How to get to Iceland on points and miles
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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 U.S. to Keflavik (KEF, Reykjavik’s international airport) as well as an increased route network have also helped.
So if you’ve been thinking of visiting the so-called land of fire and ice, the 2020s might just be the decade to do it. Here’s how you can use points and miles to help you on your way.
While using points and miles can sometimes be the best option to get to your destination at the lowest cost, Iceland is one of those destinations where fare sales pop up quite often, so you might actually find that this particular journey is more cost-effective by paying cash rather than booking a traditional award ticket. If you do find an extremely low-priced ticket or limited award availability, you might want to consider a flexible point currency such as American Express Membership Rewards, Barclaycard Arrival miles, Capital One miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards, These programs allow you to redeem directly for travel at a fixed rate and can sometimes be a great alternative to using your traditional airline miles. (More on these programs below).
Note: Unfortunately, low cost carrier WOW airlines collapsed earlier in 2019. At one point it was the most economical way to get to Iceland. It looks like the company is trying to make a comeback and if so, this will increase the number of options to get to Iceland.
Before we get started, here are the airline options for using miles and points to get from the U.S. to Iceland.
|Airline/Points Program||Points and Miles Options|
|Aeroplan (Amex, Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, IHG, Wyndham Rewards, Choice Privileges, Radisson Rewards)
ANA (Amex, Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, IHG, World of Hyatt)
United (Chase, Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, IHG, Wyndham Rewards, Choice Privileges, Radisson Rewards, World of Hyatt)
|American Airlines||American AAdvantage (Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, IHG, Wyndham Rewards, Choice Privileges, World of Hyatt)
Alaska* (Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, IHG, Choice Privileges)
*Effective 3/1/20 you will not be able to redeem Alaska Airlines miles for travel on American Airlines
|Delta||Delta SkyMiles (Amex, Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, IHG, Radisson Rewards, World of Hyatt)
Flying Blue (Amex, Chase, Citi, Capital One, Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, IHG, Radisson Rewards, World of Hyatt)
Korean Air (Marriott Bonvoy, World of Hyatt)
|Icelandair||Alaska (Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, IHG, Choice Privileges)|
|United||United (Chase, Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, IHG, Wyndham Rewards, Choice Privileges, Radisson Rewards)
Aeroplan (Amex, Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, IHG, Wyndham Rewards, Choice Privileges, Radisson Rewards)
ANA (Amex, Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, IHG)
|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 air travel. This option might make a lot of sense if you just want to redeem your points at a fixed rate to jump on a good airfare price so that the number of points you require is lower than a traditional airline award using an award chart.
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 doesn’t participate in a global distribution system (GDS) like Amadeus or Sabre (this was the case with WOW Airlines). 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® from American Express. However, if you have the Business Platinum Card® from American Express, 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.
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 (No longer open to new applicants) 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® Card and the Citi Premier® Card are worth 1.25 cents apiece when redeemed for airfare (will be worth 1 cent as of April 10, 2021 on the Citi Premier), while those earned from the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card 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 offers seasonal service to Reykjavik (KEF) from Montreal (YUL) and Toronto (YYZ) from the beginning of June through mid-October.
Aircraft: Although the airline typically flies these two routes with the Boeing 737 MAX 8’s, since they are currently out of service it is flying its A319-100 planes (note: These are Air Canada’s Rouge flights, and the Rouge cabin is not equipped with individual in-flight entertainment screens).
Once the 737 MAX 8’s come back into service, you’ll be flying on planes which 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.
Where to search: The best places to search for Air Canada award space is Aeroplan.com.
Miles to use: Aeroplan will charge you 37,500 miles each way in economy and 57,500 miles in business class. Despite the proximity of Iceland compared to many other European cities, Iceland is placed in the Europe 2 region in the Aeroplan chart, which requires more miles.
Related: How to maximize Aeroplan miles
United will charge you 30,000 and 60,000 miles in economy and business classes, respectively (if saver level awards are available). ANA will charge you 55,000 miles round-trip in economy or 88,000 in business class. While this is the least number of miles out of all three options, you can only book round-trip awards using ANA.
When comparing the number of miles required between the three carriers, make sure to also take into consideration the taxes and fees. For example, this round-trip economy award in June from Toronto to Keflavik using Aeroplan will cost you an additional $509 CAD ($385 USD) in taxes and fees on top of the 75,000 miles redeemed.
By contrast, an award using United MileagePlus (which is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards), ANA miles, or LifeMiles will cost you less than $100 in taxes and fees for a nonstop flight. While these options are better in regards to the lower number of miles required and less taxes and fees, award availability on these partner airlines is extremely limited.
