Iceland Costs and our Costly Mistake

 
  Photo by  Josh Meister Photo .

Iceland is a notoriously expensive destination, so we were super price-conscious during our time there, and I think we were fairly successful in being as frugal as possible while still living it up a bit. But before we get to that...

We had a major set back before we even got there, which cost us some major dough. I debated not sharing it because I don't want to exude negativity, but I think it's a good example of how travel hacking has some challenges and can frankly screw you over at times. It's not all puppies and unicorns! (Or mojitos and swan floats in the case of travelers, I guess.) Plus, transparency and all that.

(If you don't want to read about it and just want the money deets, scroll down to COSTS below.)

Getting to Iceland on points isn't super easy. Icelandair partners with JetBlue, but JetBlue hasn't served Atlanta until recently so we didn't pursue those points (and I'm actually not even sure you can use them to book on Icelandair). I was super excited to find a workaround - using Citi ThankYou points to book on Icelandair! At the time we booked, Icelandair (and WOW, which we avoided due to lots of hidden fees) were only flying from Baltimore and Boston. We were able to book flights from Boston to Reykjavik and then on to Amsterdam 7 days later for around 67,000 ThankYou points total - not bad. But we still needed to get to Boston. Luckily we had some extra Delta points hanging around, and we spent 17,000 points (and $11.20) to get there.

Everything seemed great, until we were about to board our flight to Boston and the flight time suddenly changed to 3 hours later. What?! We had planned on a 3-hr window of time in Boston, thinking that would be plenty. Apparently not. That was our first mistake. We frantically started calling Icelandair as well as tweeting them to see if they could move us to the next flight, taking off 45 mins. later (and actually the flight we had originally booked, but for some reason, they had re-booked us on the earlier one for no discernible reason, so, second mistake - not pushing back on them about that when we got the itinerary update a few weeks prior). They were friendly, but said there was nothing they could do as we didn't purchase the ticket through their system - we had to have Citi change the ticket. Okay, fair enough.

Unfortunately, Citi's rewards travel department is apparently a nightmare to get through to as well as work with. We spent a total of 4 hours on the phone with them both in Atlanta and Boston (missing both flights to Iceland even though we were in Boston in plenty of time to make the second one), and the end result was that they said they could get us to Iceland 2 days later for about $3,000. Cash. And our points were gone because we were "no shows" for the flight. Are you kidding me?! Ultimately we wound up paying $400 ($200 each) to get our points reinstated (Citi's "change" fee), and booked tickets in cash for the next day, which cost $1400. Plus $150 for a one-way car rental to meet our friends at the location we were supposed to be at that point in the trip. Not ideal obviously. Delta paid for our hotel for the night, so at least that wasn't an added expense. Icelandair blamed Citi; Citi blamed Delta; and Delta said, hey, we got you to Boston. No one would help us because we didn't book the whole itinerary through one provider.

We've been points and miles travelers for a while without any major issues, so this was also a good lesson - it might not always make sense to piecemeal together a super inexpensive itinerary. <---The big takeaway! We would have been much better off in this case had we stuck to paying with cash or booking the whole trip through one source. (We are filing a travel insurance claim, so hopefully at least some of these additional expenses will be reimbursed - we'll update when that's complete.)

Okay, now on to the costs!

COSTS

• Atlanta to Boston flight: $11.20 (+ 17,000 points)
• Original Boston to Reykjavik flight: $0 (43,000 Citi ThankYou points)
• Emergency Boston to Reykjavik flight: $1150
• Citi points “change” fee: $400
• Car rental: $544 (our portion of a $1088 rental)
• Additional one-way car rental (literally a 3 hour rental!): $150
• Gas: $150 (our portion of $300 gas cost)
• Accommodations (3 Airbnbs for 6 nights): $434 (+ 35,000 Barclay Arrival points, which equates to $350) (double that for 4 people)
• Food/drinks/groceries: $565, which comes out to just under $50pp per day
• Extras (tours, hot springs, etc.): $255

TOTAL: $3,660

Overall, I'm going to give that a solid C on spending. Had we not had the flight issues, our total would have been about $1960, twice our weekly goal, which isn't terrible for one of the most expensive places in the world. But we could have booked a cheaper vehicle (it went up in price about $400-$500 during the week we debated which car to get), and we could have found some less expensive Airbnbs. We did do well in a couple of areas though, and I've got some tips below.

 

MONEY SAVING TIPS

  • Only buy groceries from Bonus or Kronan - the other grocery stores charge as much as 400% more for the same items, and tourists don't pay attention, so they get away with it.
  • Never pay for water - Iceland's water is some of the cleanest in the world. Take a collapsible water bottle and just refill it at any tap.
  • Buy alcohol at the duty free shop at the airport - it's the cheapest option. And don't buy beer at the supermarket - it's all under 2.5% alcohol. (You need to go to a special store, Vinbudin, for anything over that.)
  • Take advantage of all the natural attractions - they're almost all free! Waterfalls, hikes, geysirs, and even many hot springs are completely free. No parking charge, no entrance fee, just free.
  • In Reykjavik, go out for drinks at happy hour. Lots of restaurants and bars have deals that may go to as late as 11pm.
  • Also in Reykjavik, take a free walking tour with City Walk. The tour is super interesting, and you only pay a gratuity at the end.
  • Eat hot dogs and other gas station (or street) food. You can get hot dogs all over the place in Iceland - they're cheap (relatively speaking) and good. The gas station food is actually really nice. One night outside of Reykholt, we made a full dinner from the food we bought at the N1 station, including gourmet cheese, fresh baked bread, local tomatoes, and chicken.
  • Speaking of gas stations, don't choose the "full tank' option at the pump. It will put a hold on your credit card of around 25,000 krona (approximately $250) for several days or weeks until it figures out how much you actually pumped, at which point it will bill you for that amount and reimburse the difference.
  • Skip the Blue Lagoon. I know, I know. It's something you have to do. But it's really pricey and really not that great. When we were there, it wasn't even very warm. I was actually shivering half of the time.

Overall, we had an amazing time in Iceland and hope that if you take a trip there, you're able to do it relatively inexpensively!