Planning Our Trip To Iceland

Iceland has been on our radar for a while.  Coming out of the pandemic, which significantly curtailed our international travel, we asked both of our children to pick out a destination that was high on their list.  Our teenage daughter quickly picked Iceland.  I knew I had my work cut out for me in terms of paying for the trip. I plan to write quite a bit about Iceland.  Here’s what I hope to write about in the future:

  • Hotel reviews of the Konsulat and Canopy (Hilton properties) in Rekyjavik, along with our impressions of downtown Rekyjavik.
  • Experiences driving the Ring Road, including the challenge of purchasing gas and a pretty hefty speeding ticket.
  • Our time in the Golden Circle, including the Geysir, Gullfoss Falls and baking bread in a geothermal spring.
  • Seeing Puffins!
  • Our hotel stops outside of Reykjavik, in Vik, Hofn and Moorudalar.
  • Iceberg lagoon boat tour
  • Skogafoss Falls and Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon as well as the plane crash in Sólheimasandur.
  • The lava fields near Lake Myvatn.
  • A quick afternoon in Akureyri.
  • Descending into the volcano at Þríhnúkagígur.

Many of the travel folks I know have commented on how stunning and pricey Iceland can be.  Without many options to redeem points and miles I needed to be creative in my thinking.  Let’s take a look at how I booked our airline tickets, hotels and rental car.

Booking Airline Tickets To Iceland

From our home market of Washington, DC there aren’t a ton of options to get to Iceland.  There are two airports in the capitol area of Reykjavik.  Keflavik (KEF) is the international airport and that’s the one you’ll want to focus on.  Icelandair is the dominant carrier at KEF.  Delta, United and Air Canada are options from North America as well as upstart discount carrier Play (the reincarnation of Wow Air).  Between them you can find flights to Iceland from a number of gateway cities such as Boston, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, New York, Washington, DC and Toronto.  That’s a smaller list than in the past and some of these city pairs don’t have service every day.

Dating back to before the pandemic, I had transferred a bunch of American Express Membership Rewards points to Delta.  I had taken advantage of a very lucrative offer Delta had that essentially doubled the value of SkyMiles if you redeemed them for a Delta Vacations trip.  Delta Vacations is their package arm, combining flights with hotels and rental cars.  We had originally planned a trip to Bermuda in 2020 but COVID killed that.  Delta kept extending the vouchers associated with that promotion and we ended up using that to book our Iceland trip.  Initially, I booked flights, some hotel rooms and a rental car.

For the airline ticket portion, it was an interesting process.  Economy class pricing was roughly $500 round-trip for most of the dates we focused on.  Business class was way out of reach, clocking in at $3K or more per ticket.  We ended up choosing economy class, however I was able to upgrade us to Comfort+ using miles.  Delta Vacations couldn’t do this but the Delta Diamond desk made quick work of it.  I had to split the reservation in two because Delta would only allow me to upgrade two people per reservation with miles.  An odd rule, but I’m still learning some of the intricacies of the SkyMiles program.

It was a relatively affordable 13,900 miles per traveler to upgrade round-trip to Comfort+.  Definitely a good deal.  The only other affordable option I saw during my research was Play out of Baltimore.  Play does have a reasonable amount of legroom and worth your consideration.  At the end of the day I didn’t want to take the risk of a cancellation and I had the sizable Delta credit to use up.

Award flights on all carriers were remarkably expensive for the summer travel season.  Each to their own, but I didn’t see anything I would refer to as a good deal.  As it turned out, neither our flight to Iceland or the return were full.  In fact, there were 60 empty seats on our return flight.

Booking Hotels in Iceland

When planning your trip to Iceland you need to think of lodging in two categories, “Reykjavik” and “everywhere else”.  Reykjavik has plenty of options to redeem points across some of the major chains including Hilton, IHG and Marriott. We chose two Hilton properties.  The Reykjavik Konsulat, a Curio collection property, was an incredible choice to start our trip.  We selected the Canopy by Hilton City Center when we returned to Reykjavik.  A solid property with a few small wrinkles.  Hilton also has a full-service Hilton property but I think the locati0on of the Konsulat and Canopy are much better for exploring the city especially if you don’t have a rental car.  Even if you do have a car parking can be a challenge in the city center.

Reykjavik Konsulat, A Curio Collection Property

Outside of Reykjavik the hotel situation is much different.  You won’t really find any chain hotels.  And, you’ll find considerable distance between towns that do have lodging options.  There are plenty of sights to see in Iceland so you can be comfortable knowing that virtually any town you pick to sleep outside of Reykjavik will have a number of breathtaking sights to take in.  Airbnb is a real option to consider.  Hotels.com has plenty of independent hotels.  And, I was even able to find a few hotels on the Capital One travel portal to earn 10X on my Capital One Venture X card.

The best hotels traditionally book up very early in Iceland.  Most travel experts recommend booking at lease six months ahead of time.  I think that’s accurate.  We booked our flights in February for a June departure.  I started looking for hotels shortly thereafter, in early March.  By that time choices were significantly restricted.

Another consideration, especially for when you get outside of Reykjavik, are the actual room attributes.  Many hotels I researched had only shared bathrooms left by the time I wanted to book.  As well, virtually none had King beds.  A good number listed vague descriptions such as “1 Queen or 2 Twin Beds” with no way to select your specific bed type.  A family of four is almost certainly going to need to book two rooms.  That being said, we did also find some rooms that had four twin beds.  The bottom line is that you’ll need to put in the work to find the right lodging situation for your trip.

Booking Rental Cars In Iceland

We ended up with a bit of a dumpster fire when booking a rental car.  As part of our Delta Vacations package we also booked a rental car.  While the price of Delta Vacations trips is one lump sum without a breakdown I was able to figure out that our rental car was approximately $1400.  Due to the certificate that I had to use up I was required to book our trip with a phone agent.  Unfortunately, the agent made a mistake when she booked our trip and only reserved a rental car for the last day of our vacation.

To further compound the error I didn’t check the confirmation e-mail closely enough and only noticed the error a couple of months after booking, when prices had already gone up significantly.  I ended up paying almost double for our rental car, though Delta Vacations did make up some of that difference.

Rental cars are another expensive part of planning a trip to Iceland.  Cars themselves aren’t cheap.  If you’re planning a winter trip (roughly October to March) you’re also going to want to seriously consider a 4-wheel drive vehicle.  Road conditions can also be quite poor in Iceland.  We saw plenty of vehicles covered in mud and drove plenty of roads that could easily damage a rental car.  I strongly recommend considering opting into the insurance car rental companies sell, despite the steep price.

The Final Two Pennies

I’m hoping to go into a lot more detail in future stories about our hotels and the entire Ring Road experience.  Suffice it to say that planning our Iceland trip took more time than any other vacation I can recall planning for our family.  And, it was also clear I didn’t put in nearly enough time.  Still, we were able to wing it and call a few audibles.  It was an incredible trip, one that would have been even better with more planning.

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, make sure to do your research.  Tourist attractions close periodically.  And, even though summertime will give you 24 hours of daylight it will not give you nearly that much access to restaurants and shopping.  You won’t regret putting in the extra time to figure out the perfect Iceland vacation.

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2 Comments

  1. I would skip Hofn. We did just a few weeks ago to split the drive up. Found it to be boring. There is not much to do at all. The harbor doesn’t look like the pictures.

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