For many years we had heard a lot about the complimentary hotel services offered by Turkish Airlines for unplanned Istanbul layovers exceeding 10 hours. Many people try to game the system in order to qualify, but the rules are quite specific. If you are not a truly genuine candidate, the Turkish Airlines hotel desk will refuse your request.
In our case, due to the opening of the new Istanbul airport, our return itinerary was changed after we had already flown out. Since our 2-hour layover now became a 12-hour layover, we became entitled to the complimentary hotel stay.
Turkish Airlines Hotel Desk – Beware Scammers!
We already had an excellent deal with Turkish Airlines – travelling return from Europe to Kuala Lumpur for just €499 per person.
Our outward journey to Kuala Lumpur was uneventful enough. However just 4 weeks before our return flight was due, we received an email from Turkish Airlines telling us that our schedule had been changed. We’d received these type of emails before – usually it just meant they had changed the departure/arrival time by a few minutes, so no big deal.
In this case though, they had changed the airport. They were very proud to announce that ‘The Great Move is Beginning!‘. The old Ataturk airport was scheduled to close down and all traffic would be diverted to their spanking brand new Istanbul Airport, located 30 kms north of the city.
Not only this, our onward flight from Istanbul had also changed. Instead of the 2-hour transit we had originally booked, we would now have a 12-hour wait in the airport before continuing our journey.
Doesn’t that mean we’re entitled to a hotel?
In the original email from Turkish Airlines, they simply stated that the flight was changed and we needed to contact them either for a refund or to accept a flight leaving 12 hours later.
There was no mention of inconvenience or compensation.
Following a flurry of email exchanges with Turkish Airlines Customer Services, we were informed that since the layover would be longer than 10 hours, we would be entitled to hotel accommodation. This seemed reasonable to us – at least we could have a shower and relax in peace – so we accepted the ticket change.
We were told that on arrival in Istanbul we would have to contact the Turkish Airlines Hotel Desk situated inside the arrivals area at Ataturk airport on the right hand side near Starbucks.
We would also need visas to exit the airport. You can get these online at iVisa.com. The visas cost around $25 each and are delivered electronically (although many nationalities don’t need a visa to enter Turkey).
So it seemed to us we would arrive at the old Ataturk airport, and depart later from the new Istanbul airport.
All well and good. We might even have time to visit the city center.
Arrival at Istanbul Airport
Fast-forward four weeks…
As soon as we passed into the Arrivals terminal, we were on the lookout for the Turkish Airlines Hotel desk. However, since this was not Ataturk airport the directions given by the Customer Service agent were incorrect.
Instead we found an Information desk clerk who pointed out which direction we had to take. As we started to walk we passed several booths who seemed to be offering transfer services. Then we spotted a large red sign labelled ‘Transfer Desk’.
I approached the agent and asked if this was the Turkish Airlines Transfer Desk. He confirmed that it was, so I showed him our flight details, being sure to indicate that our onward flight was more than 10 hours later – entitling us to free hotel accommodation.
He agreed that we were entitled to a free hotel, and started to take down our details and arrange the transfer. We would just have a small charge for the shuttle transfer, since the hotel was located in Istanbul – a good 90-minute drive in traffic.
I paid the charge by credit card. It was 1,800 Turkish Lire for the return trip for two of us.
Our Phoney Turkish Airlines Adventure
After a few minutes and some rapid phone calls, transport had been arranged and we were led out through the car park to a minibus. Inside it was decidedly shabby, but we were at least happy to be on our way. The sooner we got to our hotel the sooner we could relax.
We took the main highway from the airport to the center of Istanbul. There was heavy traffic, so the journey took well over an hour. Once into the city, we carried on through to the Bosphorus and followed the coast road for several kilometers.
We were passing through an area I remembered from a previous trip to Istanbul, and by now I’d had time to start worrying.
The penny (…finally) drops
In the hurry and stress to get from Arrivals through to the Turkish Airlines Hotel Desk and to ensure we’d get our free accommodation, we’d overlooked some glaring give-aways:
- Despite their misleading signs and absolute lies about being the TA Hotel Desk, none of their staff were wearing Turkish Airlines uniforms or insignia.
