On Saturday I outlined how to take advantage of stopovers in Europe using United Airlines miles. Today, I will outline a way for you to reach fairly remote cities in Europe cheaply using Iceland as your launchpad. This trick is not limited to United miles.
WOW Air routinely offers cheap one-way fare to Iceland and major cities in Europe. Thus, this trick is less about getting to London or Oslo or Madrid for cheap and more about either 1.) stopping over in Iceland or 2.) reaching “secondary” cities like Hannover, Lyon, Sofia, or Tbilisi for cheap.
It’s simple. Wait for a WOW Air fare sale (they seem to run every couple months with one-way fares as low as $69), book it, then use United (or American or even British Airways miles) to travel to other cities in Europe.
This is particularly valuable if you wish to spend time in Iceland, since the cheap WOW Air fares do not allow a stopover in Reykjavik.
Here’s what I mean by saving money.
Say you want to travel to Athens next and go business class.
You can use 22.5K AA miles (+$37 in taxes) and even enjoy a full day in Helsinki on the way.
The same ticket is over $2,000 if purchased with cash. Not that you’d ever pay that much, but it does show the value of using miles strategically for one-way travel within Europe.
Or how about going to Tbilisi, Georgia? 15K United miles in economy class 25K in business class all the way from Iceland.
That’s a great value. The long layovers are not necessary, but a nice way to check out two additional cities for no extra miles if you are so inclined. There were more direct routes available as well.
How to Get Home
Okay, great. I’ve got my stopover in Iceland and I got to Europe cheap. How do I get home?
Maybe you’ll get lucky and find a cheap one-way cash ticket home, but it is almost always cheaper to get to Europe on a paid ticket than to return home. That’s the WOW Air bait…we’ll get you here for cheap, but often you’ll pay dearly for coming home.
But it doesn’t take more miles to travel west than it does east…as long as there is space. And with some flexibility you can almost always find enough award seats for the whole family, especially if using United miles (which has several Star Alliance partners based in Europe offering transatlantic service). So instead of 60K miles each for a round-trip economy journey, you might be looking at $100 for the ticket to Iceland with one checked bag, 15K miles to reach your secondary European city, and 30K miles to come home.
This isn’t a hack to get free travel, but it is a viable strategy to save on your overall ticket price if going to Europe, especially if miles are tight. Before booking your next award trip to Europe, especially in economy class, considering checking fares to Iceland first.
top image: Milan Nykodym / Wikimedia Commons
There are also many Iceland routes to European cities with low cost carriers. Last year on a WOW $69 one way ticket to Copenhagen, I skipped the connecting flight to stay in Reykjavik, then flew to Vilnius, Lithuania for $72 with Wizz Air. That was less than the price for a ticket from CPH-VNO.
Good point Ric!
With the recent fare wares, Y redemptions across the pond really don’t add up. Why spend 60k miles + $100 in fees if you can get a ticket for $400 all in?
Of course it’s depended on your lead time and target destinations, but recently I’ve been struggling to find a good use for miles in coach (and in case of short TATL flights in C as well).
Writing this from a Europe perspective, which is actually a 180deg from ‘but it is almost always cheaper to get to Europe on a paid ticket than to return home. ‘. I’ve been constantly getting EU-US round trips for under $500, even at days notice.
Spending $100 for WOW + 45k & fees for UA seems like a worse deal then spending 60k & fees on UA plus a cheap LCC flight to KEF (or elsewhere) give you’re potentially getting a better product (lounge access and Y+ on UA) and can utilize the stopover to visit another destination.
Also, Icelandair offers free stopover even on their lower fares, and if you look for a bargain, you can find them for around $300 one way from EU to the US. Much better deal then spending 30k UA in my book.
For you and me, I agree.
But for most who don’t have status or lounge access or people who just want to minimize out of pocket while still reaching some more difficult destinations in Europe, I think this makes sense.
If you can find availability on the difficult destination short haul segment you can usually find plenty of options like EWR-FRA to position.
Adding the complexity of multiple airline and ticket combinations isn’t much of an issue for us, but for regular folk I don’t think it’s worth the trade off.
Anywho, I’d try to do it the other way around. Fly on miles as directly as possible ex-US to minimize fees (You’re not getting your $50s worth from a LHR/FRA connection…) and then paying for tickets ex-EU where all the extra charges you’d have to pay for an award are bundled in at a discount.
Matthew – interesting article. So if all of my award miles are AAdvantage miles (I have about 250k), and Iceland is the place I want to go in Europe, what is the best way to get there using my miles as much as possible (coming from NC)?
I’d recommend buying a cheap ticket to Iceland, then using miles to get back or continue to Continental Europe. Most cheap fares to Iceland are from the USA to Iceland (and are far more expensive in the other direction).