Planning a Trip To Iceland
Home of fire and ice, places with unpronounceable names, a burgeoning tourist industry, and Game of Thrones filming locations, Iceland is a country with less than 350,000 people in a space about the same size as the US state of Ohio (or 25% larger than Ireland).
There is an old Yiddish tale about the man who went bankrupt from buying new shoelaces. The Reader’s Digest version of the story is that his shoelaces broke, so he replaced them. Walking down the street he noticed how he had such pretty, new shoelaces and such ugly old shoes. You can probably guess the rest of the story as he replaced his shoes, then his clothes, then his horse and carriage and ultimately his family and his house.
Incredible Flight Deal
Friends had told me of special offers for flights to Europe on IcelandAir. From the Northeast US to a number of destinations in Europe, flights on the airline could be had for as little as $399 round trip per person, including during the summer high season. Furthermore, IcelandAir allows a stopover in Iceland (where all their flights connect) for up to one week at no additional cost. You can stop in either or both directions, which is a really great feature.
Iceland has been high on our list of places to visit and since we were planning on being in Wales and the Southwest of England visiting family this summer, the deal was especially attractive as there are good connections to that area from Amsterdam, one of IcelandAir’s destinations. Although the IcelandAir website is not the easiest to use, with some experimentation we were able to get flights from Boston to Amsterdam round trip with a week stopover in Iceland on the way home for the lowest price, i.e. $399 each. We knew our flights to Boston would probably cost almost as much, but this is still far below the lowest fare from Austin to Europe we could find at that time of year.
The Rest of the Trip Planning
We knew we would want to do a fly/drive trip in Iceland, so next up was reserving a car and accommodations. Iceland is a Scandanavian country and we anticipated costs would be high. Boy, were we right! For the smallest car available (mini class), the rental fee for a week is about two and half to three times what I’m used to paying for much larger rental cars in various parts of Europe. But the bigger surprise was that going onto hotel booking sites four months before our trip, accommodations in places like the capital Reykjavik are already ready more than 60% booked. As we started to look at hotel prices, we were finding budget hotels , i.e. without an en-suite bathroom, selling for $250 or more per night. Yikes!
I did some more research and found a number of people recommending some fly/drive tour groups in Iceland. We always do our own travel planning, but I thought I would investigate, as perhaps the agency had an inside line on car and hotel bookings. The company came back with an average price of more than $700 per night for a car and standard hotel room. That’s without food, gas/petrol, entry fees, etc., etc. Ka-ching!
So it was time to roll up our sleeves, plan out the trip and seriously research our alternatives. In the end we booked well reviewed hotels with en-suite bathrooms, often including breakfast, as well as our car for much less than 1/2 of what the tour agency wanted to charge. As I was booking the hotel rooms, I sometimes found that there was only one room left at a property and that there were other people looking at it at the same time. Kind of intense.
Things to Consider
Some notes if you plan to do something similar:
- Before committing yourself to a major trip it is a good idea to investigate the full picture. Check out hotel/car/package costs and availability before booking your flights.
- Book cancel-able parts of the trip first. Many hotels and car-rental agencies these days offer lower rate non cancel-able bookings. However if there are multiple rooms available, you can book your room at the higher cancel-able rate to secure your accommodations before coming back after booking your flights and then re-book at the lower non-cancel-able rate if you want to. Sticking with a cancel-able rate may be preferable anyway if you want to have flexibility during your trip.
- Take the time and look at alternatives. With IcelandAir there were several alternative itineraries available on the same day that would have worked for us. By experimenting with flight options were were able to get the lowest fares offered. Just by changing one flight, the cost dropped by more than half.
- Splitting your trip may save you money. Using IcelandAir to book from Austin to Amsterdam would have been at least triple the cost. IcelandAir partners with only one or two US airlines and so there are limited choices for the Austin-Boston route. By just booking Boston to Amsterdam we were able to get the best deal. Our rate for Austin to Boston on an airline that is not an IcelandAir partner was much, much less. However, there are some caveats you should consider if you go this direction, in our case booking separate Austin-Boston flights and Boston to Amerstam:
- By booking the entire trip with IcelandAir your luggage can be checked through from your home city to your destination. Any problems with connections, etc. becomes the carrier’s problem and they will help reroute you (or your luggage). By booking separate flights, you may have to pay extra baggage fees. In our case, we are taking Southwest Airlines to Boston, so we get up to two free bags each. FYI, IcelandAir allows one checked bag per person at no additional cost.
- You also have to be concerned about flight connections and allow enough time between your domestic arrival and international departure, which may be from different terminals. If you have checked bags, you will need to claim them from your domestic flight before you can check in for the international flight, which will require you to go through security again, even if you arrive and depart from the same terminal. In our case, we wanted to visit friends in Boston anyway and so will be going in a few days early. However, on our return, we have deliberately chosen to fly into Amsterdam the day before our flight to Reykjavik to avoid any problems.
- Be prepared for the unexpected. Always a good mantra when traveling. When dealing with complex travel plans, sometimes things go wrong. When it is especially expensive to deal with the consequences, travel insurance makes a lot of sense.
Well, now we have a great trip booked and are looking forward to an amazing journey. Iceland has an incredible reputation for stunning views and amazing wildlife which should be lots of fun to photograph. Plus, we get to visit Amsterdam, friends in Boston, and family in the UK to boot. Its time to do more reading and watching to learn as much as we can before the trip. Coincidentally, we started to watch a Netflix crime drama called Case which is set in Iceland, so I’m going to count that as extra credit!
A week is not enough time to explore the whole country, so we are restricting ourselves to the West and South coasts on this trip. Have you been to Iceland? If so, what was your favorite experience – leave a comment.