Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

British Airways launches flights to second Istanbul airport

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

In a somewhat surprising move, British Airways has decided to launch flights to Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport from Heathrow.

This is not the main new Istanbul Airport that opened a few years ago. British Airways continues to fly there multiple times a day.

Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport is on the Asian side of the city, about 30km south east. It mainly caters to low cost passengers and is a hub for Pegasus Airlines and AndoluJet. It is a relatively new airport, having opened in 2001 and with further redevelopment in 2009. Interestingly, it is the third busiest single runway airport in the world, behind Mumbai and London Gatwick, although a second one is being built.

The new British Airways flights will initially operate over the summer season, with the first flight on 1st June. It will operate four times per week on a Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Departure times vary on the day, but it is a morning flight out and an afternoon return.

The services uses an A320 aircraft. If you are looking for comfortable flights to Istanbul, you need to look at the Turkish Airlines flights from Heathrow. Three of the six daily services are on long haul aircraft.

What value does British Airways see in launching flights to Sabiha Gökçen? It seems an odd choice with no obvious proximity to the main holiday areas. Clearly British Airways thinks it is worth sending additional aircraft here versus other European destinations.

Flights are now on sale on and for Avios redemption. The Reward Flight Saver mid-price in business class is 18,350 Avios + £25 one-way. In Economy it is 10,750 Avios + £17.50.


How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (June 2023)

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Avios points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!

In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.

You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:

Barclaycard Avios Plus card

Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard

Get 25,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £10,000 Read our full review

Barclaycard Avios card

Barclaycard Avios Mastercard

5,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £20,000 Read our full review

There are two official British Airways American Express cards with attractive sign-up bonuses:

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios and the famous annual 2-4-1 voucher Read our full review

British Airways American Express

5,000 Avios for signing up and an Economy 2-4-1 voucher for spending £12,000 Read our full review

You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points.

SPECIAL OFFER: Until 13th June, the sign-up bonus on The Platinum Card is doubled to 60,000 Membership Rewards points – and you get £200 to spend at Amex Travel too! Apply here.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

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

The Platinum Card from American Express

60,000 points AND a £200 Amex Travel voucher until 13th June! Read our full review

Run your own business?

We recommend Capital On Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card, along with a sign-up bonus worth 10,500 Avios.

Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa

Get a 10,000 points bonus plus an extra 500 points for our readers Read our full review

You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies and has a 30,000 Avios sign-up bonus.

EDIT: Applications for this card are temporarily suspended due to IT issues with the British Airways On Business SME loyalty scheme.

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express

30,000 Avios sign-up bonus – plus annual bonuses of up to 30,000 Avios Read our full review

There are also generous bonuses on the two American Express Business cards, with the points converting at 1:1 into Avios. These cards are open to sole traders as well as limited companies.

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points bonus and a £200 Amex Travel credit every year Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.

Comments (94)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • His Holyness says:

    Where did the slots come from at SAW?

  • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

    I’m going through LCY in an hour or so and I’ll report back.

    • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

      Took literally seconds to go through. Though it was very quiet but the time from loading tray to picking it up was a minute a most

      Staffer telling people not to take things out of bags and several posters as well/

      The “new” scanner very quick and efficient.

      • NorthernLass says:

        I’m expecting MAN to ask for a delay in implementing the new technology while they come up with other reasons to shout at people. Or just decide they are keeping the old rules!

        • Bickers says:

          Spot on comment about one of the worst airports in the entire world

  • louie says:

    As it seems we have Istanbul experts here…. I think (from brief research the other day) that the SAW metro line stops at the Asian side of the Bosphorus. How easy it is to get from the European side to SAW on public transport, with baggage (one 20k hold bag, one carry on)? I’m arriving at IST in June, spending three nights in the city and then flying internally. I have the choice of IST or SAW but am inclined to use SAW if possible as the journey to IST is such a pain and SAW is cheaper.

    On that subject, I know the metro from IST now goes much of the way and I think the next stop is due to open this month (still on target?). Is it easy to get from there to somewhere central (and handy to get to SAW)? I’m a bit reluctant to get a taxi after a rather unpleasant attempt by a taxi driver to rip us off on a trip from IST to the city a couple of years ago.

    Also, any suggestions for a good mid-range hotel somewhere central? I’m not as mobile as usual after recent surgery so can walk OK but not for miles at the moment.

    • louie says:

      Add: all leisure / tourism. Been several times before but happy to revisit some of the best sights.

      • lumma says:

        Probably easiest to stay near Sultanahmet. Tram nearby to get to other places. Tons of very cheap unbranded hotels

      • Aston100 says:

        Beyoglu and surrounds is where I’d choose to base myself for a city break.
        Sultanahmet is tourist / scam central.

      • Alexandra says:

        Stay in Sirkeci and you are steps away from Sultanahmet, which is way too touristy. It doesn’t get better for public transport inkluding ferries. Beyoglu is another area, but T1 Tram takes you there across the Galata bridge or you can walk. Do avoid the Taksim area for accommodation. Do explore the Golden Horn, the Balat und Fener Area, you are going to love it. As for the airport, SAW is great, lovely and lively airport. Many options to get there by public transport. HAVA buses to and from Taksim. If you arrive in SAW you can take the Hava Bus to Kadiköy, Asian side, then the ferry to Kabatas. It’s the most beautiful approach, with the late afternoon Sun, it’s nothing less than magical. From Kabatas you take the T1 again to Sirkeci. A must is the Istanbulkart. Enjoy.

      • johnny_c-l says:

        As you’ve been before I would recommend this time you try Doubletree Moda on the asian side. An easy route direct to the M4 Metro Kadıköy terminus from SAW with your luggage, and just a few minutes of flat non-cobbled walking to the hotel.

