The unlucky few who haven’t booked their summer tickets to Greece by now will be playing a juggling act: trying to find a cheap flight that also avoids long layover times, all while flying on a reputable carrier.
It’s a tough ask, seeing as peak season is less than three months away and most of the good flights are already booked out.
Yet in quite a new phenomenon, a number of Greek Australians are forgoing the direct flight to Athens and instead adding on a stopover in Istanbul, saving a couple of bucks and opening themselves up to more airline options. Some are saving around $200-$500 in flights during peak season.
It sounds like a win-win situation, but there are a couple of catches.
Those flying to Istanbul will need to add on the extra cost of booking the connecting flight from Turkey to Greece. Most of the time you can book with a budget airline, adding about $150 extra on the price of the overall return flight.
But pick a connecting flight that is at an unpopular hour or on a day that is heavily booked and you might be looking at paying a lot more or a long layover.
A direct return flight to Istanbul in July with minimal layover times will set you back around $1,800 (according to Skyscanner figures on Wednesday), while a flight to Athens at the same time with similar hours will cost upwards of $2,000.
The price discrepancy isn’t news for travel agent Kon Kavalakis. Dealing with many members of the Greek community over a number of years at Grecian Tours, he’s seen airlines jump at the chance to increase flights to Istanbul and minimise their Athens flights.
“Basically what happens with Istanbul is that a lot more carriers fly into Istanbul out of Australia, hence there’s a lot more availability and it’s more competitive,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
Singapore Airlines, for instance, flies into Istanbul every day during peak and only three times a week into Athens.
A spokesperson from Singapore Airlines admitted that the interest in the Australian direct flight to Athens hasn’t been strong enough to rival the Istanbul flights.
“We previously operated scheduled year round flights from 1972 to 2012, when services were suspended due to sustained weak performance on the [Australia-Athens] route,” they said. “In 2013 a seasonal service was introduced to cater to the busy northern summer peak period, which will continue in 2015.”
Currently, Singapore Airways offers the same base ticket price to Australians travelling to Athens or to Istanbul, but increases the pricing based on the country’s airport tax fees.
One of the biggest hindrances to airlines making Athens a European hub is its high airport fees.
In 2013, Athens International Airport had the highest landing fees in Europe and as a consequence had seen a steep decline in air traffic.
The Greek government announced it would lower the fees and add more incentives to airlines and companies that increased their services.
While they have seen a big jump in passenger traffic, most of it has come thanks to an increase in tourist demand.
One of the major factors in airlines choosing to add flights to a certain destination is an increase in cargo demands.
Turkey boasts a higher population than Greece which helps them consume more and produce more, making the transport of cargo quite profitable for airlines.
“Its population is five or six times greater than Greece,” Mr Kavalakis says of Turkey.
“The costs of airport stoppage is cheaper [in Turkey] than Greece and other European countries.
“It also comes down to trade agreements and governments play a big role. As Greeks, we’ve only got tourism.”
At least many Greek Australians are pushing up demand for direct flights to Greece, with a number of Middle Eastern and Asian airlines seeking partnership with Greek airlines and offering more flights during peak.
Emirates recently added another daily flight to Athens from its Dubai base to deal with the flow on from the summer peak in September and October. But those looking to lower the price of a peak airline ticket will need to be more flexible.
Vasilis Samolis of Touchdown Tours says people with more time to spare can manage a fare that’s closer to the earlybird specials at a later date.
“Most people prefer to get the quickest way to Athens, but few people, like pensioners prefer fares with two stops instead of flying 14 hours in a row,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
The easiest way to get a cheap and timely fare is of course booking as early as possible.
“Take advantage of the early bird specials that airlines introduce, and that’s always the year before,” Mr Kavalakis says. “So last year they released the last round of early bird tickets around the end of September and ran it until November.
“That is the cheapest time to get European flights for about $1,600.”