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I don’t get it. Why do people like the Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul?

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Some people felt I was a bit unfair to Turkish Airlines when I reviewed their Boeing 777 business class service last week.

If you thought I was too critical, you are unlikely to be keen on my review of the Turkish Airlines CIP business class lounge in Istanbul.  I’d move on now.

The Turkish Airlines lounge has a buzz, a reputation, to it – it became part of the reason I wanted to go down to Istanbul.  It won the Skytrax ‘Best Business Class Lounge’ in 2015, for example.

The tagline is ‘bigger than some airports’.  This is actually true – the lounge is bigger than the departure area of Salzburg Airport, where I was 24 hours later, and bigger than Ras Al Khaimah’s entire departure terminal where I am typing this – but bigger does not mean better ….

I take some comfort in my views from my US equivalent Gary Leff who in this article on the top 10 airport lounges in February said:

“But any best list ….. [which] includes lounges like the Turkish CIP lounge in Istanbul, anything in the U.S., South America, or Africa, or any British Airways lounge among the top 10 is clearly missing the boat.”

The Turkish Airways lounge in Istanbul starts very nicely, with this English-style library complete with billiard table:

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

There is also a bank of lockers so you can leave your hand baggage, which is helpful.  Then it just ‘goes wrong’.

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

This photo below sums it up.  We have lots of people crowded together, sitting on dull furniture, in a dull looking area.

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

No flair, no style.  Once you get past the billiard table it runs out of ideas.  I am actually one of the biggest supporters of the BA lounges at Heathrow (Concorde Room aside) because they do have style, they have ideas.  Even if those ideas do involve 6-foot high horses with lampshades on their heads.

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

There are some things to do in the lounge which you rarely see, which I think is why some people like it.  There is a golf simulator, but I don’t play:

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

There are a couple of football video games, but that’s not really my thing:

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

There is a car racing track, but I am a bit old for that:

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

There is a good kids room, but my kids were back in London:

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

What you DON’T get is somewhere where you can sit, quietly, in a nicely designed area and have some decent quality food.

What Turkish has done is effectively recreate the same lounge multiple times!  As you walk around the two levels, you realise that the same food and drink items are available from identical outlets in different corners.  There is no attempt to break the space down into a series of different areas.

I keep coming back to the picture I ran at the top:

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

The lounge, to me, was about as exciting as that picture implies.  The rest of the airport, however, is not exactly an improvement.  If you’re in Ataturk, do go into the lounge.  You don’t need to spend two hours there as I did.

Whatever you do, don’t book yourself onto Turkish Airlines via Istanbul purely because you wanted to visit.  There are a few lounges where you can justify that but this is not one of them.

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Here are the four options to get FREE airport lounge access via a UK credit card.

The Platinum Card from American Express comes with two free Priority Pass cards, one for you and one for a supplementary cardholder. Each card admits two so a family of four gets in free. You get access to all 1,500 lounges in the Priority Pass network – search it here.

You also get access to Eurostar, Lufthansa and Delta Air Lines lounges.  Our American Express Platinum review is here. You can apply here.

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If you have a small business, consider American Express Business Platinum instead.

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American Express Preferred Rewards Gold is FREE for the first year. It comes with a Priority Pass card loaded with four free visits to any Priority Pass lounge – see the list here.

Additional lounge visits are charged at £24.  You get four more free visits for every year you keep the card.  

There is no annual fee for Amex Gold in Year 1 and you get a 20,000 points sign-up bonus.  Full details are in our American Express Preferred Rewards Gold review here.

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Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & four airport lounge passes Read our full review

HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard gets you get a free Priority Pass card, allowing you access to the Priority Pass network.  Guests are charged at £24 although it may be cheaper to pay £60 for a supplementary credit card for your partner.

The card has a fee of £195 and there are strict financial requirements to become a HSBC Premier customer.  Full details are in my HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard review.

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A huge bonus, but only available to HSBC Premier clients Read our full review

PS. You can find all of HfP’s UK airport lounge reviews – and we’ve been to most of them – indexed here.

Comments (79)

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  • Simon says:

    Did you go downstairs at all? Did you get a massage? Did you get the waiter to mix you up a cocktail? Did you try one of the day room suites to lie down in, or shower? Did you get a made to order omelette or try the quite amazing for a lounge variety of hot and cold food? (Yes the food stations repeat three times, but there are a lot of different ones in each repeated section, and it repeats because of the size of the lounge). Frankly this lounge is significantly better than any BA lounge I have been in…

  • Alan Wan says:

    I visited the TK lounge at IST last September. I agree with the article that it is overrated. I found two good points: really liked the food and the showers were nice and didn’t have to wait long – despite the lounge was busy. The minus points for me were: lack of premium drinks (there were self service bars located throughout the lounge but nothing to write home about), it was very crowded and I would have preferred more smaller lounges dotted throughout the airport, and my biggest issue was the reception desk -unlike many other airles such as AA, QR, UA- could not deal with a cancelled flight, so I had to go to some awful transit desk full of angry passengers, and quite honestly rude and hostile staff. However, I was glad to be in the lounge as IST was an awful airport, really crowded and nowhere to sit. I will avoid in the future.

