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After a major financial crisis from 2008 to 2011, Iceland turned to tourism (as well as some serious banking reforms) to reinvigorate its economy. That turned out to be a boon both for Icelanders and the millions of travelers who have since visited this northern island nation.
Even now, travelers are flocking to Iceland in droves to explore the cool corners of its capital, Reykjavik, and the famous otherworldly beauty of its landscapes. Frequent deals from the US to Keflavik (KEF, Reykjavik’s international airport) both on low-cost carriers like WOW Air and legacy airlines like Icelandair have also helped.
So if you’ve been thinking of visiting the so-called land of fire and ice, 2018 might just be the year to do it, and here’s how you can use points and miles to help you on your way.
First, a note on discounted airfares to Iceland. The expansion of low-cost carrier WOW Air, Icelandair’s rapidly expanding route network, plus the fact that all three major legacy US carriers either already offer or plan to offer at least seasonal services to Keflavik have made airfares to Iceland dip as low as $69 one-way. Flights from the East Coast are just about five hours each way — another reason you might not want to burn a lot of miles on a premium redemption.
All that might make this particular journey more cost-effective by paying cash rather than booking a traditional award ticket, or at least using a points currency like American Express Membership Rewards, Barclaycard Arrival miles, Capital One miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards, which you can redeem directly for travel at fixed rates. But more on that below, since there are some issues with this approach.
In terms of booking traditional airline awards, we will discuss flying directly from the US to Iceland rather than routing through Europe. However, because Iceland is grouped in most airline award charts’ Europe region, you could consider making the country part of a larger trip to Europe and booking both it and another destination on the same award ticket.
Points and Miles Options
Before we get started, here are the airline options for using miles and points to get from the US to Iceland.
|Airline/Points Program||Points and Miles Options|
|Aeroplan (Amex, SPG)
ANA (Amex, SPG)
United (Chase, SPG)
|American||American AAdvantage (SPG)
|Delta||Delta SkyMiles (Amex, SPG)
Flying Blue (Amex, Chase, Citi, SPG)
Korean Air (Chase, SPG)
|United||United (Chase, SPG)
Aeroplan (Amex, SPG)
ANA (Amex, SPG)
|American Express Membership Rewards||1-1.54 cents apiece|
|Barclaycard Arrival Miles||1.05 cents apiece|
|Capital One Miles||1 cent apiece|
|Chase Ultimate Rewards||1-1.5 cents apiece|
|Citi ThankYou Rewards||1-1.25 cents apiece|
|Discover||1 cent apiece|
Direct Credit Card Point Redemptions
Let’s start with redeeming credit card points directly for travel. This option might make a lot of sense if you just want to redeem your points at a fixed rate for low airfares so that the number of points you require is lower than a traditional airline award.
One quick caveat on this, though. In order to redeem some of these points — notably Amex, Citi and Chase — you have to be able to book your flights via their travel portals. This can become an issue if the carrier you want to fly, like WOW, doesn’t participate in a global distribution system (GDS) like Amadeus or Sabre. In that case, you can call your individual program and see if a phone agent can book the travel for you, as sometimes they are able to see flights even if they do not appear on a GSE.
American Express Membership Rewards: The value of American Express Membership Rewards points redeemed for flights is 1 cent apiece if you have a card like the Platinum Card. However, if you have the Business Platinum Card, you get a 35% rebate on Pay With Points redemptions for first or business-class fares booked through Amex Travel as well as on all flights (including economy tickets) booked on the same airline that you have designated for your $200 annual airline fee rebate when also booked through the Amex Travel portal.
Barclaycard Arrival Miles: Arrival miles you earn with a card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard are worth 1 cent apiece when redeemed for travel, including airfare. Redemptions start at 10,000 miles and can only be used for travel purchases from within the last 120 days. If you don’t have enough points to cover the full expense of a charge, you can still cover a portion of it in 2,500-point ($25) increments. You also get a 5% refund on mileage redemptions.
Capital One Miles: Capital One miles like those earned with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card can be redeemed at a rate of 1 cent apiece for statement credits, including airfare purchases.
Chase Ultimate Rewards: Chase Ultimate Rewards points’ value ranges from 1-1.5 cents apiece depending on the card you have. For instance, those earned from the Chase Freedom only merit 1 cent apiece, while those earned on the Chase Sapphire Reserve are worth 1.5 cents apiece.
Citi ThankYou Rewards: Citi ThankYou points earned on cards like the Citi Prestige and the Citi ThankYou Premier are worth 1.25 cents apiece when redeemed for airfare, while those earned from the Citi ThankYou Preferred are worth only 1 cent each.
Discover: If you have the Discover it® Cash Back, you can redeem your points for statement credits at a rate of 1 cent apiece for travel and any other purchases, so this is something to consider if you want to use your points to save some cash on a simple basis.
Now let’s get to mileage redemptions on specific airlines.
Air Canada will offer seasonal service to Reykjavik (KEF) from Montreal (YUL) between June 1-October 7 and Toronto (YYZ) from June 2-October 6.