        It would be easy to spend three days around Kadıköy/Üsküdar (Moda shore, Kadıköy restaurants, Maiden’s Tower etc) but you’re an easy ferry ride to Karaköy or Eminönü where you can pick up the tram to Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque) or the furnicular to Beğolu (Galata Tower, Taksim Square) if you want to revisit the classics.

        From Kadıköy you have a new area to explore, beautiful views over to Sultanahmet (especially from the higher floors or rooftop bar of the hotel) and complete access to public transport so you can flex to your mobility wants.

    • Michael Jennings says:

      To get to the European side, you just have to change from Metro Line 4 (which comes from SAW) to Marmaray, which is sort of an Istanbul version of Crossrail, which will take you on a tunnel under the Bosporus to Sultanahmet. You will need to change again if you want to get north or the Golden Horn, which may be annoying, but it’s easily doable.

    • Alexandra says:

      My God, there is even now the M4 from/to SAW all the way through Kadiköy . Incredible. The speed these people build their infrastructure is just breathtaking. Google Istanbul Metro network map.

    • louie says:

      You folk are great. Thank you very much for your responses.

  • lumma says:

    In all fairness, for the people comparing Club Europe to Turkish business class. It looks like being around £900 return on Turkish v £450 on BA. I’m not sure I value a flat bed on a 3.5 hour flight at £450.

    The counter argument is that Turkish economy is way less than Club Europe and it is possibly a better experience, especially on the 777 or A330

    • vlcnc says:

      Yeah I think that’s what is crucial, BA Club Europe is not that good while Turkish Economy with their excellent food is for this flight length and A LOT cheaper. I wouldn’t bother with Turkish Business Class for a flight this short. And BA economy on a flight that long is frankly just laughable at those cash prices because it isn’t even that cheap and is a very low-cost and uncomfortable experience.

    • Alexandra says:

      Turkish Aiways TK has the best economy service. Full stop. Best food, Good IFE. Check out their Discover Turkiye series.

  • Greg Vose says:

    As a frequent traveler from LHR to Ankara I welcome the SAW option. The new IST is gorgeous but just so big. You routinely get the “Go to gate” warning an hour before departure. I’ll have to make sure there is convenient SAW-ESB flights. From IST it is almost hourly.

    As a side note, due to business at the airport I have departed SAW to London. At SAW Fast Track would be very needed.

    But good news.

  • JumpingJames says:

    This might seem like an odd destination but I suspect the number of British people wanting to fly to mid-haul destinations which are not a part of Schengen has probably increased since the restrictions imposed by the EU following Brexit.
    People who used to spend a lot of time in Europe for trips now have to find alternative destinations outside of Schengen for some of their trips.
    Simple as that.

    Hopefully we see the Sharm route continued through the year and not just winter and more flights being put on to (perhaps better located) Turkish airports.

    That said, when BA offer Club Europe on a 5+hr flight that is a serious turn off. Not used their Cairo service since they got rid of the old BMI thrones and whilst I’d definitely consider using CW for that route I’m not using CE so they don’t get my money !
    Dreadful offering.

    • Catalan says:

      @JumpingJames. What exactly are these “restrictions imposed by the EU following Brexit.”?

      • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

        That would be the 3rd country rules that now apply to us.

        The current Schengen limits are more than adequate for most people and if you want longer then apply for a proper visa / permit or whatever they are called

        • Catalan says:

          Those rules always applied. They were not imposed upon the UK. The UK chose to leave the EU and it follows that the UK now falls under the already existing “3rd country rules”.

    • DaveJ says:

      I suspect the number of British people wanting to fly to mid-haul destinations which are not a part of Schengen has probably increased since the restrictions imposed by the EU following Brexit.

      “I suspect”


      • Nick says:

        As someone whose days (via stamps) are counted every time… honestly I can see the attraction. Brexit is a stupid dumb thing that we shouldn’t have done and it’s embarrassing to be counted in and out every time. Non-Schengen trips do have a certain appeal in this context.

        • Londonsteve says:

          How long do you find it’s taking to process your passport when entering/leaving the Schengen zone? I don’t mean the waiting time as clearly that’ll depend on multiple factors, it’s the actual time at the booth dealing with an immigration officer I’m interested in.

  • ADS says:

    Presumably BA will pick up a certain amount of connecting traffic from SAW for their transatlantic routes

    Maybe BA liked the prices that Pegasus/SmartLynx/AndoluJet are charging to SAW

    If SAW is a lower cost option than IST, maybe BA saw this route as an opportunity to beat TK on the Heathrow-Istanbul cheap flight rankings!

    • Londonsteve says:

      The subsidies are likely to be the main motivation for BA to try the route. The enormous Istanbul catchment area and a large Turkish diaspora in London for whom landing in SAW to access Istanbul or connect on to elsewhere in Turkey will be further factors. Being able to offer cheaper fares than TK to/from London will also be appealing. It’s only a matter of time before TK start their own flights LHR-SAW and torpedo BA out of the water.

  • Alan says:

    I booked LHR-SAW seats for July, great option for me as my focus on this trip is the Asian side of Istanbul. Am a little puzzled though. BA booking now shows Marquette as my destination, not Istanbul. Marquette is a city in Wisconsin, US and its airport FAA code is SAW which is the same with Sabiha airport’s IATA code, SAW.

    How can BA systems get it SO wrong and collect the FAA data rather than IATA? Shocking and rather embarrassing for BA.

    I took a screenshot and will sue BA if it flies me to Istanbul rather than to Wisconsin! 🤣🤣🤣

    • Alan says:

      On reflection, perhaps Wisconsin tier points and avios for a flight to Istanbul may work in my favour! 🤣

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.