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

Dec 30, 2021

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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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In This Post

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

Northern Lights over the Stockholm Tree Hotel
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.

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

Northern Lights over Fairbanks Alaska
(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.

JFK to FAI via SEA SkyMiles award ticket
(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.

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