The Cradle of Western Civilization. We're not kidding. Greece is a cultural gem. The capital Athens (ATH) actually has great award ticket availability (except for August, peak holiday time for Europeans), and makes for an excellent multi-day stopover en route to the islands and beaches. The history, museums, architecture, shopping and food of Athens would take a lifetime to explore. A couple must-see tips: head to the Parthenon early in the morning to beat the heat and the crowds, then take a leisurely lunch around Monastiraki. The best way to visit the islands is by ferry from Piraeus, an Athens suburb. The Greek Islands are as numerous as they are varied. From the white sand beaches of Antipaxos off the coast of Corfu, the mysterious Minoan ruins in Crete, to the beach clubs of Mykonos and Ios, an entire summer could be spent travelling from island to island before taking an award flight home from Athens.
Greece's capital Athens is well served by most international carriers via
Athens International Airport Eleftherios Venizelos (ATH). The major US international airlines
such as American Airlines, Delta,
and United Airlines all fly direct (generally from their hubs)
into ATH, and international carriers such as Greece's national airline
Aegean Airlines as well as
Emirates Airline fly direct from the US to Athens. Additionally, the major alliances all offer a
number of connecting flights from the US to Athens as well as Thessaloniki (SKG) and some of the larger Greek Islands.
With Star Alliance, great award seats can be found not only on United but also with Lufthansa, TAP Air Portugal and Aegean Airlines (which can be a particular sweet spot for award redemptions) Within Skyteam, in addition to Delta, Air France and KLM also offer numerous flights into Greece via their respective hubs in Paris and Amsterdam.
Finally, in OneWorld, when using American's AAdvantage Miles to fly free to Greece, be very careful to watch out for flights on British Airways into or out of the UK as BA attaches high cash surcharges to award flights on their metal when transiting the UK.
Since the Greek islands are such popular holiday destinations, many of the European carrier alliance partners will have at least seasonal service where you might find award seats into several of the popular islands. It's worth at least checking availability at some of these if your plans involve areas nearby. Check: Heraklion International Airport "Nikos Kazantzakis" (HER) if you're heading to Crete, Rhodes Diagoras International Airport (RHO) or Kos Hippocrates Airport (KGS) if you plan to island hop around the Dodecanese. Corfu Ioannis Kapodistrias International Airport (CFU) is convenient when heading to the Ionian, and Santorini Thira Airport (JTR) is convenient for most of the Cyclades. All would be great award flight redemptions.
You might be surprised, but really the art of optimizing miles and points involves knowing
when NOT to use them, and instead use cash. (Domestic US flights are often an example). While
AwardSecrets are huge fans of award travel, domestic Greek flights are not great
award redemptions (unless you can tack a domestic flight from ATH onto an international itinerary).
Instead, we highly recommend using the plentiful inter-island ferries to get around Greece. They may take longer than flying, but the views of the many small ports, the blue of the Mediterranean, and the opportunity for Slow Travel make them unbeatable domestic transportation, especially in the warm months of the year. Most key islands will connect with each other and the mainland several times per day in fast and slow ferries, with reasonable prices.
Most key Greek islands & towns of interest to award travelers have a significant number of award chain
hotel properties, and these can provide good value for hotel award points, particularly during the busy
summer months. Additionally, a number of properties are quite luxurious and expensive with cash rates,
making them good aspirational award redemptions.
Looking at early summer dates, for 40,000 Hyatt Points, you could stay at the Mykonos Boheme Hotel, versus paying EUR €640 per night. For a luxurious experience, spend 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy points or EUR €381 per night at the stunning Blue Palace in Elounda, Crete. The Hilton Athens, in a leafy neighborhood filled with restaurants, is conveniently located to the major historical sites and a good Hilton HHonors redeption value at 50,000 points or EUR €259 per night, particularly for a few days in Athens on arrival or departure in Greece.
We have 2 tips for Greece.
Tip #1: Santorini can get exceptionally crowded and expensive during the season. Stay one night if you must but then pick a nearby island you've never heard of at random and take the ferry there and spend a few nights. You won't find the "real Greece" in Santorini, but you'll probably run into someone you know from home. Stay instead on a quiet nearby island, meet the local restaurant owners & eat their fresh catch of the day, while telling stories late into the night over glasses of ouzo and the sounds of a tzouras off in the distance. Ώπα!
Tip #2: What's commonly called the "Greek Islands" is actually comprised of numerous small (and very different) island chains to mainland Greece's west, east, southeast, and northeast. The Ionian Islands, to Athens' west, include Corfu, Kefalonia, Paxos and Odysseus' Ithaka. They can be temperate and pine forested. The famous Cyclades such as Mykonos, Ios, Santorini, Paros & Naxos, are popular for nightlife and beach clubs, and tend to be very arid and hot. The Dodecanese such as Rhodes, Kos and Samos, are right off the coast of Turkey, quite far from Athens. And the beautiful Aegean Islands nearer Thessaloniki have long been the quiet getaways of Greek shipping billionaires and authors. Distances matter. Moving between island chains (e.g. Corfu to Santorini) can take a day or more, while moving between islands within a chain (Ios to Folegandros, for example) can take an hour or less.