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How I booked a trip to see the northern lights with points and miles

Dec. 30, 2021
9 min read
northern lights over frozen and snowy lake
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Seeing the northern lights is a bucket list item for many people — and given the touristy nature of such an expedition, most of the locations ranked among the "best places to see the northern lights" have become expensive.

That's for people who are paying cash, though. As you might expect, you can use your points and miles to massively subsidize a trip to see the northern lights, whether you're viewing them from Norway, Iceland or just about anywhere else in the northern lights belt.

So, let's take a look at the flights and hotels I booked with my points and miles.

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Where to see the northern lights

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

TPG has a guide to the best places to see the northern lights. I can vouch for some of these, considering this upcoming trip will be my third time going to see the aurora borealis. Check out that guide for good locations, things to consider and practical tips for your trip.

Good locations for seeing the northern lights include the northern parts of these areas:

  • Canada.
  • Alaska.
  • Iceland.
  • Scotland.
  • Norway.
  • Finland.
  • Sweden.

The last one — Sweden — is where I'm heading with my wife this holiday season.

Related: Cleared for Takeoff: A mini round-the-world trip to Sweden and South Africa

Booking my trip to see the northern lights in Sweden

This year, my wife and I will trek to Sweden to see the northern lights. (Photo by Wei Xuechao/Xinhua/Getty)

My wife and I are heading to northern Sweden to see the lights between Christmas and the New Year. My wife has never seen them before and it will be her first time visiting Sweden, so it's a good combination of firsts. I've seen the lights in past years, but it's always a treat to experience them again — especially over the holidays.

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Here's a look at how we booked this trip with points and miles, and how much money we saved in the process.

Destination - Luleå, Sweden

Luleå is one of the northern lights viewing locations listed on the Visit Sweden website. We looked through the list of possible destinations and sought out destinations where we could book flights and hotels using our current stash of points and miles. Plus, we wanted a destination that was easily within reach of a major Swedish airport. Luleå checked all of these boxes.

Booking flights to and from Sweden

My wife and I will fly KLM business class from Mexico City to Stockholm. (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

We're flying KLM business class from Mexico City (MEX) to Stockholm (ARN) with a connection in Amsterdam (AMS) along the way. Flying to Europe from Mexico is one of my favorite Flying Blue sweet spots, as it can drastically reduce the number of miles you need for a business-class award from the Americas to Europe.

  • Miles per person: 55,000 Flying Blue miles.
  • Taxes and fees per person: $280.75.
  • Cash cost of this ticket per person: $4,346.
  • Redemption value: 7.39 cents per mile.

TPG values Flying Blue miles at an average of 1.2 cents per mile, so this is exceptional value.

But what about Luleå? Since these flights just take us to Stockholm, we will need to gather our bags, clear passport control and then check in for a domestic flight with Scandinavian Airlines (SAS). This is an 80-minute direct flight from the Swedish capital.

  • Miles per person: 6,500 United MileagePlus miles.
  • Taxes and fees per person: $26.40.
  • Cash cost of this ticket per person: $114.
  • Redemption value: 1.3 cents per mile.
  • Money saved: $87.60 per person.

TPG values United MileagePlus miles at an average of 1.13 cents per mile, so this redemption is a bit above average.

After Luleå, we'll go back to Stockholm for a few days. Since we're flying during the holidays, cash prices are even higher for the LLA-ARN flight.

  • Miles per person: 6,500 United MileagePlus miles.
  • Taxes and fees per person: $20.10.
  • Cash cost of this ticket per person: $236.60.
  • Redemption value: 3.3 cents per mile.
  • Money saved: $216.50 per person.

On the way home, we're flying directly to Newark (EWR) on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) in economy class. We ended up booking this flight with Singapore Krisflyer since I had some miles stuck in my account from a canceled flight, and there was a 20% transfer bonus from American Express Membership Rewards when I topped up my account.

  • Miles per person: 27,500 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles.
  • Taxes and fees per person: $48.
  • Cash cost of this ticket per person: $685.
  • Redemption value: 2.3 cents per mile.
  • Money saved: $637 per person.

TPG values Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles at 1.3 cents per point and Amex Membership Rewards points at 2 cents per point. Our redemption is well above both of those, and we used even fewer Membership Rewards points than normally required thanks to the current transfer bonus.

