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Uzbekistan popped up on my radar as a possible destination a couple of years ago. The country has been at the crossroads of civilizations for millennia and is deeply infused with the most fascinating history of the Silk Road. Its ancient cities, famous hospitality and delicious food all had the makings of an unforgettable and affordable trip. 

Uzbekistan is a long way from home, so my goal was to find business class award space. I traveled with my friends, and we booked mostly local hotels, with the exception of the Hyatt Regency Tashkent. Other stops on our itinerary didn’t have any chain hotels so we booked the affordable local hotels.  

So if you are looking for inspiration for your next off-the-beaten-path destination, read on. I’ll share with you how I booked my tickets, which programs I used and how to get around Uzbekistan.

How I Booked My Award Flights to Uzbekistan with Points and Miles

There are a few ways to book an award ticket to Uzbekistan. The key here is to have a good stash of transferable points, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Citi ThankYou Points and American Express Membership Rewards. In my points earning strategy, I always focus on earning as many flexible points as I can. Don’t get me wrong. I won’t turn down a great welcome bonus on an airline or hotel co-branded credit card, but if I had to choose, I’d always go with transferable points. 

We’ve decided to start our trip in Khiva, the westernmost city on our itinerary and then gradually make our way east to the capital city of Tashkent, stopping in Bukhara and Samarkand. What surprised me the most was the fact that both my friend and I found award space from our respective home airports all the way to the small airport of Urgench, the closest airport to our starting point, the town of Khiva. 

I booked my outbound ticket with United miles and my business class award included flights on United Airlines, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines with connections in Washington (IAD), Frankfurt and Istanbul. United doesn’t have an award chart anymore, but the lowest Saver award price for this kind of itinerary in business class should cost 85,000 miles. However, I got incredibly lucky and found a standard award for just 80,000 miles. 

Well, color me surprised, I’ve never seen a standard award be cheaper than a Saver award, so I booked my ticket and kept my fingers crossed that Turkish Airlines keeps flying the Istanbul to Urgench route as scheduled. I didn’t have enough United miles in my account so I transferred some Ultimate Rewards points that I earned when I got the welcome bonus on the Chase Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card. 

United Polaris Business Class
United Polaris Business Class

I’ve also checked for award space on Aeroplan, Air Canada’s frequent flyer program and American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner. Both Air Canada and United are part of Star Alliance and theoretically should show the same award space. However, it’s often not the case. The same award should’ve been 85,000 miles, but I didn’t see any award space from my home airport, only from larger U.S. gateway cities.

LifeMiles, Avianca’s frequent flyer program and a Star Alliance partner, didn’t show any award space, either. I already have LifeMiles from a couple of COVID-19 related cancellations, so that would’ve been ideal, but alas, no luck this time. 

Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles is another program that I considered in my quest to find a business class ticket to Uzbekistan. Turkish has three transfer partners: Citi, Marriott Bonvoy and Capital One. I’d rather use my Marriott points for hotel stays and I don’t have any Capital One miles. Because I didn’t have enough ThankYou Points to book a round trip, I’ve decided to save them for my return trip home. 

How I Booked My Award Flights from Uzbekistan with Points and Miles

Turkish Miles&Smiles is a fantastic and underappreciated program. Maybe that’s because the miles are harder to earn and it doesn’t have as many transfer partners as Aeroplan. Or maybe it just doesn’t have the same name recognition as other popular programs. But our savvy readers will instantly see the value here. 

You can fly to anywhere in Central Asia from the U.S. in Turkish Airlines’ business class for just 52,500 miles. The surcharges are a little steep at almost $300, and you can’t mix Star Alliance partners’ flights with Turkish’s own flights. So I booked an award from Tashkent to Chicago (ORD) with a layover in Istanbul and a separate cheap United flight to get me home. 

Turkish Airlines Business Class Istanbul to Chicago (ORD)
Turkish Airlines Business Class Istanbul to Chicago (ORD)

I had a stash of ThankYou Points that I earned by opening and earning a welcome bonus on the Citi Premier Card (Note from the editor: Citi Premier® Card is no longer available to new applicants). And because I have the Chase United Explorer card that I used to pay for my short flight home, I avoided the bag fees. 

ATMs and SIM Cards in Uzbekistan

I’ve read many blogs and guidebooks before this trip and all mentioned how hard it is to get money out of the ATM in Uzbekistan. The recommendations from a couple of years ago were to bring cash (U.S. dollars or euros) and exchange it for local currency on location. Thankfully that seems to be changing, and based on some recent travelers’ experience, finding a working ATMs is no longer an issue, so we didn’t bring much cash with us. We were, however, equipped with our trusty Schwab ATM cards. 

So how much cash do you really need? You need cash to pay for most things in Uzbekistan, and even hotels prefer that you pay in cash. Many businesses add a surcharge of about 2% to use a credit card, so the choice is yours. Some businesses didn’t take credit cards at all.  

