much saver availability in business class.
Turkish Miles & Smiles has a pretty interesting award chart. You can find the full award chart here (scroll down to “Award ticket table” and click the tiny red arrows to the right of those words to expand the chart).
Turkish has a separate chart for awards flown within a region on Turkish as well as domestic Star Alliance awards (which do not need to be operated by Turkish).
Here are the relevant notes from below that chart about domestic flights::
***Applicable Mile amount for direct flights with Star Alliance member airlines in the same country.
As you can see, domestic Star Alliance awards should price at 15K round trip in Economy Class / 25K in business class / 40K in first class. Since a one-way is half the cost of a round trip, here is a simpler breakdown:
Domestic United Airlines awards with Turkish Miles & Smiles
- 7.5K each way in economy class
- 12.5K each way in business class
- 20K each way in first class (Note: United no longer operates 3-cabin flights in the United states, so what United calls “first class” is really business class)
Those are some amazing prices when you consider that they apply to domestic flights across the United States — whether you’re flying an expensive regional flight to hop a state or two away, on a premium transcon flight, or all the way to Alaska or Hawaii (even with connections to get there). LifeMiles gets attention for the fact that flights can be booked for 7500 miles each way within a single US region. Turkish charges 7.5K each way within the United States.
Step by step guide
Here’s how to book United flights with Turkish Miles & Smiles.
Step 1) Check United.com for saver availability
Start at United.com and search your preferred date and route looking for saver award availability. Only saver awards can be booked with partner miles.
Step 2) Try booking a United award ticket with Turkish Airlines online
Some domestic United Airlines flights can be booked online for just 7,500 miles each way (including to places like Hawaii and Alaska). Unfortunately, the online tool definitely doesn’t show everything that is bookable via the phone. Only basic one-stop round trip itineraries are available online. Some itineraries just don’t show up for no explicable reason, some price higher than they should, and it’s unclear whether or not you can book a ticket for someone else online. Here are the basic quirks regarding online booking (note that you can avoid these altogether by booking over the phone):
- One-way awards are not bookable online. You must search round trip if you’re using the online tool (but you can book one-way over the phone).
- Only economy class is available online. There is no way to specify cabin class and I have only seen economy class results.
- Many available routes don’t show up online. It’s not clear why, but many itineraries that are available at United.com do not show up on the Turkish Airlines website.
- Not all routes price correctly online. Only some itineraries price at 7,500 miles each way in economy class online. Some price at over 11K online for no known reason (the same itineraries can be booked over the phone for 7,500 miles each way).
- The online tool often doesn’t show the most direct routing. Even when direct flights are available, the system sometimes forces a connection (for example, rather than allowing a nonstop round trip award between San Francisco and Honolulu, the options presented required connecting through Los Angeles or vice versa).
- Some airports are not available in the online tool. For example, Newark-EWR is not an available airport for online booking.
- You may have trouble booking a ticket for someone else online. I haven’t personally tried doing this, but it is unclear whether or not you can use your miles to book travel for someone else on the website. You can definitely book travel for others over the phone.
Despite the drawbacks, if you’d like to try booking a Star Alliance award like a United domestic trip online using Turkish Miles & Smiles, first log into your Turkish Miles & Smiles account. Then, click the drop-down menu to the right of your name (in the top right corner). Choose “Miles Transactions” and then look for the “Star Alliance Award Ticket” area and click “Book Now”.
That will take you to the Star Alliance booking tool, which looks exactly like the booking tool on the home page, only it works for searching Star Alliance awards (whereas the one on the home page apparently doesn’t). From there, it’s fairly self-explanatory.
Note that you cannot specify a cabin. I only found economy class awards online. There is no ability to search one-way for Star Alliance awards nor to book one-way Star Alliance awards online (though I’ve had no trouble booking one way over the phone).
If you search and nothing happens, it is not finding availability. This does not mean that no awards are available. It just means that you’ll need to call to book.
However, if your route has availability, you’ll see results like this:
From there, you select your desired flights and go forward to book as you would on any airline website. If you have miles in your account, you should be able to complete the process online. However, if you do not yet have miles and/or you do not find the itinerary you want online, you’ll want to move on to Step 3.
To book a United Airlines award ticket over the phone with Turkish Miles & Smiles, follow these steps:
- Call 1-800-874-8875
- Press 1 to continue in English
- Press 1 because you’re a Miles & Smiles member
- Enter your Miles & Smiles number
- Press 1 to confirm your number is correct
- Press 4 for reservations
When you call Turkish Airlines to book a United Airlines award ticket over the phone, you will need to be prepared to tell the agent exactly which flights you want and then feed the agent one segment at a time.
For example, if you’re looking to fly from Chicago to Honolulu with a layover in San Francisco, you’ll need to be very specific:
“I’d like to book a partner flight on United airlines. There are 2 segments. The first flight is from Chicago (ORD) to San Francisco (SFO) on October 22nd for 2 passengers in economy class. I’m looking for flight UA 1891 leaving Chicago at 10am and arriving at 12:50pm in San Francisco.”
Let the agent find that flight. Then, move on to the next flight.