Booking hotels in Luleå and Stockholm

We will stay at the Quality Hotel Lulea, which is a member of the Choice Privileges program.

(Screenshot from choicehotels.com)
  • Points per night: 10,000 Choice Privileges points.
  • Cash cost per night: $130.80.
  • Redemption value: 1.3 cents per point.
  • Money saved: $523.20.

TPG values Choice Privileges points at an average of 0.6 cents per point, so this is a great redemption. Plus, the hotel also offers free breakfast each day, further adding to the money we'll save. Even at a conservative guess of $10 per person per day for breakfast, we're saving $80 over the four nights of this hotel stay.

This is further proof that Northern Europe is a great place to redeem your Choice Privileges points. The quality of Choice hotels is generally higher in the region, and low redemption rates make it easy to score a good deal.

In Stockholm, we will stay at the Hôtel Reisen, part of the Unbound collection from Hyatt. I booked these nights using two free night certificates from my World of Hyatt Credit Card. I get one night for keeping the card open and paying the annual fee and another for spending $15,000 per calendar year on the card. This is a Category 4 property, so it would cost 15,000 Hyatt points per night if I were to book with points outright.

  • Points per night: 15,000 World of Hyatt points.
  • Cash cost per night: $258.53.
  • Redemption value: 1.7 cents per point.
  • Money saved: $517.06.

TPG values World of Hyatt points at an average of 1.7 cents per point, so this is right on par with our valuation. We have a good shot at an upgrade thanks to my Globalist elite status. Plus, this status also makes me eligible for free breakfast, giving me another $40 in savings based on our conservative value of $10 per breakfast.

Related: Saving $140 on breakfast is why I remain loyal to Hyatt

How much did we save?

Using points and miles, we're saving a good chunk of change on this trip. Here's the breakdown:

  • Money saved across all flights: $4320.70 for two passengers.
  • Miles spent across all flights: 191,000 miles.
  • Money saved across all hotels: $1,040.26.
  • Points spent across all hotels: 40,000 plus two Hyatt free night awards.
  • Total cash savings: $5,360.96.

This is a huge saving and makes an otherwise out-of-budget trip more attainable. In addition, the numbers don't factor in our free breakfasts at the hotels, something that can be a huge money-saver in Nordic countries.

Related: TPG releases brand-new points calculator to make award bookings easier

Other places to see the northern lights

(Photo by Noppawat Tom Charoensinphon/Getty Images)

As I mentioned, I've seen the northern lights in two other destinations over the years. These are my recommendations for seeing the northern lights outside of Sweden.

Fairbanks, Alaska

If you want to stay in the U.S., Fairbanks, Alaska is a great place to see the northern lights.

I recommend staying in Fairbanks and renting a car to drive to the Chena Hot Springs at sundown. Here, you'll pay $15 per person to relax in what's essentially a giant outdoor jacuzzi while watching the lights dance in the sky.

You can use points to stay at several places in Fairbanks: the SpringHill Suites by Marriott, the Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton or multiple options each for Best Western, IHG and Wyndham points. Or for the truly budget-minded, Billie's Backpacker Hostel is fantastic, too.

Alaska and Delta operate year-round service to Fairbanks (FAI) airport, while American, United and Sun County operate seasonal service.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

Tromsø, Norway

Situated in the far north of Norway, this is the first place I experienced the northern lights. It's world-renowned for the number of activities available for chasing the lights (bus tours, dog sled rides and my personal favorite: a cruise into the Norwegian Sea to find pitch-black viewing spots).

Hotel options with points include the Radisson Blu Hotel Tromsø and a handful of inexpensive options from Choice Privileges. Warning: Cash prices during the winter holidays will be very high, so use points if at all possible.

(Screenshot from radissonhotels.com)

You can fly to Tromsø (TOS) from multiple European countries on both mainline and low-cost carriers.

Related: Want to save money in Norway? Top tips on how to travel like a local

Bottom line

Seeing the northern lights is a truly unique experience, and points and miles can help you save a ton of money in the process. You can see from my trip planning that we saved over $5,000 on our northern lights trip in Sweden — and you can save even more depending on how you fly and where you stay.

Feature photo by Cavan Images/Getty Images.

Featured image by (Photo by Cavan Images/Getty Images)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
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Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

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Recommended Credit

740-850
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Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
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  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

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  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023