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Renewing StarAlliance Gold in Covid-era (AMS-ATH-SKG with A3 in C)

Renewing StarAlliance Gold in Covid-era (AMS-ATH-SKG with A3 in C)

Old Oct 4, 20, 8:08 am
  #1  
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Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: RTM
Programs: DiamondClub (rip), Currently an Alliance Treble Champion (BA, A3, AZ)
Posts: 1,706
Renewing StarAlliance Gold in Covid-era (AMS-ATH-SKG with A3 in C)

Well... since there isn’t so much activity here these days I thought I would post a short trip report from my recent weekend trip to the beautiful Hellenic Republic (Greece) in order to grab the four sectors on A3/OY necessary to renew my Star Alliance Gold through 2022.

For those of you familiar with A3 (Aegean Airlines) program, you will know it has possibly THE most generous requalification criteria of the Star Alliance program. 12k miles and 4 sectors on A3/OY. Pre-Covid, I flew at least once a month on Star Alliance although normally in the lowest economy fares. This means I’m pretty light on miles and would fall somewhat short of gold in most programs, especially the big ones like Miles&More. Step forward Miles&Bonus to save the day – the catch? An annual trip to Greece.. oh how I suffer for my miles

Planning:

Aegean Miles&Bonus had extended all members’ status by 6 months as part of their Covid measures. This was very welcome as the lockdown meant that travel was totally off the table. I had made the required 12k miles by a good margin, but still needed the 4 sectors. Once lockdown started to ease, it would be possible to travel again, though the challenges weren’t yet over.

Challenge 1: Negative PCR for Netherlands residents.

The somewhat blasé attitude of the Netherlands to Covid containment measures meant our infection rate was a little out of control over summer. In June, Greece implemented a requirement for a negative PCR test result for residents of the Netherlands – this presents a major problem as testing shortages in Netherlands at the time meant you can only get a test if you have symptoms of Covid. Presumably you could go to a private clinic and pay a few €100’s for a test, but that significantly increases the cost and hassle of the trip.

Luckily, in Aug, this requirement was removed - the trip was back on!

I found a great fare to Chania, Crete on a flexible base for €230 all-in – great, booked! Then…..

Challenge 2: Moving goal posts on code-red locations.

Less than a week before I was due to travel, the Dutch Health Authority changed their guidance for Greek Islands to Code Orange, which means a mandatory quarantine of 10 days after return. While there’s not so much to do outside one’s home these days, the inconvenience of a home isolation is quite significant: no exercise, no shopping, difficulty to get online grocery delivery slots etc etc… Aarrgghhh…

I called the airline and they were incredibly helpful. The only Greek mainland destination available for my dates was Thessaloniki. They changed my destination and only charged me the fare difference €12 and a ticket fee of €20.

The trip was back on!

Flying in the era of Covid-19:

It’s been over 6 months since my last flight, usually a weekly or bi-weekly traveler, packing and airport runs are something done in my sleep. This time, I actually had to think about what to pack, where my travel toiletries were etc... total amateur

I arrived at AMS and went straight to the Privium lounge, which is located land side. I had heard the StarAlliance lounge was still closed and the contract lounges at AMS are pretty poor in terms of food and beverage options, even pre-Covid. The Privium lounge has an actually pretty good menu with salads, sandwiches, wraps and hot dishes. I had a Caesar salad and lasagna with a couple of Heinekens.



Security was actually pretty confusing. There’s a lot of construction at AMS at the moment and Departures 2 Schengen side is completely closed. Even the KL staff at the check-in desks sent me the wrong way! You need to go to Departures 1, which is a little bit of a walk, but convenient for the B gates.

I would be a bit miffed if I had bags to check because A3 use Departures 3, desk 20, which is probably about 1km walk from Departures 1 security and the B gates. I’m a brisk walker, but that would add at least 15 minutes delay from the train station at Schiphol Plaza (500m train to Departures 3, 1km back the other direction from Departures 3 to Departures 1 and the B gates.) Luckily there was no queue at all at security. I got plenty of steps in I guess….

AMS-ATH:

I haven’t seen one of these for a while!



Aegean Airlines offer the typical intra-European narrow body business class, which is a middle seat free arrangement. The load in business today was 3/16 which gave a very socially distanced experience.





I was aware that on-board there was a back with a sandwich, instead of the regular meal service. Although this is poor for a business meal, it was actually a substantial sandwich and a full bar service was available, you just have to ask proactively.



This is worth noting – the reduction in contact means that the cabin crew don’t proactively offer refills and check on you, however they are more than happy to help you if asked. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. When you do ask though they were happy to tell me everything they had loaded, make coffees, serve a full bar service etc..

I really like the coffee service on Aegean, they make proper coffee like Espresso, Cappuccino and Americanos. This was lovely with a Metaxa brandy!



For me, Aegean are one of the best intra-EU business class products and the staff on every interaction have been incredibly helpful and full of positivity. Although it’s normal economy seating with middle seat free, it’s always a joy to fly A3 in my experience, certainly on par with LX or LH. I would proactively choose them to fly to Greece or a destination with connection at ATH.

ATH Arrival Experience:

We parked at a bus gate. Aegean is currently offering a separate bus for business class passengers on arrival. There were only three of us!



I filled out the Passenger Locator Form (PLF) mandated by the Greek Government. It’s a very simple web form and you are issued a QR code 24 hours before arrival date. On arrival at ATH, your QR code is scanned and you are either directed to baggage reclaim or to a Corona virus testing station.

I was sent to the testing booth – eek – my 24 hour trip might turn in to a 14 day trip

The throat swab was a bit unpleasant but not uncomfortable or painful and took about 2 seconds to complete. The Greek government will contact you if you are positive within 24 hours.

Important note: if you are selected for the swab test, it is not possible to take the airside connections route, because there is a one-way system to the testing booths. This means you must exit through baggage reclaim, go land side and re-enter airside through ATH departures.

Luckily, there was zero queue at security so the total delay was less than 5-10 minutes, but if you are on a tight connection and security is busy, this could be problematic.


Lounges:

In ATH, Star Gold customers have access to both the LH lounge and the A3 lounge.

Nothing much to write home about, both lounges are small. There are pre-packaged sandwiches and snacks and disposable cups for your drinks. The coffee station is no longer self-service.

I helped myself to a wine and sandwich and caught up on some emails, before heading to the gate for SKG.

ATH-SKG:

This 50 minute hop had only a bottle of water and sesame bar in the bag. I was full from the lounge and previous flight, so didn’t partake.

However, as before, if you ask, everything is possible. I had a lovely espresso and another Metaxa! Ask, Ask, Ask



SKG Arrival Experience:

Again at SKG, a bus gate. Bus specifically for business passengers again – superb!

We were 15 min late out of ATH but I was out of the terminal only 5 min after scheduled arrival time. My driver wasn’t even there yet. Great arrival experience.

Thessaloniki:

Originally, I had hoped to be spending a day in Chania town and being aware that Thessaloniki is really a large working city rather than a tourist destination, I didn’t have high hopes for a fun filled Saturday. Then the day before departure I looked at the weather – pissing it down with rain and thunder storms all day. The only day of bad weather, for two weeks either side, was my Saturday. Great.

I woke up about 8.30am and looked outside – hammering down with rain. About 10.30, there was a break in the rain and I decided to go for a run. Managed to clock up a PB for 1k time (it was downhill for the first km haha) and had a chance to see the seafront. The 1km and 7km times relieved some of the anxiety of the Covid test – if I can run those times I think I am probably not infected.







About 16.00 the rain stopped and the sun came out. The wind had really picked up, but the temperature raised a bit to about 26C so it was quite pleasant on the seafront to stop and have a few beers while people watching the Saturday crowd. A funny mix of hole in the wall café/bars and full-on poser lounges full of instafluencers/cocktails and collagen!





Dining Options:

At short notice, I had identified some eateries. One of the things I like while mileage running is to try really good and local restaurants. If you have a chance to stop over in Thessaloniki I can highly recommend the following:

Sempriko https://goo.gl/maps/v5KTj8yFmZ3yXuG87

Marinated octopus on a bulgar wheat, parsley, mint and spring onion salad.



Squid ink spaghetti with crab meat, shrimp and mussels in a saffron cream sauce.



Pannecotta



And half a litre of Greek wine.

Absolutely superb - €28.75



- Nama - https://goo.gl/maps/J681MM5Ynga69gVr5

Baked potatoes with Greek cream cheese, chive and Greek pastrami



Osso bucco with Orzo pasta and grated Greek hard cheese



Quarter of a litre of Greek wine.

Again, absolutely superb - €29.75


One of the delights of mileage running to Greece is the fantastic food and fantastic value of Greek restaurants. Excellent quality ingredients, fresh seafood, ripe produce and simple delicious cooking. These two restaurants are top 1-2 pages of TripAdvisor and you can have a great 2 or 3 course meal, with excellent wines, for less than €30 a head.

At 21:00 I had a bit of a wine buzz… it also marked a milestone, 24 hours from my Covid swab, which meant I was clean.. on arrival at least

In Thessaloniki, due to Covid measures, everything closes at midnight. It was really busy and not very socially distanced, though mostly outdoor seating. Having been restricted to the Netherlands and not really going out, it was nice to see everybody in high spirits and really dressed up.

In reality, after a run, 16km total running and walking during the day and more than a skin-full of delicious Greek beer and wine (and not being in my 20’s anymore) I was ready for bed by 23.00 Zzz….


Thessaloniki Airport Departures Experience:

SKG airport is currently in the middle of refurbishment, it’s a bit of a mess and only the duty free, two cafes are open. No lounges. Luckily because of the low level of flights, there was adequate social distance seating at the gates, but don’t bother arriving early – there is NOTHING to do and no lounge at all.

SKG-ATH:

Simple 50min hop. Bag with sesame snack and water handed out. Fresh coffee available on request.

Arrival at ATH:

We benefitted from a gate arrival. Connections to B gates possible, connections to A gates (non-Schengen) appeared to require an air-side detour. With only a 50min transfer time at ATH, I was glad for the convenience.

ATH-AMS:

Boarding was by window, then center and aisle. No fast track for business passengers (though I’m sure, as everything on Aegean – if you ask anything is possible 😊

Snack bag delivered again, although a poor business product the sandwich was fresh and the apple pie tasty. A bar service from the trolley is available, though for spirits and coffee you have to ask. However, it is very much available. Ask, ask, ask!







Arrival in AMS:

There’s a mandatory Health Declaration form required at AMS. These were handed out at ATH by the gate staff if you didn’t have one, which is nice. I realized since I stopped going to the office, I don’t have access to a printer! I never needed one at home before. It seems a bit old-hat that you need a paper form, but ok…

And then… nothing: no checks, no warning, no tracking.. nothing at all..

Back home and StarAlliance Gold until May 2022!

Last edited by OttoMH; Oct 4, 20 at 8:22 am Reason: fixed images
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Old Oct 4, 20, 10:34 am
  #2  
757
 
Join Date: Oct 2015
Location: St. Paul, MN
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Wow, amazing that Aegean offers such great coffee on short distance flights on their A320 fleet. Great photos from your trip!
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757 is offline  
Old Oct 4, 20, 11:30 am
  #3  
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
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Nice report! The food on board doesn't look as horrendous as what BA are currently serving. Congrats on requalifying!
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stu1985 is offline  
Old Oct 5, 20, 9:26 am
  #4  
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Thanks for the report. That is very informative for me as I am flying to ATH in C, in two weeks for a long weekend of photography at the Parthenon. Good to see the dedicated business class bus still in effect. Not sure I will requalify though as I am at a loss between the change in earnings, promo and change in requalification goals.
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Old Oct 14, 20, 1:50 am
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Join Date: Dec 2009
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Interesting report, thanks! It almost mirrors my TXL-ATH-SKG round trip that I did last weekend to renew my *G as well. The only difference was that all but one crew offered all sorts of drinks proactively. The only exception was the FA on ATH-SKG who put the bag down on the seat next to me and said "Water!". She made it most clear that this was all we were getting and not to bother her any further. I still found the A3 experience very pleasant and agree with your assessment of the sandwiches. They're not bad at all but a far cry from the old, excellent catering. I was glad that I didn't get selected for a COVID test in ATH, as I was only in the country for 12 hours in total. Interestingly, my QR code wasn't scanned in ATH, the agent was just looking at people's QR codes and either sending them to the exit or to the testing booths. I've no idea how they could tell whether you were selected or not. Let's hope that full catering has returned by the time we have to do this all again next year.
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