Aircraft: The airline will fly these routes using Boeing 737 MAX 8s. These planes will have 16 business-class seats in a 2-2 configuration. Each will be 21 inches wide, recline six inches and have 38 inches of pitch. The 153 economy seats are arranged in a 3-3 pattern and will have 30 inches of pitch, recline just 3 inches and be 18 inches wide.
Miles to use: Aeroplan will charge you 30,000 miles each way in economy and 55,000 miles in business class. This is interesting, because in the Aeroplan chart, Iceland is in the Europe 2 region, which would require more miles, but it is pricing out more cheaply at Europe 1 levels. The likely cause is that Air Canada does not normally offer flights to the destination and ordinarily, you would have to fly to Europe then backtrack to get to Iceland, meaning more flights and more distance. However, with the introduction of non-stop routes, the program seems to have placed Iceland in the cheaper (and farther west) Europe 1 category.
United will charge you 30,000 and 70,000 in economy and business respectively. ANA will charge you 55,000 miles round-trip in economy or 88,000 in business class. Remember, you can only book round-trip awards using ANA.
From the perspective of both the number of miles and the ease of one-way bookings, Aeroplan might seem like the way to go for economy awards, at least, considering it’s also an Amex Membership Rewards transfer partner.
However, look at this round-trip economy award in June from Montreal to Keflavik. It’s 60,000 miles but $494 CAD ($398 USD) in taxes and fees!
And this business-class itinerary is 110,000 miles plus $914 CAD ($737 USD), which is extortionate.
By contrast, an award using United MileagePlus (which is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards) is just 60,000 miles plus just $76 in taxes and fees while a business award would be 140,000 plus the same $76 in taxes and fees.
The best option for those looking for a simple round-trip award would be ANA. The following sample booking would require just 55,000 miles and $76 in taxes and fees.
Or 88,000 miles plus $76 round-trip in business class.
In November 2017, American Airlines announced it would launch seasonal service between its hub at Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) to Reykjavik beginning June 7 through October 27.
Aircraft: The airline will use an internationally configured 757-200 on the route. The plane will have 16 lie-flat business-class seats, 52 Main Cabin Extra seats that are 16.6 inches wide and have 35-37 inches of pitch; and 108 standard economy seats that are 16.6 inches wide and have 31 inches of pitch. Though the pitch is standard, these appear to be some of the narrowest seats in the skies.
Where to search: As with most American Airlines awards, your best place to start is AA.com.
Miles to use: Your best bet is probably just to use American Airlines miles. The airline will charge you 60,000 miles in economy or 115,000 miles in business class round-trip plus $54 in taxes and fees. Truth be told, award availability on the nonstop was very limited in any class, but economy awards opened up toward the end of August.
If you’re short on miles, AAdvantage is a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, and for every 20,000 SPG points you transfer, you get a 5,000-mile bonus.
You could use Alaska miles, but due to a recent devaluation, it’ll cost you 115,000 miles in business class or 60,000 in economy round-trip for most of the time this route is running. However, after October 15, when American’s MileSAAver awards go into effect, the flights will cost 45,000 miles round-trip in economy.
Delta is the only US legacy carrier to offer year-round flights to Iceland. Delta operates four weekly flights from New York-JFK, except from May 23-September 25, when the frequency will jump to daily. It will also offer seasonal service from May 24-August 28 out of its hub in Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP).
Aircraft: Unfortunately, Delta will begin flying 757-200s with regular old reclining business-class seats rather than lie-flats starting this spring. There will be 20 seats in a 2–2 configuration in Premium Select (which would usually be first class on domestic routes) that are 21 inches wide and have 37 inches of pitch; 29 Comfort+ seats that are 17.2 inches wide and have 34 inches of pitch; and 150 standard economy seats with 30-32 inches of pitch and that are 17.2 inches wide.
Where to search: Delta.com is the best place to search for Delta award availability.
Miles to use: For ease of searching and redemption, not to mention the fact that you can transfer both Amex Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest points, Delta’s own SkyMiles are likely your best bet for award redemptions.
The airline will charge you 60,000 miles plus $54 in taxes and fees for a round-trip economy redemption.
It would cost you 80,000 miles round-trip in Comfort+.
And 108,000 miles (at least) in Premium Select, with the same taxes and fees as the other classes of service.
Just for a comparison, you could consider using Flying Blue miles instead. The program is a transfer partner of Amex, Chase, Citi and Starwood Preferred Guest, giving you plenty of ways to stock up on the miles you need. An economy ticket would be just 50,000 miles and $91 round-trip.
However, because of the fare coding (I suspect) of Comfort+ and Premium Select, I could not find awards in those classes using Flying Blue miles. The same is true of Korean Air Skypass miles. The program is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. I could not find any “Prestige” or “First” awards, but economy award availability was the same as I found on Delta.com for saver-level seats.
The program charges 50,000 miles and $218 in taxes and fees round-trip, so it’s not your best option.
