Staying in one of the top 25 hotels in the world for $81/night

A few weeks ago, TripAdvisor released their annual list of the top 25 hotels in the world. While scrolling through the list (which features some amazing properties!), I was taken aback when I saw #14 — Hotel Amira in Istanbul.

I stayed at the Hotel Amira back in September 2016, and I remember booking the hotel because it looked cute, had great reviews, and was cheap (I paid $81/night before taxes).

When I think of the top 25 hotels in the world, the first thing I think of is “expensive.” But when I think about my stay at the Hotel Amira, including the level of service I received, I think it makes sense that they would be listed in the top 25.

Although I booked on, I was somehow greeted within a day via e-mail by a concierge at the hotel, letting me know that they’d be available to assist in whatever way possible. Because it was my first time to Istanbul, they were nice enough to give me detailed instructions on how to find the property.

From the second I arrived at the hotel, I felt pampered. My room was beautiful and clean, the location was amazing and just off the water, and the rooftop area had incredible views (including of the Hagia Sophia). The gym was small, but well-equipped and never busy.

Sunset from Hotel Amira’s rooftop

Reception was always very pleasant and even set me up with the perfect day tour. Breakfast was so delicious, including fresh honey off a comb.

Looking back, it was one of the nicest hotel stays I’ve ever had, and reading through the review on TripAdvisor, you’ll see that others feel the same way.

It looks like prices have gone up (I’m finding $135/night) since my stay, but that could be for a few reasons. First, being named one of the top hotels in the world certainly can’t hurt. Second, I went to Turkey right after the coup attempt and also shortly after an airport shooting, which may have affected my rate.

That said, even at $135/night, Hotel Amira is a steal and, if TripAdvisor’s top 25 hotel designation isn’t enough, I would recommend it to anyone visiting Istanbul!

Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Conference & Airport Hotel, Istanbul

I booked the Radisson Blu Conference & Airport Hotel in Istanbul mainly for its location near the airport. I had a flight landing from Athens at 8:30pm and needed to catch a flight early the next morning, and, with a price tag of $59.62 and decent reviews on TripAdvisor, I decided to book it (it also helped that was running a promotion where I received double points for the hotel booking).

Having already spent a few days in Turkey and having flown into Ataturk, I knew how crazy it could get outside of the airport. So, before my arrival I messaged the airport asking for specifics on their free airport shuttle. I received a message back that said, “We have a free shuttle bus  it takes off from international arrival floor between gate A and B,” and they sent me a schedule showing the shuttle leaves every half hour.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

I made it through customs fairly quickly after my flight, and made it outside to wait for the shuttle. There were no clear signs showing where I would be picked up (the outside area of the arrival floor between gates A and B was pretty massive), although other hotels did have dedicated waiting spots.

I exited the airport at around 9pm, so I had plenty of time before the 9:30pm shuttle. Given the unclear signage and instructions, I decided to wait directly in the middle of gates A and B (although I tried asking for help at the airport, Ataturk is pretty busy, loud, and noisy, and I was unable to get assistance). By 10pm, the shuttle still hadn’t shown up, and so I got a cab.

At the end of my cab ride, I was shocked when the driver demanded 20 Euro from me. I had been told that rides from the airport to airport hotels, this one taking around 5 minutes, were between 15 to 20 Turkish Lira (~$4-$6). Cranky and wanting a bed before my flight, I paid the money, and went into the hotel.

Radisson Istanbul.jpg
Inside of the Radisson Blu Conference & Airport Hotel, Istanbul

To be fair, I was fuming a bit. After checking in, I asked to speak with a manager, in what was not the proudest moment of mine as a traveler. I had to wait a few minutes, but one came out and I let him know what happened – I showed him the e-mails confirming the shuttle would be there, I told him I waited, and then I told him I was ripped off by my cab driver.

I was told that sometimes the shuttles have issues stopping because of how crazy the airport is, and he asked what he could do to make it better. I swear I’ve never done this before, but the only thing I could think of that could make it better – especially given that it was already approaching 11pm and I had to leave the hotel around 5am – was an upgraded room, which I let him know. He smiled and said, “Why didn’t you say so? Of course!” I was handed a new key card, and pointed in the direction of my new room.

When I entered my room, I was stunned. It was a 2-story suite, with a massive living room, huge kitchen, and second-floor bedroom.

View upon walking in
Second-floor bed

This room absolutely made up for the shuttle issues that I had. Sadly, I only had a few hours to enjoy the room, and most of it was spent sleeping.

Aside from the amazing room, there were a few things I really loved about the hotel: the customer service was fantastic, the WiFi was perfect, the bed was super comfortable, and it was close to the airport for connections. There was also a convenient shuttle that picks you up in front of the hotel every hour, taking you to Ataturk (which is much easier to find than trying to grab it at the airport).

If staying here, I would plan on taking a cab to the hotel to save the trouble of having to find a shuttle. Other than that, it was a great stay and I would definitely come back.

Flight Review: Turkish Air A330 First Class | Istanbul to Frankfurt

On one of the better flight deals I found in 2016, I booked a round-trip San Francisco to Istanbul flight for $471.25 on United and Turkish Air, with a layover in Frankfurt each way.

Although this fare was booked on Economy, United made a mistake and accidentally canceled my entire flight home, which I found out about 2 days before I was set to leave Europe (I was on the beach in Mykonos when I discovered I had no flight back!). By the time I realized this and let them know, there were no more seats left open in Economy for my Istanbul to Frankfurt flight, so United graciously switched me over to first class for the Turkish Air leg of the journey.

I had read great things about Turkish Air’s premium service in the past, and was excited to try it out, even if only for around 4 hours, the flight time between Istanbul and Frankfurt.

My first stop was to Turkish’s lounge in Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. Ataturk is by no means my favorite airport in the world. Having arrived only a few months after the shooting there, I was a bit nervous, and had some unpleasant experience with being way over-charged by taxi driver and having another man scream at me when I tried to ignore his sales pitch.

Despite these negative experiences, I was excited to experience the Turkish Lounge in its major airport.  I was not disappointed.

Turkish’s lounge is an opulent, 2-story restaurant, library, pool hall, movie theater, business center, and rest and cleaning area. Although there were more people there than expected, there was easy access to great food and drinks (though it was morning, I only noticed wine and no mixed drinks), seats were readily available, WiFi worked greats, and we were all away from the noise and stress normally felt outside the lounge’s gates in Ataturk.

After leaving the lounge, I walked to my flight where people were already standing in line, almost ready to push through. Knowing I was first class calmed me down a bit, and I did get through first when called, despite some pretty harsh looks.

When I was seated, I was so happy. There was so much open space, it felt bright, and I knew I was avoiding a mess of an economy service.  Of the 22 lie-flat first class seats available, maybe 10 were actually taken. This ration was good though, as one passenger was unable to get his screen on, and I was unable to recline my chair completely. Luckily, there were open seats for all of us, and I was switched into a new chair that worked perfectly.

The food service was amazing. Lots of bread, salad, and cheese, and some kind of chicken dish which was delicious. Despite the great food, I was a bit too focused on the amazing Blood Mary, and was soon laid  back in my chair watching Jurassic World.

Of all my flights during this trip – including flights to and within Greece – my Turkish first class flight was, not surprisingly, the best. Though the service was a bit below what I received when I flew Thai Air Royal Silk, part of it may have been the shorter flight distance. Turkish Air’s first class cabin is worth trying and I hope I have the chance to fly it again!