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Since the financial meltdown of 2008, Iceland has put a major focus on its tourism industry. Slowly but surely the country pulled itself back to solvency thanks not only to some major economic reforms, but also the strength of its travel offerings. Where else can you take weeklong pony treks, snorkel between tectonic plates and watch whales frolic just offshore?
Thanks to those and many more special experiences only available there, Iceland has been appearing on lists of the world’s top destinations for years now. Of course, it helps that both Icelandair and WOW have made Reykjavik’s international airport, Keflavik (KEF), into a major transatlantic hub. WOW has even offered airfares between the US and Iceland as low as $69 each way. And while cheap paid fares are usually your best bet for reaching KEF, there are various points and miles flight options as well.
The three US legacy carriers — American, Delta and United — are also getting in on the action with seasonal flights from hubs like Dallas (DFW) on American, Newark (EWR) on United and Minneapolis (MSP) on Delta (in addition to year-round service from New York JFK on Delta).
Once you get to the land of fire and ice, though, it can be an expensive place to stay since lodging, food and activities can cost astronomical sums. Luckily, there are a few hotels where your points will come in handy for free stays in and around Reykjkavik, leaving you that much more spending money to make the most of the experiences to be had there. Here are some of the top choices.
It should be no surprise that this Nordic-leaning brand has several properties in and around Reykjavik where your Gold points can come in handy.
This hotel has been a Reykjavik mainstay for many years thanks to its central location within walking distance of most of the tourist sights, and its beautiful public spaces and rooms. The hotel has 88 rooms and suites, an all-day dining venue called the 1919 Restaurant, a cocktail bar, also called 1919, and a fitness center and meeting rooms.
Room rates start at around $285, and award nights cost 70,000 Gold points.
Though this is one of the best options in town, points-related or otherwise, you might want to steer clear of it for the time being while it carries out renovations. Still, if other options are booked, it has 236 rooms, a restaurant called Grillid, a decent breakfast buffet spread at Sunnusular and a coffee and beer bar called Mimisbar & Lounge. There is also a gym and salon at the property.
Rates start at $192 per night or 44,000 Gold points.
If you need to stay out by the airport either after a late arrival or before an early departure, you could consider this budget property close to Keflavik. It’s also just about 20 minutes from the Blue Lagoon or 45 minutes from Reykjavik itself. It has 81 rooms and guests get free Wi-Fi. There’s a casual bar and lounge and a restaurant called Vocal plus a small fitness center and salon called Om.
Rates start at $122 per night, or 44,000 Gold points.
Credit Cards to Consider
If you’re interested in the Club Carlson properties but need to stock up on points, you could consider one of the program’s three associated credit cards. The Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card comes with a sign-up bonus of up to 85,000 points — 50,000 with your first purchase and an additional 35,000 when you spend $2,500 within 90 days — and earns 10 Gold points per dollar at Carlson Rezidor hotels worldwide and 5 points per dollar everywhere else. It also confers automatic Gold status, and you can earn one free night when you charge $10,000 and renew your card with an annual fee of $75. Just note that this card does charge foreign transaction fees.
The more basic Club Carlson Rewards Visa Signature has a sign-up bonus of up to 60,000 points — 50,000 with your first purchase and 10,000 more when you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days. It earns 6 points per dollar at Carlson hotels and 3x everywhere else; has the same annual spending bonus benefit as the Premier version; and costs $50 per year. There’s also the no-annual fee Club Carlson Rewards Visa, and the Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa for folks who might be looking for a business card (its annual fee is $60).
Hilton Honors members have the most luck when it comes to using points to book a hotel in Iceland. Hilton has two Reykjavik properties already, with a third planned to open March 29, 2018.
Part of Hilton’s millennial-focused Canopy brand, this boutique property is comprised of six connected houses right between the trendy, bar- and boutique-packed streets of Laugavegur and Hverfisgata. Rooms have Canopy-brand beds, free Wi-Fi, 48-inch TVs and minifridges for snacks, plus guests enjoy complimentary breakfast and coffee and can borrow bikes for free.
Award nights at the hotel range from 50,000-70,000 points per night this year based on the season. Room rates range from about 22,125 IKR ($215 USD).
Opening March 29, 2018 in a former department store dating to the turn of the last century, this Curio Collection property is one of the biggest developments to date on Reykjavik’s small hotel scene. The location is ideal for tourists, situated right in the heart of the city near sights like the country’s Parliament and the Harpa concert hall. Guests can take advantage of room features like free Wi-Fi, minibars, espresso machines and 49-inch HDTVs. There will also be an on-property spa with a focus on traditional Icelandic bathing rituals and a fitness center.
Paid rates start at 27,375 IKR ($266 USD). Points rates fluctuate widely from just 60,000 points in the spring and winter to a whopping 95,000 points over the summer, so plan your points strategy accordingly.
The most standard of the Hilton properties is this fairly corporate-looking hotel a quick drive east of the main city center. But what it lacks in character, it makes up for in affordable rates and good points availability. The hotel has 251 rooms and suites and a seasonal New Nordic restaurant called VOX.
