How to fly Icelandair using points and miles

Sep 1, 2020

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Editor’s note: As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

Over the past few years, Iceland has become one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. 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.

Although carriers like Delta and United have expanded their service to Reykjavik in recent years, the most flight options to the capital are still offered by Icelandair, the country’s oldest and largest international airline. In normal times, the airline runs flights to over ten U.S. cities, 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 remember

First things first: Iceland’s borders are still closed for U.S. passport holders and there are strict entry requirements for those eligible to travel there. Given the circumstances, many flights to Iceland are being canceled — often at the last minute. We recommend you review our guide on how to avoid booking ‘ghost flights,’ which aren’t likely to fly.

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.

Related: 9 common mistakes you don’t want to make in Iceland

Icelandair’s partners

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 to earn miles on each other’s flights. The only partner you could 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 credift card point programs — American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou or Capital One.

Related: Review of Icelandair from Reykjavik to New York in economy

Icelandair coach seat on the 767-300. (Photo by Brendan Dorsey/The Points Guy)

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 miles.

Saga Club uses dynamic award pricing, so redemptions are typically based on actual ticket prices. When redeeming points for Icelandair awards, you’ll typically get about 0.43 cents of value per point, regardless of the cabin. For instance, a roundtrip economy light ticket from Boston (BOS) to Reykjavik (KEF) would cost $387 in cash or 89,141 Saga points. In Saga Premium (business class), it would cost $1,574 or 362,389 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.

(Photo by Icelandair)

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 book a cheap coach ticket with cash and then redeem 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. Icelandair’s business class is similar to a domestic first class-style recliner seat, but at that rate, the upgrade could make a lot of sense.

Saga Premium on Icelandair’s 767-300. (Photo by Brendan Dorsey/The Points Guy)

Alaska Airline Mileage Plan

Thankfully, Icelandair awards are easily bookable through Alaska Airline Mileage Plan. You could search availability and book Icelandair awards directly on Alaska’s website.

Alaska’s award chart for Icelandair is broken down into two sections — flights between the contiguous US and Alaska to Europe, and flights from the US to Iceland. Unfortunately, as of Feb. 2020, Alaska no longer discounts coach rates during the low season.

Related: How to redeem miles with the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program

(Photo by Alaska Airlines)

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 one-way in coach and $900 one-way in business.

Also, Alaska charges pretty hefty surcharges on Icelandair flights, even in coach. Fees will range from $200-$300 on a round-trip itinerary.

(Photo by Alaska Airlines)

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 to redeem your points at a fixed-value through your credit card’s travel portal.

Most 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 could redeem Ultimate Rewards points through Chase’s travel portal at a rate of 1.25 or 1.5 cents each, respectively.

Icelandair currently has deals from cities like Newark (EWR), Boston (BOS), Washington, D.C. (IAD) and Chicago (ORD) to Reykjavik (KEF) available for select dates between now and April 2021 for as low as $375 round-trip. When booking through Chase with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, these flights would cost just 25,000 points.

Expedia powers chase’s travel portal, so if the flight you want is available on Expedia, you’ll find it on the travel portal. Plus, you’ll typically still earn airline miles when booking airfare through a travel portal.

Related: How to use the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal

Bottom line

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 dirt-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 even higher. But remember that you may get more value out of your points by transferring them to partners and booking premium cabin awards — just not on this trip.

Visit TPG’s Iceland destination hub for more stories about traveling to this island nation.

Additional reporting by Brendan Dorsey.

Featured image by Vytautas Kielaitis/Shutterstock

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