Booked: No Frills to the Nordics & North Africa

Hello from Reykjavik Tórshavn Copenhagen!

I’ve spent the past few weeks traipsing around a few Nordic countries and territories, which was my first time venturing to this part of the world.

Now, the rest of my trip has taken shape a little more, and I wanted to share a few more details around the next phase of this trip in North Africa.

You’ll find the rest of this article as it was originally written in mid-July, and then a follow-up section towards the end, prior to the conclusion.

The Trip

After immersing ourselves in the timeless cultural institution that is the Calgary Stampede (i.e., having a few drinks too many in the Cowboys tent), my partner Jessy and I then flew from Calgary to Reykjavik, Iceland by way of a layover in Toronto.

We’ll be spending one week in Iceland exploring the great outdoors, between the major attractions for a first-time visitor and a few off-the-beaten-path sights and sounds as well.

While this will be my first time visiting Iceland (indeed, my first time in any of the Nordic countries), Jessy had previously visited the island in 2017, so she’ll be bearing the responsibility of showing me around.

From Iceland, our next port of call will be a lesser-known Nordic island destination: the Faroe Islands, a self-governing territory under the rule of Denmark, situated roughly halfway between Iceland and the European continent.

Friends who have previously visited the Faroe Islands have championed it as “like Iceland before it was a major tourist destination”, and I’m looking forward to finding out what the 18 mountainous isles of this archipelago – whose sweeping cliffs and picturesque scenery look absolutely fascinating at first glance – are all about.

After three days in the Faroes, we’re catching a flight to Copenhagen – another city that Jessy has visited before, but I haven’t.

I’m excited to find out what makes this place among the “happiest in the world” and continue getting to know a bit of Scandinavia, which has been a glaring hole in my travel map thus far.

Jessy returns home at this point in the journey, but the rest of my trip remains largely unplanned for now. I’ll most likely be looking to meet up with some friends around Europe for another week or so, before heading home to enjoy some more of the summer back in Vancouver.

As usual, highlights, reviews, and videos are to come here at Prince of Travel.

The Pure Madness of Pursuing Mistake Hotel Rates

Like many of my trips, this one came together in a somewhat unorthodox fashion. In this case, the original motivation for visiting Iceland this summer came in the form of a few super-discounted hotel rates had popped up all the way back in the fall of 2021.

For a brief period back then, Hótel Berg near Keflavik International Airport was offering rooms for $3 (CAD) per night, bookable via Expedia. The super-discounted rooms were available on weeknights only, with weekends pricing out at the normal rates of $300+ (CAD).

But hey, a $3 hotel room is a $3 hotel room, especially in an otherwise fairly expensive destination, so I went ahead and snagged a few Monday-to-Friday reservations and started planning my first visit to Iceland in the summer of 2022.

Whenever these heavily discounted deals pop up, there’s always a bit of uncertainty as to whether or not they’ll eventually be honoured.

In some cases, everything will work out just fine, while in other cases, the hotel may commit the ethical mistake of reneging on a completed transaction – hence the term “mistake hotel rates” that you’ll occasionally hear.

In the case of Hótel Berg, the property remained completely silent about these $3 (CAD) rooms… until April 2022, when guests received emails from Expedia out of the blue letting them know that Hótel Berg had decided not to honour the reservations.

Of course, if a hotel had decided to unilaterally cancel reservations within, say, 24 hours or even a few days of making the booking, that would give prospective guests a reasonable amount of time to make alternative arrangements.

But if a hotel cancels seven months later with just a few months to go before the stay date, that’s clearly an unfair practice that can easily leave travellers in the lurch.

Fortunately, Expedia saw it that way as well, and after a few calls to the contact centre, an Expedia customer service representative agreed to re-accommodate our booking at the same property or a nearby property for no additional charge.

As much as I would’ve liked to experience the Hótel Berg and its stunning airport views, I must admit that the way they handled the situation left a sour taste in my mouth.

Instead, with Expedia offering to relocate us for free, I took a look around at other hotel options around Reykjavík.

My attention was naturally drawn to a property that was brand-new, much more centrally located, and where I could potentially sweet-talk the front desk into honouring my Marriott Bonvoy Titanium Elite benefits (though this wasn’t guaranteed, since the booking was completed via Expedia).

And that, my friends, is how I secured our four-night stay at The Reykjavik EDITION – a hotel currently charging $1,000 (CAD) or 80,000–100,000 Bonvoy points per night – for the princely sum of $12 (CAD) all-in.

The Reyjkavik EDITION

The Other Hotels

Since we only paid $3 per night, we probably won’t end up using all four nights at The Reykjavik EDITION. After all, by all accounts the most interesting things to do in Iceland are situated outside of the capital.

Having already road-tripped across this majestic land a few years ago, Jessy has arranged a series of Airbnb stays for us along the southern coast – from the Jökulsárlón glaciers to the unique island of Vestmannaeyjabær, home of the world’s largest puffin population.

Vestmannaeyjabær

Most Airbnbs fall in the region of $250–400 (CAD) per night for fairly simple accommodations, which is very much in line with Iceland’s high-season pricing. In this respect, our $12 luxury stay back in the Icelandic capital certainly helps to soften the blow.