Room rates start at 18,375 IKR ($179). Award nights range from 36,000-60,000 points per night.
Credit Cards to Consider
Hilton ended its relationship with Citi and doubled down with American Express. As part of that deal, the two partners launched three new credit card products. The Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express comes with a bonus of up to 100,000 Honors points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months. It earns 12x points at Hilton, 6x at US grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations and 3x everywhere else. Its annual fee is $95.
The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card has a bonus of 125,000 points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months. It also has a $95 annual fee and earns 12x points per dollar at Hilton, 6x on wireless services, car rentals, US restaurants and flights booked with airlines and through Amex Travel, and 3x on everything else, among other perks.
Finally, the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express has a $450 annual fee, but comes with a $250 annual airline incidental fee credit, an annual $250 Hilton resort statement credit and a 100,000-point bonus when you spend $4,000 in three months. It earns 14 points per dollar at Hilton, 7 on flights booked with airlines or via Amex Travel, on car rentals and at US restaurants, then 3x on everything else. It also comes with complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status and a weekend award night each year of membership.
Starwood Preferred Guest has two fantastic properties in Iceland, one in Reykjavik and the other an hour’s drive away near the UNESCO-listed Thingvellir National Park. Both are members of Design Hotels that participate in the SPG program. Let’s start with the city property.
The 101 was one of Iceland’s first boutique hotels, becoming an instant landmark almost as soon as it opened in 2003. The hotel is located in a former office building whose geometric façade dates to the 1930s. It is owned and was designed by gallerist Ingibjörg S. Pálmadóttir, who has sprinkled in interesting touches like Eero Saarinen and Philippe Starck furniture pieces as well as traditional Icelandic elements like tables constructed from tree trunks, heated oak floors and wood-burning fireplaces. The hotel has just 38 rooms including six suites. There is a small spa and gym, and a restaurant called Kitchen & Wine serving up handcrafted cocktails and a mix of Icelandic and international dishes.
Room rates start at $420 from what I found, though they usually range well above $500. Award nights are available for between 20,000-25,000 points each. I looked at availability for the entire next year and could not find any nights where Cash & Points rates were available.
When it opened in 2013, jetsetters took note of this striking 45-room hotel located in Selfoss thanks to its stunning yet understated architecture and design elements that foreground the breathtaking natural scenery surrounding it. The hotel was constructed from Icelandic rock and locally sourced and repurposed wood, including a partially exposed Lava Spa utilizing mineral-rich volcanic clay harvested nearby. Rooms are spare but boast postcard-worthy views of Lake Thingvellir and Mount Hengill, as does the Northern Lights Bar, with its floor-to-ceiling windows. The hotel’s Silfra Restaurant & Bar serves seasonal, farm-fresh cuisine with recent dishes like citrus-cured arctic char with green apples, trout roe and buttermilk over rye bread.
Rates start at about $500 per night, though they often range much higher, and award nights cost 20,000-25,000 points each: One quick note, ION opened a new city hotel in Reykjavik in 2017, and though it is part of Design Hotels, it does not appear to be participating in SPG. Hopefully that will change.
Credit Cards to Consider
If you’re looking to stock up on Starpoints, the business and personal credit cards from American Express remain some of the strongest travel credit cards out there.
The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express currently offers a $100 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months. Plus, an additional $100 statement credit after your first purchase at participating SPG or Marriott Rewards hotels in the first six months. It earns 2 Starpoints per dollar at SPG and Marriott hotels and 1x on everything else. Comes with complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi access for up to four devices at once, entitles you to free premium in-room internet access, and its $95 annual fee is waived the first year. The card also automatically confers 2 stays or 5 nights of elite credit per year.
For its part, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express is offering the same bonus as the personal. In addition to the same perks as the personal version, you also get Amex OPEN Savings benefits like FedEx discounts, but keep in mind that this program is actually ending in June 2018.
Also remember that you can convert Marriott Rewards points to Starpoints at a rate of 3:1, which is another way to stock up your account if credit cards aren’t an option.
Unfortunately, Iceland has no American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts where your Platinum Card® from American Express or Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN can get you elite-style perks. Likewise, there do not seem to be any Visa Signature Hotels or Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection properties, though maybe that will change as tourism there continues to grow. However, you should still be able to put your 4th Night Free benefit to work in Iceland if you have the Citi Prestige.
Though there are not a lot of hotels that are part of major international chains, you can also redeem points for Airbnb stays in a few different ways.
If you have a Chase card that earns Ultimate Rewards points, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can redeem points at a rate of one cent apiece for Airbnb gift cards in $25 increments. If you have a Capital One card that earns miles, like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, you can redeem your miles for statement credits at a rate of one cent per mile, while if you have the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, you can redeem your miles for travel purchases including Airbnb at a rate of 1 cent per mile and get a 5% refund of your redeemed miles. For more options, see this post on the best cards for Airbnb.
So don’t forget about direct redemption and simple cash-back options if one of the hotel programs above isn’t in your wheelhouse.
Featured image courtesy of Ion Hotels.
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