  • xcalx says:

    I totally agree with Raffles.
    I posted a review on FT back in 2010 for a HKG-IST-MAN J flight in which I was negative about the lounge. I was slaughtered by quite a few readers one even suggesting I didn’t visit the lounge at all.

  • Stephanie says:

    I could not agree more with all your articles on Turkish airways business class service, or their lounge. We booked a business class flight to Osaka in December via Istanbul, and travelled back to London from KL via Istanbul in January.

    We found the air hostesses to be quite brash/rude, the ‘chef’ was actually an irritant as we were constantly bothered on an evening flight for what is, as you say, a pre-made meal (you do not need to constantly disturb me for this service – the food was very average btw), the TV controls in one of our sets did not work on the flight from KL to Istanbul so we had to use touch screen, my entertainment service actually froze twice on the same flight which required rebooting and having to scan through my films to find my place (I never did finish The Martian!).

    To top it off we were delayed leaving KL due to snow in Istanbul – there was no communication from staff explaining this, or how long the delay would be. We were concerned (rightfully so as it turned out) about missing our connection, and were told ‘all flights are delayed in Istanbul’ by air hostesses on the flight. There was no one to meet us at the gate in Istanbul to rush anyone to their connections (we missed ours), people had to fend for themselves in what is an extremely busy and arguably disorganized airport.

    We were sent to the lounge to sort out getting on the next flight to London. Staff on the desk were extremely irritating – we queued politely for 20 mins only to have the person assisting us constantly getting involved with their colleagues work/other customers – we actually requested after 15 mins that she concentrate on her task in hand as we’d waited such a long time and were getting nowhere with her scatty approach. Initially we were also told we’d have to go economy, but we ‘may use the lounge’. Errr excuse me damn right I can use the lounge, I paid for business class! Turns out they could find us seats in business on the next flight after all, which was very poor, basically just an empty seat between two normal seats, no TV system for a 4 hour flight to London. We were also in the back row of business and we were sat a couple of feet in front of economy passengers with nothing but a curtain drawn behind our seats.

    Anyone thinking of flying to Asia with these clowns, do yourselves a favour – go direct or go with an Arab airline connecting in the Middle East, Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong, or another that connects closer to home (KLM etc). A) the chances of snow in the middle east/HK are extremely low, so no delays/missed connections B) better planes/staff/service C) HK is extremely efficient if you are delayed/there are staff to meet you at the gate and good communication and D) you are not sat in a rubbish seat for 4 hours to Istanbul. Although our first flight to Istanbul had better seats than the return we were put onto/hada TV, I am positive you can get much better with an Arab airline.

    • plastikman says:

      We flew Turkish on a trip to Asia last year. We were both so underwhelmed with the outward leg that we booked a direct ticket back on BA with avios.

    • John says:

      I lol’d at “chances of snow in the middle east”

  • gs says:

    Seems like my perceptions of lounges is quite different from Rob’s. I’ve passed through IST many times and in general quite like the lounge (i’m also not looking for something unique in a lounge but rather a place where i can get some work done while getting some drinks/food/coffee). The one aspect i don’t quite fancy at the TK lounge at IST is that the food is exactly the same every time; some variation would be nice here.

  • Kevin says:

    From my perspective you haven’t made any reference to the two best bits of the lounge, the food and the day rooms. The lamb koftas, baklava and the olive bar were real highlights the last time I was there. I agree it can be very crowded.

  • Mrs Fox says:

    Almost all those photos demonstrate very little thought has gone into the lighting design which is probably THE most important factor in interior design and partitioning spaces.

  • Rooey says:

    I’ve flown through IST many times over the years, and the lounge is a big improvement over waiting in the normal departures area. On certain long haul trips, I’ve been thankful to grab a shower in their lovely shower rooms downstairs, and also once had a nice back and shoulder massage from a therapist. The cake station is lovely for dessert connoiseurs and while the selection of teas (albeit with Turkish names) is great.
    Granted, I wouldn’t go out of the way to fly TK or go to IST just for the lounge, but given the alternatives in IST airport, I’m thankful the lounge is there! 🙂

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