- They asked us to pay for the shuttles service. Is that normal? …and how much had I actually payed them?
- The minibus also had no Turkish Airlines insignia, and was pretty run-down.
- This was turning out to be a long shuttle journey, which seemed strange for a short layover.
How stupid can you be? I was by now more angry with myself than with anyone else. Yes, it looked like they’d deliberately deceived us… but I’d gone along with it.
It now all depended on the hotel.
If, as I suspected, they were taking us to some cheap hotel on the outskirts of the city then this was clearly a scam.
When we finally arrived at the hotel – a very run-down Ibis – The first thing I did was to ask the guy at reception what the going rate was for a taxi to the airport. He told me it was 200 Turkish lire, which equates to approximately €30.
For the return shuttle I then calculated I’d paid a whopping €276! (1,800 Turkish Lire).
I turned to the driver and told him to drive us back to the airport immediately.
He got on the phone to his boss, who wanted to know what the problem was!
After an exasperating conversation, we were again in the minibus on our way back to the airport (another 90 minutes in heavy traffic).
Back to the airport – Confrontation & Reimbursement
Back at the airport car park the guys from the ‘Hotel Desk’ were keen to usher us once more to their booth, no doubt to try to keep us quiet.
But I’d had enough – We’d been lied to, conned out of our money, and wasted more than 3 hours. I demanded our money back. After some more discussion and threats of the police, they reluctantly cancelled the charge on my card.
After this I was still unsatisfied – and didn’t trust that the refund was actually genuine. So, I walked another 100 meters or so further past their booth. To do this I had to run the gauntlet of 10 or so more booths, with more scammers keen to pass themselves off as ‘Hotel Desks’.
At the very end of the line – and out of sight for all new arrivals – I found the real Turkish Airlines Hotel Desk.
Will the real Turkish Airlines Hotel Desk please stand up?
I got hold of one of the managers and explained our situation to him. He was dismayed to hear the story, but not surprised: Apparently it happens all the time. People arrive looking for the Hotel Desk, and are duped into believing one of the scammers who are located closest to the arrivals door.
Together with a 2nd manager, the Turkish Airlines representative walked back with us to the booth that was operating the scam. (by now, we noticed that the large red ‘Transfer Desk’ sign had been quietly removed).
After having ‘words’ with the cashier, the Turkish Airlines guys assured us that the payment had been cancelled. However, they also advised us to report the situation to the police.
At this point, we just wanted to get to a hotel to relax. We’d already wasted half of our layover time and didn’t want to spend the rest of it filling out forms.
The Turkish Airlines representative offered to put us on the next bus to their hotel. At least we could get a shower and have something to eat.
- This is Istanbul airport - Home of Turkish Airlines - It's their turf.
- Why on earth do they allow these scammers to blatantly operate in the area right next to their office?
- ... And why don't they relocate their Hotel Desk so that they are the first to be seen by new arrivals?
The Real Turkish Airlines Layover Experience
If ever you are lucky enough to merit a real Turkish Airlines complimentary layover, then you are in for a treat.
They operate complimentary Hotel Transfer Shuttle buses every half hour or so, and the hotel they took us to did not disappoint.
The Clarion Hotel Istanbul Mahmutbey is a top class hotel in the west of the city.
By the time we arrived we were short on time. We had just 90 minutes until we had to return to the airport for our onward flight. Still, this was enough for a shower and an excellent complimentary buffet lunch.
If unlike us you have time for an overnight stay, you are entitled to breakfast, lunch and dinner in the hotel restaurant.
Even though our stay was short, we were quite impressed and appreciative of the Turkish Airlines complimentary hotel layover. Everything was professionally organised and high quality. It would have been even better if we had managed to avoid the scammers lurking in the Arrivals Hall.
Hopefully, this article will prevent others from repeating our mistakes, and taking full advantage of this exceptional service.
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