Why I Used Points to Travel to Iceland Instead of Booking a Cheap Flight

Ultra-low-cost carriers regularly offer sales whose lowest prices can emulate the best mistake fare which you can find — and Wow Air is no exception, as it offers airfares of $99.00 to Reykjavik in Iceland on a regular basis from such departure cities in the United States as New York, Cincinnati, and Baltimore…

Why I Used Points to Travel to Iceland Instead of Booking a Cheap Flight

…so why did I opt to use miles instead of taking advantage of such an incredible bargain?

I already traveled to Iceland earlier this year and plan to write a series of articles pertaining to my experience — but let us use Tuesday, August 7, 2018 as the date of departure from Baltimore; and Monday, August 27, 2018 as the date of the return flight, as those are the days when a roundtrip flight is the least expensive.

Departure from Baltimore

Click on the image for an enlarged view. Source: WOW Air.

Although Wow Air advertises flights starting at $99.99, know that that airfare can only be purchased on certain days; so you must be flexible with your schedule…

Return to Baltimore

Click on the image for an enlarged view. Source: WOW Air.

…and the return flight is almost never $99.99. Rather, it is usually more expensive — but I found an elusive airfare of $119.99, which brings the total airfare to $219.98. Not bad at all for a trip to Iceland and back — right?

Not so fast. This itinerary is one day shy of three weeks. Most people would plan on bringing at least some belongings with them; and the $99.99 airfare only includes the cost of the ticket itself — although each passenger is permitted to bring a “personal item” which measures 17 inches by 13 inches by 10 inches, which is hardly large enough for most people to carry everything that they want and need for a trip to Europe for three weeks. This means adding on a carry-on bag at the very least…

Baggage costs

Click on the image for an enlarged view. Source: WOW Air.

…at a minimum cost of $44.99 each way. Add $89.98; and the total is now $309.96.

If the maximum dimensions of 22 inches by 18 inches by 10 inches is not large enough, you can opt to pay for a checked bag of up to 44 pounds in weight — but then you need to add $109.98 to the total, as a checked bag costs a minimum of $54.99 each way…

…but as I rarely ever check bags for a flight, I am sticking with the carry-on bag and the personal item.

Do you want an assigned seat, priority boarding, cancellation protection, and a meal? All cost extra — and in this case, a minimum of $112.92 extra for the roundtrip itinerary if you choose a standard seat.

Seat cost

Click on the image for an enlarged view. Source: WOW Air.

If you prefer a Standard+ seat or a seat with extra leg room, be prepared to pay more in each direction for each flight — up to $249.99 more each way if you want the BigSeat — but I am not including any of these extra costs to my itinerary, which remains at $309.96.

WOW Air will also attempt to sell you other options — from tours to rental cars to airport transportation — but I am not including those extra costs either.

$309.96 is still an excellent price for roundtrip airfare to Iceland from the United States — but I am not based in Baltimore, New York, Cincinnati, or any other city in the United States which is served by WOW Air or even Icelandair. I am based in Atlanta, which means a positioning flight or driving is required — unless I want to once again take Megabus to the District of Columbia and had experienced problems during the trip which led to a delay of greater than three hours. I like to save money whenever possible; but to surround an international trip with bus transportation by Megabus is stopping just short of masochism.

I searched for flights using Google Flights. As the outbound flight is scheduled to depart from Baltimore at 12:45 in the morning on Tuesday, August 7, 2018, I searched for flights departing from Atlanta to Baltimore on Monday, August 6, 2018.

August 2018 flights

Click on the image for an enlarged view. Source: Google Flights.

Hey — only $146.00 round trip with a selection of flights from Spirit Airlines? I never traveled on Spirit Airlines and would not be averse to doing so — but the last flight is scheduled to land only 46 minutes before the departure of the WOW Air flight; so that would not work — meaning that if I selected the flight which landed at 3:59 in the afternoon, I would have a layover of almost nine hours through which I have to wait.

I am a member of Priority Pass; but the only lounge at the international airport which serves the greater Baltimore metropolitan area is The Club BWI — and one can stay for a maximum of three hours. I could probably get away with staying longer; but there is no guarantee of that happening.

Even if that worked out, there is another problem: I did not factor in my carry-on bag; and Spirit Airlines charges passengers for use of the overhead storage bins aboard their airplanes.

Click on the image for an enlarged view. Source: Google Flights.

Google Flights has a relatively new feature with which baggage costs can be applied to the filter — and when I applied it, the flights operated by Spirit Airlines no longer were the least expensive…

Click on the image for an enlarged view. Source: Google Flights.

…but rather, the flights which now cost the least are operated by Delta Air Lines at $201.00 — actually, $200.40, to be more precise — total for the roundtrip itinerary. I prefer flying as a passenger on an airplane operated by Delta Air Lines; but as you might have already guessed, the airfares are Basic Economy. This means that I would be the last to board with no seat assignment until prior to boarding the airplane on that same day — and I would likely be assigned a middle seat on both the departing and returning flights. At least the Basic Economy airfare of Delta Air Lines permits carrying both a carry-on bag and a personal item at no extra charge.

If I did not want Basic Economy, I could always “upgrade” to a Main Cabin — translation: regular economy class — airfare prior to purchasing the ticket for $50.00 in total. Well, I do not particularly like sitting in a middle seat; but I can tolerate it for a couple of hours — so let us say I forego this charge as well and stay with Basic Economy. The new total for my round-trip itinerary is now $510.36, which is still really not bad…

…but the time of the return flight by WOW Air is 11:45 in the evening on Monday, August 27, 2018. This means that my return flight to Atlanta would have to be sometime on Tuesday, August 28, 2018. That does not alter the airfare with Delta Air Lines; but the first flight from Baltimore to Atlanta does not depart until 6:00 in the morning, which means a layover of six hours and 15 minutes — and The Club BWI does not open until 4:15 in the morning.