(Plus, we’ve applied for a new American Express Aeroplan Business Reserve Card, whose new welcome bonus came on the market just in time to earn 10x Aeroplan points on up to $2,000 of lodgings.)

I then also needed to book a three-night hotel stay in the Faroe Islands. Given the remoteness of this place, there was a dearth of major chain hotels out here until very recently, when the Hilton Garden Inn Faroe Islands in the capital of Tórshavn opened in late 2020.

Hilton Garden Inn Faroe Islands

You know it’s the summer of revenge travel when a Hilton Garden Inn is pricing out at $500+ (CAD) per night – but thankfully, this is where the value of having a stash of Hilton Honors points comes into play.

The hotel was available for 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night, which meant that I was getting 1cpp+ (CAD) in value from my Hilton points, well above our target valuation of 0.6cpp.

I’ve been somewhat struggling to find a compelling use-case for my Hilton Honors points ever since I started earning them a few years ago with the Amex US credit cards, as I’ve always found better value in redeeming Hilton Free Night Rewards instead, so it’s a great feeling to finally burn some Hilton points at an excellent value.

Lastly, I still need to pick a hotel in Copenhagen, where there isn’t too much variety at first glance. I’m leaning towards the Copenhagen Marriott Hotel for a centrally-located base, though we may also go with the AC Hotel Bella Sky for proximity to the airport given that Jessy will only be staying for a quick overnight. 

The Flights

Whereas my recent May 2022 revenge travel circuit had taken place across no less than eight First Class and business class cabins, the flights on this trip will be much more spartan in comparison.

At the moment, there isn’t necessarily an ideal way to fly to Iceland from North America in a premium cabin.

Both Air Canada and United only offer narrow-body service to Reyjkavik out of the East Coast with standard recliner seats in the forward cabin, and it’s a similar story with Icelandair and their Saga Premium product.

Indeed, Air Canada even markets their Boeing 737 MAX forward cabin as “Premium Economy” rather than business class on this route, so as to avoid confusing passengers into expecting lie-flat seats. Those new Airbus A321XLRs can’t come soon enough…

Since it would be a five-hour overnight flight in a recliner seat regardless of whether we booked Premium Economy or economy class, and given Aeroplan’s wild dynamic pricing tendencies this summer, I ended up booking Calgary–Toronto–Reykjavik in Economy (Standard) for 32,000 Aeroplan points per person.

Between Reykjavik and Vágar, the Faroese settlement that hosts the islands’ main international airport, the only direct flight is a thrice-weekly service by the Faroe Islands’ flag carrier, Atlantic Airways.

This one-way flight cost $270 (CAD), which is pricey for a 90-minute flight, though in line with how much stuff generally costs up here in this part of the world.

And lastly, I redeemed 25,000 Aeroplan points for a business class redemption on SAS’s daily flight from the Faroe Islands to Copenhagen, sparing myself the ignominy of completing an entire transatlantic journey in economy class. 😉

As I mentioned, the return flights back to Vancouver are still yet to be confirmed, though I’ll definitely be looking to continue trying out a few new premium cabins and checking off bucket list items to make up for the more modest outbound journey.

Follow-Up: A North African Side Trip

In this section, let’s tie up those loose ends around my return journey with an update about what the rest of the trip looks like. 

A few wedding photographer friends of mine happened to be doing a shoot in Tunisia a few weeks after my arrival in Copenhagen, so I thought I might link up and check out another brand-new part of the world for me. 

We’ll be spending a few days in each of Tunis, the capital, and Sousse, the third-largest city. Both cities play host to Marriott properties as the obvious accommodation choice, but I may diversify a bit and join my friends at the Mövenpick Sousse where they’re being hosted.

Tunis, Tunisia
Tunis, Tunisia

Tunisia hasn’t necessarily been high on my bucket list prior to planning this trip, but I’ve heard some great things about the country as a destination here and there, so I’ll be very curious to explore for myself and experience North Africa for the first time too. 

A mix of unceremonious cash fares and Aeroplan redemptions will get me across the Mediterranean Sea en route to and from Tunisia. That leaves the question: how am I getting back from Europe?

Rather luckily, I managed to snag a seat on one of the most innovative business class products that’s been introduced in recent months: Finnair new business class, otherwise known as “the business class seat that doesn’t recline”.

Finnair new business class

That’s right, Finnair has revolutionized the premium hard product with their latest iteration of business class, and I’m delighted to have snagged a seat in this new cabin in somewhat opportune fashion.

While availability has been sparse in recent months, Finnair happened to release some extra award space on their Stockholm–New York JFK route a few weeks out, so I booked a seat for 61,000 Asia Miles + $100 (CAD) in taxes and fees.

I’ll let you know what it’s like to not be able to recline your business class seat! 

Conclusion

It’s always been somewhat surprising to fellow travel friends, and even to myself, that I’ve yet to visit any of the Nordic or North African countries until now.

I’m delighted to finally find out what the hype around Iceland is all about with Jessy as my tour guide, and then experience the unspoiled beauty of the Faroe Islands that looks straight out of an alternate universe.

From there on, I’ll continue hopping around Europe a bit on a somewhat spontaneous basis, before heading down to Tunisia to visit another new country for the first time. 

And in the end, it’s once again back to the Nordics, with a trip in Finnair’s innovative new business class cabin on my return journey to North America. 

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