Related: Maximizing the ANA award chart
Although American Airlines just recently launched its first route to Iceland in 2018, it is now shifting gears and will be moving its seasonal flight to Philadelphia starting June 4, 2020. (Up until now it were flying from Dallas-Ft. Worth, and that route can still be flown through October 27, 2019.)
Aircraft: The airline will continue to use the same internationally-configured 757-200 plane on the new route. The plane has 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. Taxes and fees are quite low, at just $49 roundtrip, although finding award availability on this nonstop route is quite difficult. There are only a handful of dates available in each direction, although none of them allow you to fly nonstop round trip from the U.S. on an award redemption. If you are flexible, you might be able to find availability for a one-way flight and then fly another airline in the other direction. Or, if you are visiting Iceland as part of a larger European vacation, booking just a one-way award might be all you need.
If you’re short on miles, AAdvantage is a transfer partner of Marriott Bonvoy, and for every 60,000 points you transfer, you get a 5,000-mile bonus.
Note: You can also use Alaska Airline miles as long as you book by March 1, 2020. Alaska Airline miles will cost the same 60,000 miles in economy and 115,000 in business class round trip.
Delta offers nonstop flights to Iceland from both New York-JFK and Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP). Flights from New York start the beginning of April, while flights from Minneapolis do not start until the end of May. Both routes run until the beginning of September.
Aircraft: Unfortunately, Delta is flying 757-200s with regular old reclining business-class seats rather than lie-flats. 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 from the Amex Membership Rewards program, Delta’s own SkyMiles are likely your best bet for award redemptions.
Since Delta does not have a published award chart, you’ll have to check on your specific dates to see the cost in points. If you are flexible with dates, you can fly for as low as 38,000 miles round trip for summer 2020. Taxes and fees are also quite low at just $49 round trip.
Premium Select seats will run you at least 90,000 miles, depending on the day. Fortunately taxes and fees, as well as the other classes of service, stay the same.
Just for a comparison, you could consider using Flying Blue miles instead. The program is a transfer partner of Amex, Chase, Citi and Marriott Bonvoy, giving you plenty of ways to stock up on the miles you need. A one-way economy ticket starts at 22,500 miles for an economy class seat and 56,500 miles for a business class seat. Unfortunately, availability using Flying Blue miles for the nonstop flight is limited.
Related: How to get Flying Blue miles
Icelandair has been both adding routes and taking them away over the past few years. Unfortunately, the 737 MAX8 aircraft being out of service has been quite challenging for it to service all of the U.S. cities and it just recently announced it is going to end its nonstop service from San Francisco and Kansas City to Reykjavik.
You can currently fly nonstop from these 17 destinations: Anchorage, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Boston, New York (JFK), New York (EWR), Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. (IAD), Chicago, Minneapolis, Orlando, Denver, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver and San Francisco (ending Jan. 5, 2020).
Icelandair flies a mix of Boeing 757s and 767s,. They recently added 737 MAX 8’s to their fleet, but those are currently not in their flight schedule through the end of 2019.
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 U.S. 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 60,000 miles round-trip in economy, 115,000 miles round-trip in Saga Class. Once again, for the nonstop route, using your Alaska Airlines miles is quite challenging as availability is almost nonexistent. Taxes and fees are also quite high, so you might be better off saving your miles for another flight in the future.
United runs seasonal service from Newark (EWR) between the end of May through the beginning of October.
Aircraft: United uses 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.
Where to search: The best place to search for award space is United.com.
Miles to use: United typically charges 30,000 miles in economy or 60,000 miles in business class one-way for flights between the US and Europe, which is the zone where Iceland falls. Unfortunately though, for the nonstop EWR to KEF route, finding award availability at the standard rate for an economy seat is extremely limited. For example, there is only one date currently available for summer 2020.
Otherwise, you are looking at spending almost double the number of points, at 60,000 points one-way (if you are a United MileagePlus card member you are looking at just 55,000 points for some dates). For business class flights, you are looking at spending a minimum of 90,000 points each way, with most dates being significantly more expensive in points. While using your United miles is not a great usage of miles, if you have a surplus of miles you are looking to spend, the good news is taxes and fees will only cost you $49 round trip.
It can be a good idea to tack Iceland onto an existing trip to Europe either as a one-way award starting at just 15,000 economy miles one-way or as potential free stopover using United’s award routing rules.
With partner awards, ANA, Aeroplan, LifeMiles, etc. are also options, but availability is limited. If you are able to find a date that works, ANA might be your best bet as it only requires 55,000 miles round trip in economy and 88,000 in business. Taxes and fees are also reasonable, at less than $100 roundtrip.
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. If you decide to make the trip, here are some mistakes to avoid, as well as where to stay and what to do.
Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.
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