In a nutshell, Delta has always been my airline of choice for a compelling reason that I'll explain below. However, in March 2011 Turkish Airlines (THY) will begin a four-times-a-week nonstop flight between LAX and Istanbul (IST) that, IMHO, beats all competition hands-down. It's a bit more expensive, but takes 13-hours non-stop, instead of 19 or more hours for most of the other one- or two-stop alternatives.
The LAX-IST flight (TK 10) departs at 5:55 pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, arriving the next day at 5:10 pm. The IST-LAX flight (TK 9) departs at 11:10 am on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, arriving the same day at 3:25 pm.
Here's my itinerary on Turkish Airlines (THY), which I have just booked and paid for:
|From To||Airport||Departure Time||Arrival Time||Info||Airline||Cabin/Class|
|Los Angeles - Istanbul |
|Istanbul - Los Angeles |
Total billed to credit card: $1,140.70
Going on Turkish Airlines will require an additional night's stay (Monday; about $100) at the hotel, but gives plenty of time to rest, explore a bit, and prepare before the Pilgrimage official beginning at 5:00 pm Tuesday evening, April 26, at the Madison Hotel.
(There is no Turkish Airlines flight on Monday, and unfortunately Tuesday's flight will get you to Istanbul a day late, which won't work.)
The Pilgrimage officially ends on Saturday, May 14. If you want to come on the same flight with me to Istanbul, there is a return flight home on Turkish Airlines on May 14. But if want to stay an extra day or two and leave on Sunday or Tuesday, you can easily do so. I am planning some very interesting "Pilgrimage extension" activities for Saturday and Sunday.
All the Turkish Airline flights currently are $1,140.70, including all taxes and fees. (As you see, this includes two checked bags free.) This may be a temporary promotional fare because the flight is brand new. It may rise a few hundred dollars without warning.
Now a word about Delta, which has been my airline of choice because they offer a daily non-stop New York to Istanbul, which is quite convenient. DL 72 is scheduled to leave JFK at 5:25 pm and arrives in IST at 10:15 am the next day (Tuesday). It's often late, which doesn't really matter much. From LAX, you have to take DL 246, which leaves at 6:30 am (Monday). The total time is 17 hours and 45 minutes.
There is also a Delta flight that leaves LAX at 9:00 am (Monday) to Atlanta, and then transfers to Paris, and then to Istanbul (using Air France equipment). Although it's two stops rather than one, you can get a few hours' extra sleep before leaving and you still get to Istanbul the next day (Tuesday) in plenty of time for the official start of the Pilgrimage.
There are several return options as well on Delta.
DL 73 is the daily nonstop from IST to JFK; it leave IST at 12:15 pm, and arrives at JFK at 4:55 pm. It too is often late, which could put getting on the JKF-LAX flight at risk. (I've missed it a couple of times. Usually they'll arrange a flight an hour or two later.)
Delta, codesharing with Air France, can get you on a much better itinerary through Paris, leaving IST at 9:00 am and arriving at LAX at 4:00 pm. (With this flight you go through customs in LA, which is much better than in New York.)
All the return flights arrive in LA the same day that you leave Istanbul. (You gain back the day you lost 'way back when.)
All the Delta options currently are $1,085.50 -- supposedly including all taxes and fees.
All in all, I think Turkish Airlines is the better deal by far. My (somewhat limited) experience of them has been very good (and that seems to be a pretty consistent reputation), while my experience of Delta has been on the lower borders of OK. Air France is better, but, IMHO, Turkish outdoes them, at least in coach.
Turkish Airlines also partners with American Airlines through Chicago or New York, but that has always been more expensive.
There are more options, utilizing other international carriers and other stopover cities, but it's important to pay attention to your arrival time in Istanbul. You don't want to arrive later than 2:00 pm on Tuesday.
Although I have said that AmericanTours International (ATI) can help with flight reservations, they basically have only a regular travel agent at their service. There is no inside information or advantage, and they cannot help with travel insurance. Your best bet is either to book your flight (and buy your travel insurance) from your own local travel agent, or do it online if you are comfortable with making these kinds of arrangements on the internet (which I am).
Note: I had a bit of difficulty getting my credit card accepted, but it wasn't the airline's fault. It had been blocked because the bank thought it was an unusual and possibly fraudulent expense. Two phone calls cleared that up, and it went through. I was more grateful than annoyed by their vigilance.