Air Travel

I Flew With Play Airlines to Iceland, and the Low-Cost Ticket Allowed Me to Splurge on Geothermal Pools and Northern Lights Tours

Low-cost carrier Play shuttles U.S. fliers to Iceland and onto Europe for as little as $99 one-way.
I Flew With Play Airlines to Iceland and the LowCost Ticket Let Me to Splurge on Geothermal Pools and Northern Lights Tours
Courtesy Play Airlines

Seeing the Northern Lights has been a travel dream of mine for years. In October, I finally made it to Reykjavik, Iceland, on a flight with Play Airlines, to try to view those prismatic colors that light up the sky between September and April each year. The country’s proximity to the Arctic Circle makes it an ideal location to see the lights on a clear, cloudless night. 

Play is a low-cost airline founded in 2019, with flights from North America to Iceland, and connections throughout Europe. The airline’s tagline to “pay less, play more” sold me, particularly as airfare prices on competing airlines were at least $200 more. As with many low-cost carriers, the motto of paying less upfront translates into add-on costs for things like carry-on bags and priority boarding ($34 each), a checked bag ($44), seat assignments (between $6 and $48 for U.S. flights), and snacks. But even with all the extra fees, flying with Play was still the most economical option for my trip. My flight from New York’s Stewart International Airport, returning through Boston Logan International Airport, cost me just $347 roundtrip.

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Where Play Airlines flies

Play’s U.S. routes include Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI), Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), New York Stewart International Airport (SWF). A new route to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) will launch in April 2023. Destinations include​​ 22 European locations like Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Dublin, London, Madrid, Barcelona, all of which connect through its base in Reykjavik.

Play Airlines review: what it's like on board

My journey kicked off with an easy, 90-minute bus ride from New York’s Penn Station to Stewart International Airport, north of the city. The small airport made arrival to my gate simple, and just outside the window I caught a glimpse of the candy apple red Airbus A320neo aircraft that would carry us across the Atlantic Ocean for approximately 5.5 hours. With priority boarding, I was down the airbridge in no time. Two friendly flight attendants wearing bright red tailored suits that matched the plane’s color directed me to my extra-legroom seat among the 180 seats on the all-economy plane, with rows of three seats on each side of the aisle. Play's standard seats are in line with other low-cost carriers, with slightly roomier legroom pitch of 29 to 30 inches. Still, the 34 inches of pitch in my extra-legroom seat was a welcomed upgrade. All seats feature grey synthetic leather upholstery and adjustable padded headrests. Fortunately, I read ahead of time that the flight doesn’t offer Wi-Fi or power outlets, so I prepared by charging and downloading all my favorite shows in advance, just in case I couldn’t sleep.

Food and beverage service began about 30 minutes after our on-time take-off. I perused the menu, with items including an assortment of sodas, juices, sweets, and quick bites like muffins and chips, ranging in price from $3 to $9. The selection of beers, alcohol, and wines ranged from $9 to $10. I opted for the $12 meal deal, which included a sandwich or wrap, soda, and a delicious traditional Icelandic chocolate with bits of toffee and sea salt. Service on Play was attentive and consistent, and the food and beverage cart made its way down the aisle twice during the flight. The excitement of reaching Iceland prevented sleep, and I peered into the night as we approached Reykjavik’s Keflavik Airport at 3:30 in the morning. Flying with Play Airlines was straightforward and affordable, and I’d definitely book again in the future for the perks of its competitive pricing.

How I spent the money I saved

Economical flights allowed me room in my budget to splurge on one of Iceland’s greatest excursions: the natural lagoons. Rich in silica and sulfur, the waters help revive the body– particularly helpful when experiencing jetlag. I visited Sky Lagoon, an immersive thermal spa that opened last year. I also made my way to the Blue Lagoon, accessible via a one-hour shuttle ride from the city center. The key here is to book a visit at The Retreat Spa, which offers a more private experience away from the crowds of tourists visiting the main lagoon. The five-hour escape includes forays into subterranean spaces, meditative rooms, body scrubs, and in-water massages by appointment.

On the third day of my five-day visit, favorable weather conditions and a cloudless sky made my Northern Lights dream a reality during a nighttime tour with Reykjavik Sightseeing. I stared into the black sky for some time, reminding myself to be patient. Then, suddenly, like a photograph slowly exposing itself in a dark room, glints of neon green hues formed against the sky. It was happening, and like most incredible natural phenomena, was nearly impossible to capture on my camera. Still, it happened, and I’ll always remember that night.