Iceland has always been high on our list of places to visit (and apparently this is the case for many people!). So when Singapore Airlines announced they would be flying the refurbished 777-300er from Singapore to Copenhagen I jumped at the opportunity to book 2 first class return tickets to Reykjavik via Copenhagen for Christmas.
Our crazy one week trip to Iceland started on 20 December and ended on December 27. Using hard earned cash, this trip would have set us back $37,765 for travel expenses alone!
Here’s a rough breakdown:
- 2 First class tickets to Iceland: $34,384
- 1 Night at Intercontinental Singapore: $500
- 3 Nights at Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik: $1281
- 2 Nights at Ion Adventure Hotel an SPG Design Hotel property: $1200
- 1 Night at Hilton London Bankside: $400
Total retail price: $37,765
For a 7 day trip of which we spent 5 nights in Iceland, that’s an obscene amount of money! Of course, if you’re savvy about collecting frequent flyer points, the travel part of the trip ended up costing us next to nothing…other than a lot of points!
Here’s how I booked this trip using nothing but points + a little bit of cash to pay the taxes and some hotels (unavoidable).
The point of points
You will know by now that American Express membership rewards are by far my favourite currency of points, since it’s such a flexible program that allows you to redeem into a variety of airlines and hotels. For this trip, the redemption partners would be Singapore Airlines, Starwood Hotels and Hilton Hotels.
The key component to this trip was the first class flights on Singapore Airlines. When doing a one week trip to the other side of the world it’s important to travel well and arrive rested. When Singapore Airlines announced that the new route for the 777-300er award space was wide open (this is rare for the Christmas period), right away I logged into my Amex account and transferred the points required to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer program. Points to KrisFlyer usually transfer within 1 day so the next day I proceeded with my booking.
Booking Singapore first class with Velocity points
Keep in mind you can also transfer your Velocity Frequent Flyer points to Singapore’s Kris Flyer program which happens instantly at a rate of 1.35 Velocity for 1 Kris Flyer. Alternatively, if you have plenty of Velocity points, you can use those to book Singapore Airlines first class directly by calling the Velocity redemption team. Availability should be similar if not the same as that of the Kris Flyer inventory.
[Right now, you can get 100,000 Velocity frequent Flyer Points when you sign up to the American Express Velocity Platinum card and spend $1500 within 3 months. You will need to sign up through our partner link as this is an exclusive offer. The deal ends on 29/01/18 so don’t miss out!]. More info here.
Singapore airlines mixed award booking
If you want to do a mixed award departing from a city that doesn’t have first-class cabins you need to call up the reservations team at Singapore Airlines who can book a mixed award which works out slightly cheaper than booking business and first in 2 separate tickets.
I planned to go for a Star Alliance redemption that allowed me to get a business class ticket from Copenhagen to Reykjavik for only 9000 KrisFlyer miles more (note: you can’t do this anymore since Singapore Airlines increased the pricing of such awards).
The total cost of 2 return mixed business and first class tickets came to 256,000 KrisFlyer miles per person and covered the following route:
- Perth to Singapore: Business Class
- Singapore to Copenhagen: First Class
- Copenhagen to Reykjavik Business Class
- London to Singapore: First Class
- Singapore to Perth: Business Class
You’re probably left wondering if we swam from Iceland to the UK, the answer is no. We used 26,000 (per person) Qantas Frequent Flyer points to book British Airways business class from KEF to LHR to position for the London flight back to Perth. If you’re ever in the position to redeem Qantas points for travel on British Airways from or to Reykjavik you will have to call the Qantas Frequent Flyer team as this airport code does not show up in their online booking system.
Booking hotels with points
With the flights sorted I moved onto the hotel booking phase of the trip, which is far more complicated as it requires a lot of review reading on Trip Advisor and blogs to figure out which hotels to stay at! As it turned out, there are only a few properties in Iceland that are part of chains for which I collect points! In the end, I narrowed it down to Hilton and SPG.
There are 2 Hilton properties in Reykjavik and 3 SPG properties in Iceland. I went based on looks, location and reviews. I’m a sucker for luxury hotels and properties that are somewhat new; there’s nothing worse than staying in a dated room or a hotel with poor interior design. There is a Hilton in Reykjavik but based on the pictures I concluded it was to “worn out” for my snobby standards. Canopy, on the other hand, is relatively new and had a nice vibe to it.
Luckily the Canopy hotel was bookable with points for 60,000 Hilton Honors points per night. The going cash rate was $427, and even though you can get much better redemptions out of 60,000 points, I decided to save some $$ and spend my points instead.
When you can’t book with points… don’t pay full price
Hotel number 2 was the Ion Adventure Hotel which is a Design hotel… which is also an SPG brand (complicated right!). SPG hotel brands can be booked with SPG points, Amex is a transfer partner so it’s easy to earn them or you can buy them during one of the many sales they have during the year. A 40% bonus sales is probably what you would want to look out for to get great value.
Unfortunately, at the time of booking (July), there were only 4 rooms available for Christmas, and none of them were bookable with points! Rule number 1 is: never pay full price if you can’t pay with points. So I went looking for ways to get the maximum value out of my cash booking!
Luckily booking.com was having a promotion, in which they give you 75 euros cash back on all bookings over $400, that’s around $113 which is a great saving (PS. the 75 euro promo has finished but you can get $25 cash back when you use this link to book!). We were staying 2 nights for a total of just over $1200 so to get even more out of my booking I split it up in 2 separate reservations which allowed me to get 2 X 75 euro cash back. After making the booking, I simply emailed the hotel and requested they merge my 2 separate bookings which allowed me to save around $225 for the total stay.
Normally I would run this through the cashback site Cash Rewards for an extra 4% cash back, but the 75 euro promotion had to be accessed via a specific link… too bad. If you haven’t got a Cash Rewards account yet, sign up with this link for a $5 credit instantly: www.cashrewards.com.au/dollar-5-free
With Reykjavik accommodation organised we only needed one more hotel booking in London before the flight back to Australia the following morning. I settled on the new-ish Hilton Bankside for 56,000 Hilton Honors points, on arrival we were upgraded to a spacious and modern suite thanks to my Hilton Diamond status (BTW they have a status match challenge on right now so if you hold status with another hotel chain, go check out this promotion page:https://statusmatch.hiltonhonors.com/).
I hope you find this is a great example of how you can travel in luxury for the price of an economy ticket thanks to frequent flyer points! In all fairness, I wouldn’t stump up the cash required to book such a short trip with this price tag attached to it. It just shows that every point matters, and that all my time and effort spent on collecting them pay off when you finally can redeem them. Unlike most other assets, points don’t gain value over time, hoarding them has no purpose as frequent flyer programs can turn around any day and change the rules of the game.
Until next time, happy flying!
PS. The routing of the flights described were those of my partner. I stayed a little longer to visit family in Belgium and ended up flying to Sydney to try the brand new Singapore Airlines A380 first class after which I flew to Brisbane to position myself for an award flight on Virgin in ‘The Business’ back to Perth. Normal people wouldn’t fly this way for fun… but here’s a flight map of what my itinerary looked like.