Turkish Airlines vs. Lufthansa
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If you find yourself flying to or around Europe, you may end up choosing between Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa. These two European airlines are Star Alliance siblings, yet they still compete head-to-head for carrying traffic across continents.
While Lufthansa, based in Germany, is better positioned to handle most intra-European traffic, Turkish Airlines outperforms in flight in many ways.
Each airline has an extensive network with many destinations in the United States. But, you’ll want to pay close attention to a few key differences that set them apart and give one a clear edge, especially for American flyers.
No matter which you choose, Lufthansa versus Turkish, you will find plenty to appeal to you both on the ground and in the air. Naturally, those in the premium cabin or with elite status stand to enjoy the most.
Here are some critical differences between Turkish and Lufthansa to help you decide which is a better fit for your next overseas trip.
Where they're based and where they fly
Winner: Turkish Airlines
For U.S.-based travelers, both Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa fly to several U.S. gateways. While Lufthansa is better positioned to carry most Europe-bound traffic, Turkish Airlines can offer more connecting city pairs globally.
Lufthansa has an edge in the United States since the carrier has two major connecting hubs — Frankfurt and Munich — and the airline serves both in many U.S. destinations. Between the two hubs, it flies to nearly 200 destinations.
The airline is part of Star Alliance. Its central location in Europe gives it an edge when connecting travelers from the Americas to Europe with less backtracking than other carriers.
Turkish Airlines is also part of Star Alliance, but its primary Istanbul hub (that handles most long-haul flights) is far east in Europe. This makes its hub less convenient for those traveling from the Americas to Western Europe.
While it flies to more than 300 global destinations — more than Lufthansa — it is at a disadvantage if carrying European-bound traffic from the U.S. While it is possible to backtrack, it does add time to the journey.
Turkish Airlines holds the title of flying to more countries than any other airline on the planet. Turkish Airlines only has one major intercontinental hub (Istanbul) but uses other Turkish airports, like Ankara, as another connecting airport.
This opens up a plethora of long-distance city pairs that can be reached with just one change of planes.
That’s hard to beat, and Turkish Airlines is the global winner in that category.
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Airline rewards programs
Winner: Turkish Airlines
This one can be a toss-up for some people because it depends on where you like to use your miles for travel. However, since both carriers are part of Star Alliance, they share partner carriers giving them an even playing field.
Both carriers offer excellent lounges to premium cabin passengers as well as Star Alliance Gold-tier flyers, adding another even playing field — although it is tough to beat the Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul with numerous live cooking stations, sports simulators and nap rooms.
And both airlines have strong loyalty program sweet spots, but Turkish Airlines offers more value if you’re flexible and creative.
Miles & More is the loyalty program for Lufthansa and its subsidiary carriers like Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and Swiss International. This means there are many ways to take advantage of Miles & More status and perks on its “home” carriers.
Other airlines also use the same program, including LOT Polish Airlines and Luxair. But, of course, you can also earn and burn on Star Alliance airlines too.
Members earn miles based on flight distance, fare class purchased and their elite status in the program. When it comes time to redeem miles, the program uses a published award chart with set prices based on origin and destination.
Members can take advantage of a regular list of discounted awards called Meilenschnäppchen, but only if they fly to those destinations.
If you’re looking for some sweet spots in the program, there are a few:
Flying to Australia, New Zealand or Oceania for 71,000 miles in business class.
Booking business class domestic flights within the U.S. and Canada for 20,000 miles.
Flying to deep South America from the U.S. in business class for 56,000 miles.
The Miles&Smiles program from Turkish Airlines also awards miles based on flight distance, fare class and elite status tier. You can earn miles on Turkish Airlines and AnadoluJet flights.
When you’re ready to redeem miles, the full range of Star Alliance partner carriers is available using the airline's zone-based award chart.
Need more miles to complete an award? You can transfer points from credit card partners like Citi ThankYou, Bilt Rewards and Capital One.
While there are fuel surcharges on some awards, not all are egregious. Even so, when taking advantage of these Miles&Smiles award chart sweet spots, it may still be worth it:
Transcontinental flights in North America on United cost only 10,000 miles each way for economy class or 15,000 each way in business class.
Flights between the continental U.S. and Hawaii on United go for 7,500 miles each way in economy or 12,500 each way in business class.
Travel redemptions from the U.S. to Europe on United would cost 45,000 miles each way in business class. Compared with what United would charge for an award ticket, it’s a great deal, even if United ditched award charts for full transparency.
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Extra fees are becoming more common with airlines these days, and both Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines have several. Here's what you can expect.
Checked bag fees. Travelers can check bags without charge, but there are some overweight and excess bag fees on flights from the U.S., starting at $90.
