3 ways to fly Icelandair using points and miles
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Iceland has become one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and for good reason. Whether your interests lie in cultural activities, relaxing in hot springs, watching the Northern Lights, spotting wildlife or hiking through some of the world’s most picturesque trails, the island nation has you covered.
Better yet, Iceland has had a very successful reopening to tourists. It opened to vaccinated tourists from select countries — including the U.S. — earlier this year, and has kept its borders open ever since. So long as you bring your COVID vaccine card and a negative test, you can visit the country without restriction.
Although carriers like Delta and United have offered seasonal service to Reykjavik in recent years, the most flight options to the capital are still offered by Icelandair, the country’s largest international airline. The airline runs flights to nine U.S. airports, including New York-JFK, Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Seattle (SEA) and Washington, D.C. (IAD).
Redeeming miles to get to Iceland isn’t as easy as many other European destinations. That’s especially true for Icelandair flights, as the airline isn’t a part of an alliance and has limited partners. That said, there are several options for flying Icelandair using points and miles nonetheless.
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Things to know
First things first: Iceland is once again welcoming U.S. travelers — just make sure to pack your vaccine card.
Icelandair isn’t a low-cost carrier, so it doesn’t charge for carry-ons or seat assignments. All fares except for Economy Light include at least one checked bag. In-flight entertainment, soft drinks, juice, water and coffee are always on the house, while business-class passengers also get complimentary meals and alcoholic beverages.
Although Icelandair isn’t a part of any alliance, it does have a few airline partners, including Alaska Airlines and JetBlue. However, Icelandair’s partnership with JetBlue only allows members of each airline’s frequent-flyer program to earn miles on each other’s flights. The only partner you can book Icelandair awards through is Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. In the past, you could earn and redeem points through Finnair Plus, but that partnership ended in 2019.
Icelandair’s frequent-flyer program, Saga Club, is not a transfer partner of any major credit card point programs — American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou or Capital One.
Icelandair Saga Club
The most obvious way to book Icelandair awards would be through its own frequent-flyer program, Saga Club. However, it’s not useful unless you have a huge stash of points in the program. As previously mentioned, Icelandair doesn’t partner with any transferable point programs, so it can be hard to accumulate enough Saga Club points for trips.
If you have been hoarding Saga Club points, though, the program uses dynamic award pricing, so redemptions are typically based on actual ticket prices. When redeeming points for Icelandair awards, you’ll usually get about 0.46 cents of value per point, regardless of the cabin. For instance, a roundtrip economy light ticket from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Reykjavik (KEF) would cost $566.47 in cash or 122,911 Saga points next May. In Saga Premium (business class), it would cost $1,751.47 or 380,028 points.
You can choose to either book your ticket entirely with points or a combination of points and cash. Unlike some other frequent flyer programs, your points won’t lose value if you use the points plus cash feature.
Given the fairly fixed value of the points, there aren’t many tricks to maximize your returns. However, you may get greater value from your points by booking a cheap coach ticket with cash and then redeeming points for an upgrade. When booking an Economy Flex ticket, members can use points to upgrade to Saga Premium. The cost to upgrade on flights between North America and Iceland is a flat 53,000 points each way, which comes out to a reasonable $228 in value. Icelandair’s business class is similar to a domestic first class-style recliner seat, but at that rate, the upgrade could still make a lot of sense.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Thankfully, Icelandair awards are easily bookable through Alaska Airline Mileage Plan, too. You can search for availability and book Icelandair awards right on Alaska’s website.
Alaska’s award chart for Icelandair is broken down into two sections — flights between the contiguous U.S. and Alaska to Europe, and flights from the U.S. to Iceland.
At first glance, redemption rates may appear much more reasonable than through Saga Club. However, you need to remember that Alaska miles are worth much more. Based on TPG valuations, Alaska miles are worth a whopping 1.8 cents apiece, so you’ll be paying at least $540 in value for a one-way ticket.
Also, Alaska charges pretty hefty surcharges on Icelandair flights, even in coach. Fees will range from $200-$300 on a round-trip itinerary.
You could squeeze some more value out of your miles by taking advantage of Alaska’s stopover rules. And if you’re short on Alaska miles, you can easily boost your balance with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card or by transferring points from Marriott Bonvoy. However, It’s probably best to save your Alaska miles for a different trip, such as a business- or first-class redemption on Cathay Pacific to Asia or another partner, where you’ll likely get a better experience and way more value.
Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal
With fees being quite high on this redemption and cash fares often pretty low, the best option may be simply to redeem your points at a fixed value through your credit card’s travel portal.
Many credit cards allow you to redeem your points for one cent apiece toward travel. However, if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you can redeem Ultimate Rewards points through Chase’s travel portal at a rate of 1.25 or 1.5 cents each, respectively.
Icelandair often has deals from cities like Newark (EWR), Boston (BOS), Washington, D.C. (IAD) and Chicago (ORD) to Reykjavik (KEF) available for as low as $375 round-trip. When booking through Chase with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, these flights would cost just under 25,000 points.
Since these bookings are processed the same as a paid booking, you’ll typically still earn airline miles when booking airfare through a travel portal. Travelers based in the U.S. will likely want to credit their flights to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan or JetBlue TrueBlue.
Booking Icelandair flights with points and miles is pretty simple, mainly because there are only three real options. You can book with Icelandair Saga points, book with Alaska miles or go through a bank’s travel portal. Since Icelandair consistently offers cheap fares to Iceland and Europe, booking through the Chase travel portal may be your best bet — just make sure you do the math.
If you don’t have a Chase card, you can consider booking through the Citi ThankYou Rewards portal or another bank portal. Tickets purchased this way will still earn miles, making the value proposition of this method slightly higher. Just remember that you may get more value out of your points by transferring them to partners and booking premium cabin awards.
Visit TPG’s Iceland destination hub for more stories about traveling to this island nation.
Additional reporting by Brendan Dorsey.
Featured photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images.
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