Was it hard to get money from the ATM? I had no problems finding working ATMs in Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent. On our first day in the country, the ATMs located just outside the old town of Khiva weren’t working. The tiny airport of Urgench didn’t have any ATMs. Thankfully, a friend we were traveling with first flew into Tashkent and had withdrawn some cash there. If it weren’t for him, we would have had to find an exchange place. 

I’m a big fan of buying local data-only SIM cards to use abroad. For the last couple of years, I’ve been buying local SIM cards via Airalo. My phone is eSIM compatible, so I don’t even need to swap my AT&T SIM card for a local SIM anymore. When we arrived in Uzbekistan, I just activated the Uzbek eSIM I bought on Airalo. My friend has T-Mobile and her phone worked mostly just fine and was sometimes a little slower than my eSIM. 

How to Get Around in Uzbekistan

We’ve decided to start our trip in Khiva and move eastward by train toward Tashkent, then fly home from there. Alternatively, you can fly into Tashkent, then take trains between the major Uzbek cities, and fly from Khiva back to Tashkent. The trains are easy to book directly via the Uzbekistan Railways website, so you don’t have to deal with any intermediaries. 

There are good train connections between the cities, and we’ve tried all three types of trains available in Uzbekistan. All three different trains were clean. The train stations never felt crowded or chaotic because only ticketed passengers are allowed to enter the train stations. 

It takes eight hours on an old Soviet-type train to get from Khiva to Bukhara. We booked the entire four-person compartment for the three of us traveling together. The train journey was an adventure in itself that included interesting conversations with our fellow travelers and an entertaining visit to the restaurant car. 

Khiva to Bukhara train 
Khiva to Bukhara train 

Our mistake was not looking at the list of stops before buying the tickets. The train from Khiva had a one-hour stop in Urgench, the city we flew into. We should’ve taken a taxi to Urgench instead and boarded the train there, thus shaving off about 90 minutes from the overall travel time. Taxis are cheap and plentiful in Uzbekistan.   

Fortunately, there are modern, faster trains going between the other major cities we visited. There’s a fast train from Bukhara to Tashkent that stops in Samarkand. This Afrosiyob train is super modern and is comparable to the fast trains you’ll see in Europe or Japan. It took about 90 minutes to get from Bukhara to Samarkand, our next stop. 

Afrosiyob train
Afrosiyob train

We had two options to get from Samarkand to Tashkent: the fast Afrosiyob train or the slower Sharq train. We chose to take the Sharq because it worked better with our schedule. 

I’d recommend booking your tickets in advance, as the trains do fill up. The prices are low and the trains are far cheaper than intercity flights and are super convenient, so the locals prefer to travel by train as well. 

Where to Stay in Uzbekistan

I wasn’t able to find any Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt hotels in Khiva, Samarkand or Bukhara where I can use my hotel points. There aren’t a lot of chain hotels in Central Asia, so we stayed at small, local hotels and guesthouses in those three cities. The prices are pretty low, so you can book a decent hotel or a guest house for about $30 to $50 or a really nice one for about $70 to $80. 

From the three local hotels we stayed at, I can only recommend one: the Registon Saroy Hotel. While the rooms are pretty small, everything was brand new and the service at the hotel was great.  

My favorite hotel on this trip was the Hyatt Regency Tashkent. 

Hyatt Regency Tashkent Review 

Hyatt Regency Tashkent
Hyatt Regency Tashkent

There are just a couple of chain hotels in the capital city of Tashkent. The Hyatt Regency Tashkent is a Category 3 hotel, bookable with 12,000 points per night. The cash rates at the time were around $170 per night, so I consider this a decent redemption. The local hotels were cheaper, but I felt like ending this trip on a more celebratory note.

This relatively new property looked beautiful and came with glowing reviews. I am also a World of Hyatt Globalist, so I was hoping for a nice upgrade and was looking forward to enjoying all the status perks, such as free breakfast and the club lounge access. 

The hotel is modern and beautiful, and the service is stellar. As a Globalist, I was updated to a beautiful two-room suite with a separate living room, bedroom, huge, gorgeous bathroom and a guest toilet. 

The enormous king bed was comfortable, and the linens and towels were all of the highest quality. 

Hyatt Regency Tashkent
Hyatt Regency Tashkent

We received a fruit plate, a bottle of wine and a platter of dried fruit and nuts for a Globalist welcome gift. The spread was accompanied by a lovely note from the hotel manager. 

Hyatt Regency Tashkent
Hyatt Regency Tashkent

One of my favorite perks of being a Globalist is the free breakfast, and Hyatt Regency Tashkent didn’t disappoint. The breakfast spread was enormous! There was everything from the smoked salmon to a great variety of hot dishes and eggs cooked to order to a great selection of pastries. 

