Taking off to Greece
With more airlines than ever offering one-stop connections from Australia to Greece, there's never been a better time to do the trip.
With all airlines tightening their belts it's a good time to fly. A global decline in demand for air travel and the intense competition between carriers has reduced fares globally.
In Greece the story is the same, and for anyone considering heading for Athens, there is more choice than ever, whether you're in business or economy.
Because my backpacking days are something of a distant if cherished memory, the cheapest, less convenient option for taking the trip isn't one I prefer or put-up with anymore.
I believe that on a voyage to the other side of the world, the journey's just too long without a proper stopover. Treat yourself to one night at least, for some luxurious rest and recuperation at knock-down prices. Thai Airways flies three times a week from Bangkok to Athens.
The Thai capital is always my preferred stop-over destination; the social unrest there wouldn't change my mind on that.
Why? For me, Bangkok is that unique cultural experience which you look for when travelling, and the quality of luxury accommodation available for a stop-over at a reasonable price is fantastic. "The recession has affected all carriers" says Sudhagun Divaveja, Thai Airways' General Manager for Greece.
"The industry has responded by reducing costs and adjusting capacity. This gives customers an opportunity to travel on very attractive fares and enjoy great service at a great price". >> continue on page 10 Suvarnabhumi Airport (pronounced "su-wan-na-poom"), is another reason why I personally like transiting through Bangkok.
Suvarnabhumi's breathtaking design has created a space that makes you feel excited to travel.
Between October and December 2009, the total number of passengers transiting Suvarnabhumi was more than 11.48 million, pushing it into the big league of Asian airports, alongside near neighbour, Singapore's Changi.
With Singapore Airport's sole purpose as an Australasian travel hub, Changi is still the biggest player in terms of connecting Australia to Europe. Home to Singapore International Airlines, SIA offers a one-stop connection from Oz, operating three flights a week to the Greek capital.
Takis Dimitriou, Singapore Airlines' Sales Manager for Greece, confirmed that part of Singapore's strategy during the recession has been to offer customers lower fares. "As a result, we have managed to maintain our customer base and offer new customers the opportunity to travel with us."
With the Asia single-stop route to Athens in the hands of two of the most respected global travel brands, alternative journeys are via the Middle-East. Emirates has been operating services to Greece since 1996 via Dubai. Terry Flynn - Emirates Manager for Greece points out that increased competition in the local market plays an important role. "There are six Middle East carriers, including Emirates, that share traffic to almost common destinations.
This makes us even better and raises our standards for better products and higher quality. We're extending our commitment to Greece, increasing choice for our customers traveling to Dubai, while opening up excellent new connections to many onward destinations including Japan, India, China, South Africa and particularly Australasia."
Etihad Airways is a major player in the increased competition that Emirates and the other more established carriers are experiencing.
One of the newest Middle Eastern carriers to operate to Eleftherios Venizelos, Etihad has been offering competitive fares and one-stop connections to via Abu Dhabi since June 2009. Athens is the 53rd destination across its expanding global flight network.
With 21 flights a week currently from Abu Dhabi to Australia, in February Etihad was granted seven additional weekly flights from March next year. Another major new player in the market place is Qatar. Since beginning operations in 1997, Qatar Airways has expanded its network rapidly earning the title of one of the fastest growing airlines in the world.
The most recent carrier to offer a Melbourne-Athens one-stop service, with just an hour between connecting flights, it's possibly the quickest way to get there.
The flight time to Doha is just under fourteen hours, with the onward hop around four hours. What else might the future hold for passengers on the route?
There have been rumours circulating for some time that Jetstar might begin a service via Singapore, but there's no sign as yet. Finding a sustainable market for long-haul airlines who target the bottom-line as the major determining factor for customers, is the elusive challenge.
"Low-cost carriers cater for a totally different customer base' explains Thai's Sudhagun Divaveja. 'Whilst there will be more competition on the Greece route, it's hoped these carriers will create their own new customer base - contributing to the growth of the overall market."
Whatever your budget and creature-comfort needs, fares to Greece from Australia in the months ahead offer some great deals. Shop around. Economy return from Melbourne to Athens, currently starts at around AUD 1700 (plus tax). Business class return from AUD 6200 (plus tax).
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