Seat assignment fees. Travelers can choose a seat for free on certain fares. Those in lower economy and business class tiers may need to wait until check-in to select a free seat. If opting to purchase, seat fees start at $13 (12 euros) for a standard seat on a short flight and up to more than $107 (100 euros) for an extra-legroom seat on the longest flights.
Reservation fees. Buying a ticket online carries no charge, but if making a reservation through an office (by phone or in person), there is a $20 service fee.
Change fees. Changes to your reservation would require paying the difference in fare plus fees starting at $60.
Checked bag fees. Turkish Airlines offers a complimentary baggage allowance, but you’ll have to pay extra if you want to carry more bags or for those that are overweight. Fees start at $80.
Seat assignment fees. Depending on the fare, cheaper tickets charge at least $9 up to $139 to assign a seat.
Reservation holds. U.S.-departing passengers and those with elite status get to hold a price for 24 hours for travel departing within 5-10 five days from the reservation time. The fee varies for those wanting to keep the ticket price from changing for longer.
Change fees. In addition to the fare difference, surcharges will vary based on the fare type and destination.
» Learn more: How to avoid common airline fees
There is a clear winner in this category, and it is perhaps Lufthansa’s best attribute when comparing the carriers.
The German national carrier has four cabin classes on some aircraft. This includes first class, business class, premium economy and economy class.
Passengers have plentiful choices regarding the type of fare they want to buy and the onboard experience they need for their flight. While only some aircraft have all four cabins, the choices are on specific routes.
Lufthansa continues to offer one of the best first-class products in the air.
The Turkish national carrier only has two classes of service: business and economy.
While this simplified vision is easier to understand, it leaves out essential subsets of travelers. For example, those wanting the most exclusive and personalized ground and onboard experience don’t get a first-class option.
Turkish also does not have a premium economy class, so travelers can buy up to business or remain in the economy. While having a choice is always a good option, Turkish Airlines opts to maximize space on its aircraft with a more simplified cabin.
Winner: Turkish Airlines
Both airlines are known for excellent service, but few would argue that Turkish Airlines is the winner in this category. Lufthansa used to offer more benefits behind the curtain (and still offers a friendly product), but recent cutbacks mean it loses accolades in this category.
On short-haul flights in economy, Lufthansa offered complimentary catering, including beverages like wine, beer and cocktails and hot meals on flights of a few hours.
In recent years, it has switched to a buy-onboard service. This starkly contrasts Turkish Airlines on short flights, which still offers free refreshments in all cabins.
The airline still serves complimentary meals and drinks in economy class on medium and long-haul flights, although it has scaled back on the alcohol menu. In business class on short-haul flights, the airline uses mainly narrowbody planes with economy class-style seats that block the middle seat.
This means the price point can be inflated, but the inflight experience is not much more than a meal and more attention from flight attendants. Like Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa also works with DO & CO catering.
The airline has exceptional entertainment systems on long-haul flights, even in economy class.
The premium economy and business class have a substantially upgraded menu with hot meals and amenity kits. Alcoholic drinks are complimentary.
In first class, the lounge (including a private terminal in Frankfurt) and onboard experience are second to none. While its first-class product is better than Turkish Airlines’ premium experience, Turkish still does a better job for most of its passengers regarding inflight service.
In short, Lufthansa excels strongly in its premium cabins on long-haul routes.
While Turkish Airlines may not have a snazzy premium economy cabin or deluxe first class, its business class is solid on most aircraft (some planes still have middle seats).
The carrier is famous for its excellent cuisine from DO & CO catering, which is used for both business and economy meals, where hot meals and an open bar are available on almost all flights in all cabins. The airline also offers flying chefs on most long-haul flights.
It's hard to fault Turkish Airlines’ serving a chef-inspired meal on short sectors in economy.
Zeroing in on the business class cabin for a moment, Turkish Airlines is famous for its flying chefs that handle special requests and plate meals with flair. Then comes the appetizer and dessert carts with decadent regional cuisine, excellent presentation and an impressive array of choices.
Entertainment systems boast a wide range of movies, music and short-subject programs available on both long-haul and short-haul flights.
Even in economy class, the seats have movable headrests, footrests and, on long flights, an amenity kit in all cabins. Even some short business class flights on Turkish Airlines use planes with wide, reclining seats and noise-canceling headsets.
Turkish excels in all cabins on almost all routes, despite not having a first-class or premium-economy cabin.
Lufthansa vs. Turkish Airlines recapped
These Star Alliance siblings are in close competition for their global networks, robust onboard offerings (even though the strengths are in different cabins) and loyalty programs.
Still, Turkish Airlines holds such a strong lead due to out-competing Lufthansa in almost every category. So no matter where you sit on a Turkish flight, you’ll find something to enjoy about the experience.
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