Greetings, Fellow Travelers!
BLUF: This four-part AAR covers the journey, destination, and activities of our trip to Iceland. Iceland is full of amazing wonders: waterfalls, geysers, wildlife, and fresh air. Over the past five years, Iceland has become one of the most popular destinations for tourists. In turn, Iceland’s tourism infrastructure has risen to the challenge to accommodate that influx with new hotels, bars, restaurants, and a fantastic airport. I recommend a visit, but more than most places, seasonal differences in airfare, room rates, activities, and crowds prevail. Definitely do your research.
Today’s AAR takes us to Iceland.
Iceland is approximately a three-hour flight from continental Europe. From FRA, the non-stop choices are Lufthansa (LH) or Icelandair (FI). If you recall my ALL HANDS post on the most useful airline status in Europe (Star Alliance Gold via United Airlines Gold), flying LH FRA to KEF is where I started my search, but it’s not where I landed.
In May 2018, Joey and I were in the Iberia Premium Lounge Velázquez at the Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD) Terminal 4S finishing up an amazing Memorial Day weekend in the Spanish capital when I started thinking about spring 2019 travel. At end of 2017, I refocused our loyalty toward Alaska Airlines. With its diverse partners and incredibly generous accrual bonuses, the Alaska Mileage Plan frequent flyer program is my favorite program.
While I’m still a fan of United Airlines, the Icelandair and Alaska partnership offered an outsized accrual opportunity. With an Icelandair Saga Class “A” fare (discount business class), I could earn 125% elite and redeemable miles within the Mileage Plan program based on FRA-KEF-FRA number of miles flown. With my Alaska MVP Gold status, I’d earn an additional 100% redeemable mile bonus. So, I was looking at a hefty haul of Alaska miles for the trip.
In the Iberia Lounge, I used Google Flights to search dates in April and May 2019 for a long-weekend with a reasonable FI Saga Class fare. For $600 each ticket, I purchased two roundtrips from FRA-KEF, Friday to Monday. The total trip was 2758 miles, so with bonuses, I earned 6206 redeemable miles in Mileage Plan. I also earned 3448 elite miles toward maintaining Mileage Plan MVP status. If the numbers are losing you, for me and many in the points and miles world, the travel experience is the journey, the destination, and the math!
If you’ve flown a U.S. carrier in their domestic First Class, Saga Class offers essentially the same large recliner seat. Included with Saga Class is lounge access (in FRA, it’s the Air France Lounge in Terminal 2; in KEF, it’s the fantastic Saga Lounge). We were offered lunch on the flight to KEF and breakfast on the return, and we could pre-order our meals via Icelandair’s website before the flight. I highly recommend this as it offers more options than the plane’s menu. I had the beef loin; it was delicious.
Saga Class also came with Icelandair-branded noise-cancelling headphones to enjoy with the seatback entertainment. I’m not an audiophile by any means, so I’m not as particular about headphones as some. Still, the headphones were great for the ride, and noise-cancelling enough for watching BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, BOB’S BURGER and FRESH OFF THE BOAT episodes.
Like most European airports, KEF has both Schengen and non-Schengen zones. From Germany, we landed in the Schengen area, so no immigration was required. The Saga Lounge (the only one in the airport) is in the Schengen area between the A and C gates but very close to the non-Schengen border control gates. If you have access to the Saga Lounge, I highly encourage you to visit, and if flying to a non-Schengen destination, give yourself enough time to reach your gate after the border.
Duty Free is extremely popular at KEF. Lots of people were stocking up on wine, beer, and spirits after baggage claim. We rented a car for our stay. The Avis counter line was about 40 people. Luckily, our Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card confers Avis Preferred status, so we skipped to the front of the line and departed the airport with minimal delays. With no checked luggage, I’d estimate 20-25 minutes from landing to reaching and starting our rental car.
In sum, Icelandair was a great way to get from Germany to Iceland. Without WOW, Icelandair has an almost complete monopoly on airfare and facilities at KEF. Deals through other European and U.S. carriers can be found, but you have to be extra patient and flexible to find them. All and all, FI’s big recliners and Saga Class service was a great way to start our Iceland adventure.
Next, Part 3: Reykjavik and (almost) midnight sun…
Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.
“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”
Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler