While Europe will always remain popular for good reason, savvy travelers are starting to visit Georgia (the country), an affordable and less crowded alternative for extraordinary culture, food, and wine.
Note: This post is part of a multi-post series on under-the-radar alternatives to popular travel destinations.
Europe is the world’s favorite leisure travel destination. Every year millions of people travel to Europe to soak up culture, gawk at the architecture, sample delicious food and wine, and enjoy stunning outdoor scenery.
These travelers also spend a substantial amount of time waiting in lines, getting jostled in crowds, and taking the same clichéd photos. And all of this isn’t cheap — many western European cities are some of the most expensive in the world.
For decades, the conventional wisdom to avoid these hassles was to head to central and eastern European cities, such as Prague, Dubrovnik, and Budapest. That advice no longer delivers as these destinations have become as over touristed as Paris and Rome.
Fortunately, there is still one destination that offers all that Europe does without the crowds and high prices: Georgia.
This small county in the Caucuses is shockingly overlooked given all that it has to offer. In this post, I’m going to detail why you should visit Georgia, and how to get there using points and miles.
Should You Visit George? (Hint: Yes.)
I visited Georgia as part of a road trip throughout the region, including Armenia and Azerbaijain. While those other countries have a lot to offer, Georgia was easily the star.
Tbilisi, Monasteries, Wine, & More
My recommendation is to spend 2-3 days in the beautiful capital of Tbilisi. Here, you can explore old Tbilisi, spend an afternoon with locals in the sulphur baths (natural springs flow under the city), or hike up to the Narikala fortress to get a great view of the city.
From Tbilisi, it’s easy to organize a day of wine tasting in Kakheti (about 2.5 hours from the city) in the ancient vineyards that surround the city.
The wines range from acceptable to excellent, and tend to be on the sweeter and bolder side of the spectrum. Even more impressive than the wines are the vineyards themselves, where many wines are still handmade by monks.
The monasteries are a spectacular setting to enjoy crowd-free tastings and meals overlooking the vineyards. Georgia is particularly famous for its orange wines, which are increasingly popular with hipsters around the world.
I’d also recommend leaving Tbilisi to enjoy some amazing mountain scenery on the route to Kazbegi National Park.
Kazbegi National Park
While in Kazbegi, it’s absolutely worth it to splurge on the Rooms Hotel Kazbegi, one of the best designed hotels I’ve ever seen. If you like the look and feel of Restoration Hardware, you are in for a treat at this property.
You could spend days in Kazbegi just relaxing and enjoying the scenery – or head out on a multi day trek through the mountains.
Eat Up In Georgia
Fueling your trip will be the incredible variety of Georgian food. The local food includes really tasty kebabs, dumplings, and about a thousand varieties of Khachapuri – a traditional bread stuffed with cheese, eggs, and other ingredients.
How To Visit Georgia Using Points And Miles
Getting to Tbilisi is not difficult with points and miles. As always, the tough part when traveling from the US is finding transatlantic award space in business class.
Within the Star Alliance network, Tbilisi is served by LOT from Warsaw, Turkish Airlines from Istanbul, Lufthansa from Munich, and Aegean from Athens. See my recent post with tips on how to search for availability on any of these Star Alliance carriers.
The absolute most affordable way to book any of these options above to visit Georgia is to transfer 88,000 American Express Membership Rewards points to ANA, a Japanese airline with an amazing distance-based award chart.
Yes, 88,000 points for a round-trip in business class. ANA allows stopovers on both legs of the journey too, which means you could easily build in stopovers in Europe if you must! The downside is that ANA requires booking travel as a round trip only.
Alternatively, Aeroplan, Air Canada’s loyalty program and also an Amex transfer partner, charges 57,500 miles for one-way redemption from North America to Georgia.
Both ANA and Aeroplan do pass along fuel surcharges, but these should be minimal when flying LOT, Turkish, and Aegean. Lufthansa may be prohibitively expensive in business class.
Those with Chase Ultimate Rewards can transfer 70,000 points one-way to United to book the same itinerary. United does not pass along fuel surcharges.
Air France also flies to Georgia twice a week from Paris. If you can find availability, this route can be booked by transferring 62,500 Amex Membership Rewards points to Delta SkyMiles.
Finally, another exciting – though complicated – option is to fly on OneWorld member airline, Qatar Airlines. American Airlines award routing roles prohibit transiting in a third region – which means that you will need to book two separate reservations to travel from North America to Georgia, via Doha. The best way to achieve this is to redeem 57,500 American Miles to fly from North America to Doha and then 22,000 British Airways Avios (or 11K in economy!) for the short Doha to Tbilisi connection. This process is a hassle, but does make it possible to try out the Qatar QSuites, one of the world’s best business class products. Marriott Bonvoy points transfer to American Airlines and both Chase Ultimate Rewards and AMEX Membership Rewards transfer to BA.
As always, Juicy Miles award consultants, are always happy to find and book award flights to Georgia or elsewhere.
Need More Miles To Visit Georgia?
American Express Membership Rewards: Amex points are probably the best transferable currency to get to Georgia. Here are some of the best offers to accumulate Membership Rewards quickly.
The Platinum Card from American Express is currently offering 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. (See Rates & Fees). Before signing up for this offer, also check if you’ve been targeted for a special 125,000 or 150,000 points offer at CardMatch.
I always recommend holding the no-annual fee American Express Blue for Business to accumulate 2x points on ALL spending up to $50,000.
Check out other offers to earn AMEX Membership Rewards here.
Chase Ultimate Rewards: Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to United or Air France for a flight to Georgia. Top up with my favorite sign up offer right now: The Chase Ink Business Preferred is currently offering 80,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months of account opening.
That’s more than enough points for a one-way business award flights to Georgia. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is also offering 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of opening.
Check out our cards marketplace to find other lucrative sign up bonus available.
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A really nice post. Now Georgia is on my radar. Does ANA still restrict who you can book a ticket for from their program? It could be awkward to tell your girlfriend that she’ll have to get her own ticket because the program won’t allow you to get her one. Then again, the point is moot for me since my wife won’t let me have a girlfriend, but still pertinent for some people.
Also, does AA allow routing through Qatar to Georgia on a single award?
Hey – thanks for reading.
Yes, ANA still has some absurd rules about who you can book a ticket for. Their *An AMC member can register up to 10 people (spouse or same-sex partner and relatives within 2 degrees of family relationship) as award users.
Good point on the Qatar question. I don’t believe you’d be able to put that on a single aa award from the US or Europe, because you’d be violating the 3rd region routing rule. One work around would be to book a one way to doha and then use BA avios points from Doha to Tbilisi. Georgia is technically lumped into the Europe region, even though it’s arguably geographically closer to more of the Middle East.
2 mistakes on the costs of award tickets:
1. Aeroplan will charge 60k one way in J, since Georgia is in eastern europe
2. Can’t travel on Qatar with AA miles on one award ticket (it would price out as two and cost quite a bit more than 57.5k). You could use AA miles on BA or Iberia, however.
Thanks for reading and commenting. You’re right about Qatar and I’ve updated the post accordingly. It’s a pain to book two separate reservations, but that does seem to be the best option.
On Aeroplan, I’m seeing that Georgia is classified as ‘Europe 2.’ The Aeroplan award chart prices North America – Europe 2 at 115K R/T or 57.5 O/W for business class. https://www.aeroplan.com/use-your-miles/flight-rewards-chart#/
Let me know if I’m missing something.