“The second segment is from San Francisco (SFO) to Honolulu (HNL) on October 22nd for 2 passengers in economy class. I’m looking for flight UA 300 leaving San Francisco at 2:10pm.”
If you instead just ask for Chicago to Honolulu, the agent will likely tell you that there is no availability (unless there is a nonstop flight available). You have to go segment by segment.
Keep in mind that the max layover on domestic itineraries appears to be 4 hours. If your itinerary has a longer layover, you’ll be charged for two awards.
Note that sometimes, agents will not find the itinerary you want. In that case, you’ll need to proceed to Step 4. If the agent found the itinerary you wanted, skip to Step 5.
Step 4) Hang up, Call again.
If the agent does not find the itinerary you wanted (and you have verified that it shows up as a saver award at United.com), politely end the call. Then, hang up and call again and try with a different agent.
Unfortunately, this is the biggest hangup with booking Turkish Miles & Smiles awards: not all agents seem to be able to find all United saver availability. I’ve sometimes been able to book on the first phone call and other times it has taken me 5 or 6 phone calls over the course of a week to find an agent who was able to book what I wanted. I’ve literally had back-to-back phone calls where one agent said there were no available seats and the next agent saw the availability I was after. You just need to roll the dice and be persistent.
Step 5) Put an award on hold
Once an agent finds your flights, you will need to ask them to put the itinerary on hold for you to transfer over the miles (since Turkish allows free and easy holds there is no reason to transfer miles before this point). The agent will need to take the names and birthdates of the passengers in your party to put it on hold. The process is a bit slow because everything gets repeated a couple of times for clarity.
Provided you are booking travel at least 7 days in advance, you will be offered a hold of 48 hours, which is plenty of time to transfer the miles necessary.
If you are booking a flight within 7 days of travel, you will only get a hold for 24 hours. That may be enough time to make the transfer if you’re lucky.
Step 6) Transfer miles
Option 1: Citi ThankYou Points
Most people will transfer Citi ThankYou points to Turkish Miles & Smiles since Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles is a 1:1 Citi Transfer Partner. Simply log in to ThankYou.com and transfer your points to Turkish Miles & Smiles like you would with any airline partner.
Transfers from Citi are not instant. Transfer times vary from 18-30 hours. You should easily receive the miles in time to ticket your held award provided you initiate the transfer right away after placing the hold.
Citi did provide a transfer bonus to Turkish Miles & Smiles once last year. Hopefully we will see that return.
Option 2: Marriott Bonvoy*
You can alternatively / additionally transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to Turkish Miles & Smiles at a rate of 3 Marriott points to 1 Turkish Airlines mile. When you transfer 60,000 Marriott points, you’ll get a 5K bonus for a total of 25K Turkish miles. Unfortunately, Marriott transfers are slow and may take a week or more. You can’t count on a transfer from Marriott processing while you have an award on hold.
Option 3: Buy miles from Turkish
Turkish Miles & Smiles will sell you up to 50,000 miles in increments of 1,000 miles for 3 cents per mile. These miles post instantly to your account, so this can be a way to top off your account for a valuable award.
Option 4: Buy Citi ThankYou points
As long as you have a card that earns Citi ThankYou points, and you have at least one point in your account, you can buy additional ThankYou points for 2.5 cents each, up to a maximum of 100K points per year. You can then transfer those points to airline miles. Greg wrote about this in detail a while ago: Buy miles via ThankYou Rewards. He then wrote a post about doing it specifically for award to Hawaii. See: $386 to Hawaii round trip from anywhere in the US.
Step 7) Call back to ticket before deadline
Once you have the miles necessary in your account, you’ll need to call back to ticket your held award.
The process is pretty straightforward: you’ll call Turkish again and tell them that you need to pay for an award you have on hold. You’ll give them the PNR and they will verify all of the information. The agent will then transfer you to an automated system to enter your credit card information. After you enter credit card info, the agent came will verify the first 4 and last 4 digits of the card number and your Miles & Smiles number and then transfer you to an automated prompt to enter your Miles & Smiles PIN. That “PIN” is the password for the account. Once that is complete, the award can be ticketed.
Change / cancellation fee for Turkish award tickets
Changes before check-in will incur a $25 fee (the ticket must be used within 1 year of the day it is issued). Changes after check-in or a no-show will incur a $50 fee. Itineraries can be canceled over the phone and miles are immediately re-deposited.
Turkish Miles and Smiles offers the hands-down best value for booking United Airlines domestic award flights. Unfortunately, the process for booking isn’t always easy, but it can be well worth a little effort for the huge mileage savings, especially on expensive regional flights or awards to far-off parts of the country like Hawaii and Alaska where United Saver awards would cost several times as many miles for the same flights.
For other posts on Turkish Miles and Smiles, see:
- 7.5K each way to Hawaii: The sweetest spot we’ve been missing
- Forget email, book Turkish awards over the phone (7.5K each way)
- $386 to Hawaii round trip from anywhere in the US
- Booking Turkish online: my bumbling experiments
- Turkish still a mixed bag, but patience helps
Last updated on December 9th, 2019