August 6, 2016

Navigating Istanbul Layover Options

For our upcoming RTW adventure, we're ending up with ~21 hours in Istanbul.  Turkish Airlines has a generous layover policy in that they offer several complimentary choices (requirements vary based on travel class) to enjoy the city between flights.  We've gone back and forth several times on the best option but finally made a decision this week.

Here were are options, logic, and why we chose to pay our own way for our one night stay.

1)  We could stay at the airport and enjoy the amazing Turkish Airlines CIP lounge (now remained the July 15 Heroes of Democracy Lounge).  I am not kidding.  Based on our original plan, this would have made more sense as we only had a 9 hour layover.  The lounge is massive (60,000 square feet) and has plenty of space to relax, (although it does get crowded) eat, drink, and sleep.  With a 21 hour layover, this made a lot less sense.

July 15 Heroes of Democracy Lounge
2)  Turkish Airlines offers a free hotel room (typically by the airport) for economy layovers of 10+ hours and business class layovers of 7+ hours.  They transport you to the hotel and back to the airport.  The layover must be "forced" in that there can't be an earlier Turkish flight to your final designation.  In our case, there's only one flight a day to Male so we qualify.  While this would save us money, it would not save us time and we'd end up in a hotel close to the airport and still have to get into the city.

Turkish Airlines free hotel T's & C's
3)  Turkish Airlines offers free tours of the city!  There are minimal requirements related to layover/travel class - you just need sufficient time for the tour.  The tours vary by day and time and include transportation, an English speaking guide, and meal(s).  We generally aren't the biggest fans of tours (even free ones) as we prefer to explore on our own.  So while this would be a great option for a ~10-12 hour layover, we opted to skip the free tour this trip.

Tour Istanbul with Turkish Airlines

Sample Friday tours
4)  Build our own itinerary.  We'll be landing around 5AM local time and departing at 2AM the next day.  By the time we clear immigration and shower/eat in the arrivals lounge, it will likely by 6:30 AM.  We'll head into the city (in theory traffic should be lighter at that hour) to explore.  We opted to book a hotel room (more details in the planning and booking post) through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts which should allow us to check into the hotel by noon or earlier.  We'll have a home base to shower, rest, and generally relax while we spend the day exploring the city.

Obviously we chose option # 4.  While we're spending a bit more money with this option, if we didn't book a hotel room, we would be traveling nearly 48 hours without one - way too long.  Given the current state of affairs in Istanbul, we both felt more comfortable staying in an area we are familiar with and at a hotel chain we trust.

Turkish Airlines provides a ton of great options to entice travelers to fly through Istanbul.  So many options, it's challenging to make a decision!  Stay tuned for more details on our trip in upcoming posts.

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