What If I Avoided Ultra-Low-Cost Carriers?

What about if I just paid for flights between Atlanta and Reykjavik while simultaneously avoiding ultra-low-cost carriers — especially as no nonstop flights exist?

Click on the image for an enlarged view. Source: Google Flights.

A selection of flights appeared which were not much more expensive than $510.36 — but do I really want a layover of greater than five hours in Boston on two different airlines, with both flights often delayed by more than 30 minutes for $609.00?

At $755.00, a layover of only one hour and eleven minutes in Toronto seemed much more appealing — but do I really want to unnecessarily add a third country into this mix? I have been questioned by agents of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority the last few times I passed through Toronto and was not really in the mood to go through that again — especially if something unexpectedly went wrong.

The Delta Air Lines flight was only approximately eight dollars more expensive and was going to be the winner — except that the entire international itinerary is on a Basic Economy ticket for $763.00.

Now let us add to this mix that I wanted to stop off elsewhere in Europe while I was already there; and after conducting some research, I decided that I did not want to return to Iceland just to get back on connecting flights to Atlanta.

I then explored my options in redeeming Delta Air Lines SkyMiles. I finally decided on redeeming 60,000 SkyMiles on traveling from Atlanta to Reykjavik with a short stopover in New York; and return on a nonstop flight from Lisbon back to Atlanta — essentially creating what is known as an “open-jaw” itinerary — and I did not have to be concerned with traveling on a Basic Economy fare, as award tickets are unaffected…

…at least, as of now.

I do miss the days when additional flights could be added to award tickets at no extra charge; but a viable SkyTeam option from Reykjavik to Barcelona was not really possible anyway. I instead booked a nonstop overnight flight from Reykjavik to Barcelona on a different carrier and saved myself the cost of lodging for that night.

Summary

My experience in researching airfares reaffirmed my reasons why airfare sales offered by WOW Air are not for me — as well as why you rarely see articles pertaining to them here at The Gate. This does not mean that I will never fly as a passenger aboard an airplane operated by WOW Air — nor does it mean that all because the aforementioned sales are not for me does not mean that they automatically are not for you either. Traveling as a passenger on airplanes operated by WOW Air has worked for Ric Garrido of Loyalty Travelerbut not always, as he admits.

I never regretted redeeming 60,000 Delta SkyMiles for my trip to Iceland — that is basically the cost of a trip to Europe round-trip when award charts used to exist — which I intend to document my experience in a future article; and SkyMiles redemption sales usually do not apply to open-jaw tickets.

Also, the cost of flights was more expensive — with fewer options available — for the dates when I actually did travel from the United States to Iceland and back from Lisbon; so redeeming 60,000 SkyMiles for the trip was even more useful and valuable to me.

Deep discount airfares — whether offered by an ultra-low-cost carrier or as a mistake fare — are not always the incredible deals which they may seem to be on the outset, which is one reason why I did not take advantage of the recent offer from Iberia where one could have earned 90,000 Avios for as little as $190.00, as that deal was fraught with impediments and restrictions for me.

Similarly, careful research is important in determining what exactly is the best deal for you. Price is an important factor; but it is not the only factor. Hidden costs can lurk at every turn — especially opportunity costs — and comfort and convenience can play an important role in arriving a final decision as well.

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

8 thoughts on “Why I Used Points to Travel to Iceland Instead of Booking a Cheap Flight”

  1. Matt Bish says:

    You could have produced considerably better value by just waiting for an Iceland air flight out of Boston to come up. I took one earlier this year and got to London and Iceland round trip for less than $300. I value my points at $.02/point minimum. Adding in the $100 I paid for airfare to Boston ($50SWA/$50JB), I spent the equivalent of 20,000 points and still flew premier carriers most of the way.

    I’m based out of Atlanta too, and would love to grab a coffee with you. Please let me know if interest.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I would certainly be interested in meeting you, Matt Bish — and thank you for the suggestion.

      Would the savings on an Icelandair flight out of Boston still have worked on an open jaw ticket — for example, returning from Lisbon? I really did not want to backtrack through Iceland on my way back to Atlanta.

      Another thing I learned, however: perhaps I would rather have a connecting flight back to Atlanta than a nonstop flight. You probably already know why; but I will post the reason why in a future article…

      1. Matt Bish says:

        I’m not to sure about your open jaw question. I preferred this deal because it included rt travel and allowed me to visit both countries all under one itenerary. If you can put up with a short layover in Iceland, I would say it’s the way to go. I also see your point about the direct flight back though! How should I get in touch with you to set up a meeting?

        1. Brian Cohen says:

          You can contact me at thegatewithbriancohen@gmail.com — although I am still thinking about co-hosting a gathering of frequent fliers in Atlanta:

          https://thegate.boardingarea.com/meet-boardingarea-bloggers-atlanta-area-interested/

  2. Sorab says:

    I did a similar analysis for my trip last year & it turned out that IcelandAir was only slightly more expensive when I factored in 1 checked bag with WOW Air. What tipped the scales in favor of IcelandAir was that I could book it using my Chase UR points (1.5x on travel with CSR).

  3. kitty says:

    Just as an adventure, it could be fun to try the very cheapest WOW! fare………..and go with absolutely add ons………

  4. kitty says:

    that should have read…..”and go with absolutely NO add ons”

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