Cheapest way to get from Singapore to Istanbul and back

It’s been more than one year since I returned from Istanbul and despite the lack of funds I couldn’t help but check out the tickets to Istanbul.

The information was accurate as of 22 Oct 2010.

Option A


TURKISH AIRLINES

Currently only Turkish Airlines (TK) flies direct between the Singapore and Istanbul (5 times a week). Its timings are quite good in my opinion; the outbound flight departs SIN at 2310 and arrives in IST at 0615 while the inbound flight leaves IST at 2325 and reaches SIN 1530 the next day. Using these flights means that the amount of time in Turkey will be maximized.

A quick search on the internet for flights in November:

The cheapest return flight costs 645,27 EUR (SGD 1,167.62).

The fare is booked in Q class which accrues 100% of miles flown on SQ Krisflyer or 50% on BMI’s Diamond Club. I think that it’s a fair price for the direct service but the fare is only applicable for limited dates and the next cheapest fare is 151 EUR (SGD 273.24) more.

Option B


SINGAPORE AIRLINES

Currently Singapore Airlines (SQ) flies 4 times a week between the two cities via DXB. From 20 November 2010 onwards, SQ will be operating direct flights between Singapore and Istanbul 4 times a week.

Random search:

The prices are comparable to TK’s.

I will prefer SQ over TK for SGD 15 more as SQ is known for its service. However, SQ’s fare is booked in V class which accrues no miles and the mile junkie in me doesn’t like that.

Option C


EMIRATES

Emirates (EK) has some good deals from SIN to IST which require at least a layover at its hub DXB.

There are many options on Emirates as there are three daily flights between SIN and DXB (2 direct and 1 via CMB). The cheapest options (SGD 1066.80) are those which stop at DXB and CMB both ways.

EK has the cheapest fares among the three so far. With no single flight lasting longer than five hours, passengers are assured that they get to stretch their legs quite often. However, the flight timings are too short for any meaningful rest (especially on the red-eye sectors). Furthermore, there is at least one lengthy layover on each leg (8h50m at DXB outbound; 6h15m at CMB inbound in the above option) which means that the traveling time on EK’s flights are much longer. The time-conscious passengers won’t be very happy but the stopovers are interesting for those who like to visit these two places en route.

An important point to consider is Emirates’ aircraft configuration. All the flights in the itinerary utilizes Boeing 777-300ER (77W) which has a seven abreast seating arrangement in the economy class (3-4-3). In comparison, both TK (2-4-2 on A330) and SQ (3-3-3 on 772ER) has a six abreast configuration. It means that the width of seats and aisle on EK planes are likely to be narrower which in turn has an impact on the comfort level. Perhaps the increase in capacity is the reason why EK is able to offer cheaper fares than its rivals.

Will I choose EK? Probably only if EK’s fare is much cheaper than the other carriers on the required dates.

OTHER NOTABLE OPTIONS

Qatar Airways (QR) has daily flights to IST (via DOH) with return fare at SGD 1,234 on (very) limited days. My only flight from SIN to IST was on QR and the first sector between SIN and DOH was quite good. I had an extremely long layover (>7 hours) at boring DOH and the flight to IST was delayed for about an hour.

Both Etihad (EY) and Malaysia Airlines (MH) have limited flights weekly (2 and 3 respectively) to IST and their prices are not as competitive as the above four. Various European carriers (LH, BA, etc) fly to IST via their home base which add to both cost and traveling time.

LOW COST CARRIERS

It’s possible to actually travel from Singapore to Istanbul using low cost carriers (LCCs). I don’t know anyone who does it though. Either the price or the person has to be crazy enough.

It’s a shame that Air Asia X canceled its flights from KUL to Abu Dhabi (AUH). The fares on those flights were really low but it seemed that there was never really a strong demand between the city pair.

Thus the viable route is through the Indian subcontinent. Tiger Airways and Air Asia fly from Southeast Asia to cities on the subcontinent which in turn are connected to Middle East through UAE-based Air Arabia (G9) and flydubai.

Step 1: SIN – KUL

With India requiring a rather expensive visa (SGD 59 for Singaporeans) to transit, Sri Lanka appears as the other viable alternative. However, none of the LCCs based in SIN flies to CMB. Thus one needs to get to KUL to catch Air Asia’s flight to CMB.

Buses, trains and planes connect the two cities together. To get from Singapore to KUL LCCT where Air Asia departs, the most convenient way is to fly. Air Asia (AK) and Tiger Airways (TR) fly to KUL LCCT. Return fares are as low as SGD 76 on AK.

There are cheaper but more tedious methods of getting to KUL LCCT. Regular coaches (~5-6 hours) run between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and a shuttle service connects Kuala Lumpur bus station to KUL LCCT (~1h).

Step 2: KUL – CMB

Air Asia (AK) connects CMB with KUL daily and prices are as low as MYR 372 return (inclusive of 15kg checked luggage, on-board food and convenience fees).

That works out to be around SGD 158. With the outbound flight departing KUL very early in the morning, one will have to reach Kuala Lumpur a day earlier.

Step 3: Colombo to Istanbul

flydubai (FZ), a low cost carrier based in Dubai, flies from CMB to SAW via DXB (Outbound on Fri/Sun; Inbound on Tue/Thu/Sun). SAW or Sabiha Gökçen International Airport is Istanbul’s secondary airport and caters to several low cost carriers.

Each way costs 20,425 LKR (inclusive of one checked luggage up to 32kg) or SGD 240.

Summary

It’s possible to travel from Singapore to Istanbul on LCCs for less than SGD 720, a third cheaper than EK’s lowest fare. The savings seem rather substantial but there are ancillary things (eg. overnight accommodation at the longer stopovers, long layovers) to consider.

Naturally the cheap fare comes with all the drawbacks of traveling on LCCs. Both Air Asia and flydubai operate narrow-body planes (A320-200 and B737-800 respectively) with limited seat pitch. There are separate charges for on-board food and drinks as well as checked baggage. Any delayed flight may result in missed connections and the LCCs aren’t likely to help if it happens.

Will I still try it then? Perhaps.

Substitute Istanbul with any other Middle Eastern destinations on flydubai’s network (Beirut, Amman, Alexandria etc) and I will be tempted if the prices are similar.

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