I studied abroad in Finland many years ago and had quite the enlightening experience. I visited the Finnish sauna almost every day to receive rejuvenation. I’ve always wanted to take my wife there to share with her the culture and healing power of the people and the land, so we went this month.
In this multipart trip report, I will share the trip planning workflow (that started a year ago), what flight/routes I explored, how I booked award tickets and a summary of the trip itself. Using my experience and guidance, you can also plan a trip to Finland (or any European country) using miles and points!
Plan early and write out your theme
We planned this trip about a year ago, in the fall of 2015. When planning for any trip, write out your desires. Here were ours:
- Visit in the summertime (it’s very different in the winter).
- Visit host families (with whom I still keep in touch).
- Enjoy the Sauna daily.
- Stopover at another European city (since we will already be in the neighborhood).
Also, don’t be afraid to write out things you don’t want to do. Self-limiting helps to keep you focused.
Determine your destination, season, and duration of travel
I started to arrange an itinerary using our above guiding principles.
Season: Likely July/August period. Shooting for Aug since award inventory in July is tough. We have some flexibility in travel dates.
Duration: We want to take advantage of two weekends, so an 11-13 day journey seems ideal. We can extend to two full weeks if award availability exists.
Now that we had a destination and timeframe, we could start working on the flights.
Determine what frequent flier programs to use and count your miles
- Determine where/when you want to go (airport code: HEL for Helsinki).
- Determine your stopover location (see below).
- Total how many miles you have (I had enough for two one ways on two alliances).
- Determine which programs can get you there (factoring in transfer partners).
- Transfer enough miles to the appropriate program(s).
- Look for availability, one route at a time (next post).
I had been searching award availability for a couple of months when space opened up in January this year. I ferried enough miles from my SPG program to top off my A3 account for two one-way awards (it only took two days to transfer). The 45k miles each way NA to EU in business class is a lucrative sweet spot, so I started crediting *A flight miles to A3 in early 2015.
Where do you want to stopover?
The main destination is HEL, but we want to visit another country on the same trip, so finding a natural stopover was ideal. A natural stopover is any major hub that you would likely transit through anyway to get to your destination. We wanted to visit Iceland, but CPH, OSL, DUB, had much better award availability. We avoided LHR like the plague due to fuel surcharges.
I researched stopover options and rules with A3 or AA:
- AA (Oneworld): no stop over allowed, but natural plane stops for OW awards include ORD, MIA, JFK, YYZ, DUS
- A3 (*A): no stop over allowed either. Natural plane stops are normally east coast, FRA, IST, or CPH. I used ITA Matrix, filtered by *A to find MUC (UA/LH) and ZRH (LX – swiss).
Since no stopover was possible on our award tickets, we needed to find a reasonable cash ticket to the 2nd EU destination and ideally, one that has easy routing for the return award. I used ITA Matrix to find the routes:
- HEL-CPH 60-100 Euros on AY, DY, SK, almost every hour.
- HEL-OSL 99 Euros on AY, DY, SK, five daily scheduled flights.
- HEL-DUB: 333 Euros on AY, once per day and monopoly.
Due to the reasonable cost, flight availability, and desire to visit this Scandinavian capital, we decided to stopover in CPH. That also means our return (inbound) award will originate from CPH.
In the next post, I will share how I tested routes and searched for award availability. Ask your questions below!