The lounge is open all day and I stopped a couple of times to grab some water and some fruit. There was a good selection of food offered during the happy hour, enough for a light dinner. There was also wine, beer, sparkling wine and spirits. 

Hyatt Regency Tashkent
Hyatt Regency Tashkent

Hyatt Regency Tashkent has a fantastic indoor pool. I was actually disappointed that I didn’t bring my swim goggles, as it would’ve been a perfect place to do some laps.

Hyatt Regency Tashkent
Hyatt Regency Tashkent

What really stood out to me is the service. We were always greeted with a friendly hello and a warm smile, and no request went unfulfilled. The Wi-Fi was stable enough to do some work. 

What Not to Miss in Khiva

I won’t bore you with all the sightseeing details, as you can read up on each city’s major attractions in any guidebook, but I’ll mention our favorites in each city. 

Khiva’s old town, Itchan Kala, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the reason you’d go to Khiva. It’s compact, and all the major attractions can be explored in half a day, or a day if you take it really slow and make frequent stops for photos. I’d recommend hiring a guide to take you around. We were offered to hire a guide when we bought the entrance tickets and for about $20 we got a great two-hour tour of all the major attractions inside Itchan Kala.  

What Not to Miss in Bukhara

One of the must-do things in Uzbekistan is spending a couple of hours in a historic teahouse. We loved the Silk Road Teahouse where for about $4 you can sample different teas, coffees and Central Asian sweets, including unlimited refills. It’s an incredibly atmospheric place and a great respite from the afternoon heat. 

Silk Road Teahouse, Bukhara
Silk Road Teahouse, Bukhara

If you want to buy any souvenirs to take home, Bukhara’s is a great place to do some shopping. You’ll be constantly tempted to buy stunning local pottery, beautiful silk scarves and local embroidery.  

What Not to Miss in Samarkand

Registan, Samarkand
Registan, Samarkand

In addition to Registan, Bibi-Khanym Mosque is one of Samarkand’s major attractions. And like in many places in Uzbekistan, you can hire a guide at the entrance to each attraction. After we got our tickets, we were made an offer we couldn’t refuse – $3 for an approximately one-hour tour of the Bibi-Khanym Mosque by a guide who spoke great English. 

What Not to Miss in Tashkent

Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand were major stops on the Silk Road and have a lot of beautiful historic buildings, including old madrassas, stunning mosques and mausoleums. However, the old Tashkent was mostly destroyed in the 1966 earthquake.

Tashkent is a modern city with lots of beautiful green parks, huge markets and wide boulevards. The city is full of contrast between the old Soviet-style architecture and newly constructed enormous government buildings. If you want to see more of the Soviet-era architecture, then venturing right outside of the city center will give you a better idea of what the city looked like before the Soviet Union collapsed and Uzbekistan gained its independence. 

Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Uzbek national food is plov, or rice pilaf. You’ll find different versions of it in different parts of the country, and sometimes it’ll be made with beef, but in Tashkent the plov is always prepared with lamb. We went to Plov Center Beshoqozon to sample the local version and to see how it’s made. The place is definitely worth a visit, and it’s right next to the television tower, so you can visit both attractions easily. 

Before you sit down, stop by the open kitchen and watch the men cook vast quantities of plov. We went to Beshoqozon on a Sunday, and the place was buzzing with families, giving it a Sunday brunch vibe. As per locals’ recommendations, you have to visit a plov center no later than 1 p.m. because the quality of this freshly cooked local delicacy won’t be the same later in the day. 

Plov is one of the cheapest dishes in Uzbekistan, and it’s a fun, inexpensive way to experience the local culture and get some delicious food as well. 

There’s a lovely park right across from the Plov Center that’s definitely worth a visit. You’ll be glad of an opportunity to walk off some of the calories you just consumed! 

Another major attraction in Tashkent is its beautiful metro. I haven’t been to another city where I was looking forward to riding the subway just for the fun of it. Tashkent’s metro was modeled on the Moscow metro and each station is unique. You don’t have to visit every station, but there are definitely a few standouts. The unlimited time single entry ticket cost about 14 cents, and we had a lot of fun riding Soviet-era trains.     

Tashkent Metro
Tashkent Metro

Final Thoughts

Finding award space to Uzbekistan proved to be quite easy, and once you get there, the food and hotels are affordable. You can get around the country by train and by hiring a local guide (it won’t break the bank if you feel like you need one). I speak Russian, so communication wasn’t a problem, but even if you don’t, a lot of younger people spoke English.     

Uzbekistan is safe, affordable and feels different from all the other places I’ve been to. The cities we visited were impeccably clean and the hospitality was amazing. There’s so much history and culture to explore, and the Uzbek people are so lovely, it’s impossible not to fall in love with this country. 

Travel well,