Icelandair has been adding routes to the US right and left lately. The most recent announcement was that the airline would launch nonstop service from Reykjavik to San Francisco beginning June 1. Before that was Baltimore (beginning May 28) and Kansas City. That brings the airline’s total number of North American destinations to 23.
The complete list of North American airports that are or will be served by Icelandair by this summer includes:
- Anchorage (ANC)
- Baltimore (BWI)
- Boston (BOS)
- Chicago (ORD)
- Cleveland (CLE)
- Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW)
- Denver (DEN)
- Edmonton (YEG)
- Halifax (YHZ)
- Kansas City (MCI)
- Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP)
- Montreal (YUL)
- New York (JFK)
- Newark (EWR)
- Orlando (MCO)
- Philadelphia (PHL)
- Portland (PDX)
- San Francisco (SFO)
- Seattle (SEA)
- Tampa (TPA)
- Toronto (YYZ)
- Vancouver (YVR)
- Washington, DC (IAD)
Aircraft: Icelandair flies a mix of 26 Boeing 757s and four wide-body 767s, and will get 16 new Boeing 737MAX 8s and 9s from 2018-2021. Those new planes will fly routes to Cleveland, Halifax and Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, Icelandair’s premium Saga Class is more like a domestic first-class seat, with recliner chairs that have 40-42 inches of pitch and are 20.5 inches wide. Economy comfort seats are 17-17.6 inches wide and have 33 inches of pitch while economy seats are 17-17.6 inches wide and have 31-33 inches of pitch.
Where to search: Icelandair’s major US airline partner is Alaska Airlines, so AlaskaAir.com is the place to search for awards.
Miles to use: Because of that partnership, Alaska MileagePlan miles are likely to be your currency of choice. Alaska requires 45,000 miles round-trip in economy, 100,000 miles round-trip in Saga Class.
Just beware as taxes and fees can be high — in the $200-$250 range round-trip.
United announced in September in 2017 that it would operate daily summer service from Newark (EWR), from May 23 through October 3, 2018.
Aircraft: United plans to use internationally configured 757-200s on this route. These planes have 16 lie-flat seats in a 2–2 configuration in business class, 45 Economy Plus seats with 37 inches of pitch and 6 inches of recline; and 108 standard economy seats with 31 inches of pitch and 5 inches of recline all in a 3-3 configuration.
Miles to use: United charges 30,000 miles each way in economy and 60,000 in business. Aeroplan charges 30,000 in economy and 55,000 in business. ANA charges 55,000 miles round-trip in economy and 88,000 in business, though no business awards were available for the duration of this seasonal route.
United is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 ratio and Starwood Preferred Guest at a 2:1 ratio, while Aeroplan and ANA are both 1:1 transfer partners of Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
The total for a round-trip award in economy using United miles would be 60,000 miles plus $54.
Using Aeroplan would cost 60,000 miles and $67 CAD ($54 USD).
With ANA, it’s 55,000 miles and $91 in taxes and fees.
As I mentioned, there are no saver-level awards on United’s nonstop from Newark-Reykjavik at this point, so there’s not a choice… yet. However, if they do become available, your best choice by far will be ANA if you’re able to find a round-trip award or Aeroplan for a one-way.
Founded in 2011, WOW Air has expanded dramatically in recent years. It now flies to 15 airports (soon to be 14) in North America.
- Baltimore (BWI)
- Boston (BOS)
- Chicago (ORD)
- Cincinnati (CVG)
- Dallas (DFW)
- Detroit (DTW)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- Miami (MIA) – this service is ending in March.
- Montreal (YUL)
- Newark (EWR)
- New York (JFK)
- Pittsburgh (PIT)
- San Francisco (SFO)
- St. Louis (STL)
- Toronto (YYZ)
Now, before you get too excited, WOW does not currently have a loyalty program and as far as I can tell based on multiple calls, agents at Amex Travel, Chase and Citi cannot find WOW flights on their airline searches. So for now, you’re stuck paying for tickets. However, fares are regularly in the $250-$300 range round-trip, so that might be worth shelling out and using your points on a hotel stay and other experiences in Iceland once you get there.
Just in case a loyalty program does come about, or we are finally able to purchase tickets using direct points redemptions, here are the airline’s four current fare classes and what they include.
- WOW Basic: Just your ticket and a personal item to carry on board.
- WOW plus: You also get to bring a carry-on bag, a checked bag and select a standard seat.
- WOW comfy: Includes those things plus an XXL legroom seat and cancellation protection.
- WOW biz: You also get an in-flight meal and priority boarding.
Before purchasing, just be sure you know what your fare class includes so you don’t get hit with add-on fees later.
Due to year-round low fares, Iceland might be a destination where it’s better to just purchase your ticket outright and save your points for on-the-ground redemptions or premium awards elsewhere, especially given the lackluster business-class seats several airlines offer on their routes to Reykjavik.
However, if you have a ton of miles to use and are looking to save some cash, there are plenty of options available to you for award tickets to this fascinating northern destination.
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