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When it comes to head-turning airlines, both Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines win accolades aplenty. Their onboard experience and airport lounges are something to look forward to when you travel, but which airline should you choose? Both carriers have extensive networks and fly to several cities in the United States, opening the door to destinations worldwide. In addition, both are part of a major global alliance, unlocking opportunities to earn and redeem your valuable miles.
Let's look at Qatar Airways versus Turkish Airlines — two flag carriers of their namesake nations — and see which might work better for your travel plans.
Where they're based and where they fly
Winner: Turkish Airlines
For U.S.-based travelers, both Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways fly to a dozen U.S. gateways. With that even playing field, their networks become the deciding factor.
Through its Doha hub, Qatar Airways flies to over 140 global destinations. However, since Doha is in the Middle East, most U.S. travelers won't use Qatar Airways to reach Europe — it's out of the way unless they plan to first visit Qatar for a stopover.
Qatar Airways is part of the Oneworld alliance, and U.S.-based travelers can easily rack up points on alliance partners Alaska Airlines and American Airlines to redeem on the Middle Eastern powerhouse.
Turkish Airlines is part of the Star Alliance, and its Istanbul hub is a bit more centrally located for reaching parts of Europe than Qatar's Doha hub. U.S. travelers can use miles earned on United to redeem on Turkish flights.
From its 12 U.S. gateways, the airline can connect passengers worldwide. Most impressively, Turkish Airlines holds the title of flying to more countries than any other airline on the planet and has 266 destinations on its route map.
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Airline rewards programs
Winner: Qatar Airways
This one can be a toss-up for some people. Both airlines have strong loyalty program sweet spots, but Qatar Airways wins because its Avios points can be transferred to other Avios-participating airlines, giving it tremendous flexibility.
Qatar Airways Privilege Club awards Avios points, the same loyalty currency used by other airlines like Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and Vueling. This means you can combine points from these airlines into one account, exponentially growing your balance and expediting your path to redemption.
This flexibility is music to the ears of frequent flyers. However, it is vital to move your points to partner programs such as British Airways rather than redeeming directly from your Qatar Avios account, where the redemption rates are notably higher.
Members earn Avios with Qatar Airways based on the distance of their flight, the fare class purchased and their elite status in the program. Family members can also earn an elite status bonus if someone else in their family has status by pooling points into the same account.
Avios operates on a distance-based award chart, which has its sweet spots and overpriced awards. While they have been reduced, there are also tremendous taxes. Still, Avios can be a fruitful program for its members, especially since it has partner transfer options like Citi ThankYou points.
Avios sweet spots in the British Airways version of the program include:
Flying to the Caribbean on Alaska or American for as few as 7,500 Avios each way (for flights under 650 miles in distance).
Booking nonstop domestic flights on Alaska or American Airlines for 7,500 Avios each way (for flights under 650 miles in distance).
Flying to Hawaii for as few as 26,000 Avios round trip on Alaska or American Airlines.
Using British Airways Oneworld multi-carrier awards.
The Miles&Smiles program from Turkish Airlines also has many sweet spots for travelers. Members earn miles based on the flight distance, fare class and elite status level. Using the airline's zone-based award chart, they can then redeem them on flights with Turkish Airlines or any Star Alliance member. In addition, if you need to top up your Miles&Smiles account, you can transfer points from credit card partners like Citi ThankYou, Bilt Rewards and Capital One.
Like Avios, Miles&Smiles passes on fuel surcharges, so be careful about which awards you book — some airline partners charge more than others.
Miles&Smiles award chart sweet spots include:
Transcontinental flights in North America on United for 10,000 miles each way in economy or 15,000 each way in business class.
Flights between the continental U.S. and Hawaii on United for 7,500 miles each way in economy or 12,500 each way in business class.
Travel from the U.S. to Europe on United for 45,000 miles each way in business class. This is often less than what United would charge for an award ticket, although the airline has stopped sharing its award chart publicly.
» Learn more: The best airline and hotel rewards programs this year
Airlines love tacking on fees for excess bags, seat assignments and other ancillary items, and when it comes to Qatar versus Turkish, you'll find that they are no different. Here's a rundown of what you can expect regarding extra fees.
Checked bag fees: The airline offers a complimentary checked baggage allowance, but overweight and excess bag fees on flights from the U.S. start at $75.
Seat assignment fees: Standard seat selection is free, though travelers in the lower tiers of economy and business class need to wait until they check in to select their seat. To choose one sooner or to upgrade to a preferred seat, fees range from $9 for a standard seat on a short flight to $220 for an extra-legroom seat on an ultra-long-haul flight.
Reservation fees: Tickets issued or reissued via the phone or at an airline ticket office tack on a $25 service fee.
Reservation holds: The airline charges $10-30 to hold a reservation for up to 72 hours.
Change fees: At least one complimentary change is available without a service fee for all fares except the Lite fare bundle.
Checked bag fees: Turkish Airlines offers a complimentary baggage allowance, but excess or overweight bags carry a fee, depending on the origin airport. Fees start at $80.
Seat assignment fees: The airline's lowest fares carry a fee to choose seats starting at $9 and going up to $139.
Reservation holds: U.S.-departing passengers and elite status cardholders can hold a fare for free for 24 hours as long as the flight is more than seven days from the reservation time. The fee varies for those that want to hold the price in other circumstances or for longer durations.
Change fees: These surcharges will vary based on the fare type and destination.
» Learn more: How to avoid common airline fees
Winner: Qatar Airways
Both airlines are known for excellent service, but Qatar Airways' more diverse and international cabin crew makes the experience a winner. On top of that, Qatar offers the Qsuite with privacy doors to enclose seats in business class. Turkish Airlines does not provide as much privacy in its business class. Both airlines excel in economy class, however.
No matter what cabin you're in, Qatar Airways crew have an international background — hailing from around the world and speaking numerous languages.
The airline offers three classes of service: economy, business and first class. First class is limited to a small subset of the fleet, mostly Airbus A380s. Its business class includes the famous Qsuite on many routes, which comes with a privacy door.
Economy class wins praise for its decent legroom, gourmet cuisine, complimentary alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, amenity kits on long flights and an entertainment system with more than 4,000 options. In addition, the airline's shortest routes include complimentary food and beverages in all cabins.
Turkish Airlines is famous for its excellent cuisine thanks to its Do & Co catering partnership. High-end meals and complimentary drinks are available in all cabins. The carrier only offers business and economy class, but both are highly regarded for comfort, service and amenities.
Entertainment systems boast a wide range of movies, music and short-subject programs. Passengers can expect seats with movable headrests, power ports and, on long flights, an amenity kit in all cabins. In addition, business-class passengers are treated to beautifully catered meal presentations with an onboard chef to serve and tailor the meal to their preferences as much as possible.
Cabin crew on Turkish Airlines are primarily from Turkey, which narrows the international language offering for passengers who do not speak English or Turkish.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
Qatar Airways vs. Turkish Airlines recapped
In the competition between Qatar Airways versus Turkish Airlines, Qatar ekes out a slight edge based on the above criteria, but both carriers have legions of fans. Moreover, support ranks grow even more extensive, given access to mileage redemption for U.S. frequent flyers from partner carriers. So your primary choice may come down to where you're flying.
No matter where you're sitting, you won't go hungry on either airline, and the route networks are expansive. However, Qatar Airways is the way to go for those who want the most privacy in business class and an airline crew fluent in multiple languages.
How to maximize your rewards
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