Travel hacking Iceland
Travel hacking Iceland this summer was the only way the trip was going to happen. We only had so many days that our kids were going to all be out of town (without us) and didn’t want to break the bank. But who really does, ever? It actually all started with a new low cost carrier flying from Baltimore (BWI) to Reykjavik and offering $99 one way flights. We found lots of opportunities to use points, rewards and even cash back in order to save over $2800 during our 6 day trip. Here’s how we did it.
1) Flights: The first trigger pulled were our BWI to Reykjavik flights with Wow airlines. With a seat size upgrade, luggage fees, and specific date pricing our total for 2 people was $800. The problem is we don’t live in Baltimore. Positioning ourselves in Baltimore could have been a deal breaker, but we used Southwest points for 2 non-stop flights to BWI. Icelandair is the main carrier from the US, but they don’t participate in any alliances or points programs. Delta airlines also flies to Reykjavik during the summer season if you have a lot of Delta skymiles to burn. Total savings on flights $706
2) Hotels: Hilton and Radisson are the only two chain hotels available to book with reward points. We stayed at the Hilton Nordica for 1 night (40,000 points total) and the Radisson Blu1919 for 2 nights (44,000 points total) to help curb our costs. Since they are hotels in the capital, there are no resort fees associated with either of them. Obviously this requires advanced planning. I use Hilton as a part of my ongoing points strategy, but picked up Club Carlson (Radisson) when I knew it would pay off in Iceland and Europe. You can check out my tips for earning reward points here. The reservations for our June trip were booked by the previous December, but it never hurts to inquire. You can always try a hostel or airbnb for more budget options. Total savings on hotel stays $1350.
4) Car rental: Prices in Iceland for car rentals are notoriously high. I secured a 4×4 SUV through Hertz because I knew we needed it for some places off the beaten path. While this was one of the most expensive options, I had been saving up my cash back on the Barclay arrival world mastercard for just that purpose. I was able to get a credit of $625 on the rental car. I also earned Hertz points for the rental. When the data on our smart phones didn’t work we were glad to have paid extra since our SUV came with a navigation system. It saved our road trip from being a complete disaster. I also earned Hertz rental points for the duration. I’ve read that local companies can be a much better deal on car rentals in Iceland, so you can always try that angle. Total rental car savings $625.
5) Food: I know that breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day, but I have a hard time with it. My stomach needs a little bit more time to wake up. I’d also rather have a few minutes of extra sleep and grab an energy bar or granola bar for the road. Our first morning off the plane we paid $60 for breakfast for 2. I’m sure it can be found cheaper, but that was our experience. So by bringing bars from home, or only eating breakfast if it was included in our room rate, we saved there. One of our excursions, inside the volcano, came with a bowl of lamb stew at the summit. That was lunch that day. Also, the ever present hotdog stands are a cheap way to grab a quick bite. Hitting the grocery store before we went on our road trip saved money as well. We stocked up on water and snacks for the road so that we could avoid convenient store prices. Gas stations on the far southeast side of Iceland are a little scarce, so we were glad we had some provisions to get us through to a late lunch or dinner somewhere. It’s hard to calculate, but I think the total food savings were around $300.
6) Credit card/ Phone fees – These small fees are often overlooked. Do not use a credit card in Iceland (or any foreign country) that charges a foreign transaction fee. Just take the ones that charge fees out of your wallet and leave them at home. Always pay in the foreign currency, in this case, Icelandic Kronur. The exchange rate from your credit card company will be much better than the gift shop in country. Don’t forget to sign up for the international calling plan for the country you are visiting. We’ve had this done before we left and cancelled the service as soon as we got home. Without it, that call or text will cost way more than you thought. Although in Iceland, our data never worked and we were credited back the money when we returned and complained. Some of my travel blogger friends swear by T-mobile with free international roaming, so you might want to check that out.
So there it is. How I saved money without staying in a hostel, hitchhiking, or couchsurfing. I want to save money as much as the next guy, but I’m more comfortable in the middle, somewhere between camping and the Ritz Carlton. Most of my posts about saving money can be found under the loyalty button on my home page. Iceland has a wide variety of accommodations, transportation and activities at every price point. So don’t let price deter you from such a great place!