How to book a business class flight to Hawaii for 12,500 miles: Pitfalls and promises

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I booked a trip to Maui a few months ago with the expectation that Hawaii would shed its pandemic protocol within a few months of their scheduled ribbon-cutting reopen date of July 1, 2020. The reopening was then pushed back to August 1. Then September 1. Then October 1. If it’s pushed back one more month, I’ll have to reschedule.

All that being said, no matter what happens, this is a success story: I booked a premium cabin on United Airlines from Honolulu to Newark (more than 10 hours in business class) for 12,500 Turkish Airlines miles. Admittedly, only half of the trip is in a lie-flat seat (the other seat is a big cushy domestic first class seat), but it’s still an unreal deal. That’s about a quarter of what most other rewards programs charge — United and American each require you to shell out 40,000 miles for a one-way flight in business from the mainland to Hawaii.

During my booking process, I hit several snags. I’ll outline them to help you avoid similar issues.

You can easily collect Turkish Airlines miles through the Citi ThankYou program, ThankYou points are earned through select Citi credit cards, including:

  • Citi Premier℠ Card
  • Citi Prestige® Card

You can also transfer Marriott points to Turkish Airlines. Marriott points can be easily earned through welcome bonuses and everyday spend on Marriott credit cards.

The information for the Citi Premier and Citi Prestige has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Turkish miles provide an amazingly cheap way to get to Hawaii. Haiku Stairs, Oahu, Hawaii. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

Using Turkish Airlines miles to fly on United Airlines

Turkish Airlines is a partner of United Airlines through the Star Alliance. You can use Turkish miles to fly on United airplanes at rates often better than United’s own award chart. With Turkish Airlines miles, you can book flights between anywhere the U.S. (even your tiny home airport) and Hawaii for:

  • 7,500 miles in coach each way
  • 12,500 miles in business class each way

This is a stunning deal — almost too good. It even works from your tiny home airport. If United flies there, you should be able to book it (check out MMS team member Meghan’s comprehensive Turkish miles guide).

How to book flights to Hawaii with Turkish Miles

Step 1. Click “Miles Transactions”

Sign into your Turkish Airlines account and click “Miles Transactions” in the drop-down menu below your name. This is how you book award flights.

Step 2. Find the Star Alliance award ticket box

On the next page, you’ll see a box on the right side of the screen. It says “Star Alliance award ticket.” The “Book now” link takes you to the part of the site that allows you to book flights with Turkish Airlines partners, including United Airlines. Click it.

You’re ready to go!

Pitfalls of booking a Turkish Airlines award flight to Hawaii

I’ll now outline the curveballs Turkish threw at me during (and after) the booking process. Here are all the things to watch for!

Available award seats

The biggest catch with using Turkish flights is award availability. While coach seats are relatively plenteous, business class can be much more difficult to nab. Some recommend looking on the United website for award availability. I don’t find this particularly helpful since Turkish doesn’t have access to all the awards that United offers.

In my case, I couldn’t find business class flights from Hawaii to my home airport, so I began looking at United hub airports that I wouldn’t mind hopping to from my location.

I found available business class seats between Honolulu and Newark. Flights between Newark and Cincinnati are insanely cheap right now ($65 on a full-service airline). The inconvenience is worth 10 hours in business class to me.

Takeaway: If you cannot find flights between your desired origin and destination, search for hubs to which you’d feel comfortable buying a positioning flight. It also helps to be flexible with your dates.

Unable to add additional travelers to the reservation

If you’ve never booked an award flight with Turkish Airlines before, you’ll get this message when trying to search for two or more award seats at once:

I don’t know what this rule is about, but it’s enraging.

Fortunately, the fix is easy. Turkish won’t allow you to slap just anyone’s name on your reservation. You have to register their profile on your account, first. Head to “My Personal Details” in the drop-down menu under your name, and scroll down until you see the “My companions” box to the left. Here you can edit or remove companions from your profile.

You don’t have to enter any intimate details — their name and date of birth are all that’s required.

Finding business class seats

This problem didn’t stump me for long, but it did give me concern about my cognitive abilities. I searched for several frustrating minutes to find no business class seats on any routes or dates — until I noticed a tab at the top of the search results. One tab shows exclusively coach seats, and the other exclusively business class seats.

Paying for business class and receiving economy seats

I still can’t explain why this happens, and it’s a helpful detail to prepare for now.

Below is the itinerary I decided upon. As you can see, the words “business class” are prominently displayed beside each leg of the trip. At the bottom of the page, 25,000 points for two one-way tickets.

But wait! On the next page after checkout, things have changed. My ticket has been issued, my origin and destination are correct, but my tickets now say ECONOMY.

I was so cross I couldn’t see straight.

I logged into my United account and used the confirmation number issued to me by Turkish. My United account DID reflect my business class reservation. No idea why Turkish labels them economy seats after checkout, but as long as United knows the truth, that’s all I’m concerned about.

The seat maps reaffirmed this fact, and I chose seats in the business class cabin.

Confirming seats are lie-flat

Not all business class seats are lie-flat. As I mentioned, one leg of my business class flight is in domestic first class (a big recliner chair, but far from lie-flat). It’s quite difficult at the moment to score a lie-flat seat since United Airlines has grounded a lot of the planes offering lie-flat seats for smaller, more cost-effective planes.

If you’re lucky you’ll be able to experience a lie-flat seat in United’s new Polaris business class. (Image courtesy of United Airlines)

If you’re after a lie-flat experience, you can easily tell which flights offer those seats. Below is a business class flight I found from Honolulu and Washington, DC, on the Turkish site. With each flight, Turkish will tell you what kind of plane United uses. If it says “wide-body,” it’s probably a lie-flat seat. If it’s “narrow-body,” it’s probably a standard first class recliner seat.

Just to be sure, you can note the flight numbers, and then find the same itinerary on Google Flights. You can find the flight numbers below each leg on Google Flights.

To the right of the page, you’ll see if the seats are lie-flat or standard recliners.

Unfortunately, United can still change the plane at any time and you could end up in a regular ol’ domestic first class seat. An equipment change like this can happen with any flight you book with any airline.

Foreign transaction fees

Before you purchase your award flights, Turkish Airlines will throw a popup at you to warn you about additional processing fees with credit cards not issued by Turkish banks. I’m 99% sure this is a warning about foreign transaction fees.

When you book certain international hotels or airfares, they occasionally will charge you a foreign transaction fee (usually a 3% fee of your purchase amount). Even if you’re sitting in your house in America, they still charge you as though you made a purchase while overseas.

To combat this, be sure to pay for your airport taxes and fees (should be about $5.60 one-way) with a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (I’ve had it for six years) and the Chase Sapphire Reserve® are great for this.

A bonus, when you use those Chase cards to pay for the tax portion of your flight, you’ll also be covered by their top-of-the-line travel insurance. Chase travel insurance has saved me literally thousands throughout the years — read my post on how to file a Chase Trip Delay insurance claim for all the details.

Bottom line

Successfully reserve a United flight with Turkish Airlines miles and it’s a piece of cake the second time around. The program just has some annoying foibles. Its upsides definitely make up for the hassle.

Just remember to prepare for:

  • Strategically finding available award seats
  • Registering your travel buddy before searching for awards
  • Finding the tab containing all business class seats
  • Paying for business class and (seemingly) receiving economy seats
  • Confirming you’re booking a flight with lie-flat seats
  • Avoiding foreign transaction fees

Let me know if you’ve already booked a flight with Turkish miles — and if you’ve got any other tips for booking with Turkish. You can subscribe to our newsletter for more helpful how-to posts like this in the future.

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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