I’m Officially Visiting The Northernmost City In The World!

As I’ve explained many times before, the content of this blog is focused heavily on the journey rather than the destination. So while there are many places I really want to visit, I try to prioritize new airline reviews first. At the beginning of the year I shared 16 airline products I want to review in 2016, and I’ve been making good progress on that list.

I’ve already reviewed Finnair business class, Air India first class, Iberia business class, LAN business class, Oman Air business class, and Air France business class.

On top of the airlines I’ve already reviewed, over the coming weeks I have trips planned in Aeromexico and Avianca business class, Fiji Airways and Air Tahiti Nui business class, and Air Canada and South African Airways business class.

Over the weekend I looked at the list of airlines I’ve yet to review, and noticed SAS business class was on the list.

SAS-A330

They have a unique new business class product which I’d love to review, and award availability has been uncharacteristically good on them lately. As I was browsing availability I saw business class award space from Los Angeles to Stockholm, on their flight which just launched last month.

SAS-Business-Class
SAS’ new business class

I was about to pull the trigger on booking it, but then thought “hmmm, if I’m going to Northern Europe in the middle of summer, I might as well make the most of it.”

For years I’ve wanted to visit Longyearbyen, which is the northernmost city in the world (there are some civilizations further north, but this is the northernmost city with at least 1,000 people). In summer there’s 24 hours of sunlight (and conversely, in winter there’s 24 hours of darkness). As luck would have it, there was award availability on SAS all the way to Longyearbyen.

Radisson-Blu-Longyearbyen
The glamorous Radisson Blu Longyearbyen

Going alone sounded sort of boring, though fortunately there were two seats, so Ford is coming along with me.

Originally I was going to book the ticket to Stockholm with Avianca LifeMiles. They charge 63,000 miles one-way for business class, and miles can pretty consistently be purchased at a discount, so it seemed like a good option.

However, the flight times to Longyearbyen are a bit strange, so I ended up redeeming Air Canada Aeroplan miles for the one-way ticket. That’s because an overnight was required in Oslo in order to make the ticket work, and that can easily be booked via Aeroplan, while LifeMiles doesn’t allow extended overnight connections.

Aeroplan charges just 55,000 miles for one-way business class, which I transferred from American Express Membership Rewards. Aeroplan also doesn’t impose any fuel surcharges for travel on SAS, so the total taxes were ~$30 per person.

LAX-LYR

Then I realized I can make an even better trip out of this. Remember how Russia was on our travel list? St. Petersburg is only a few hundred miles from Oslo, so on the way back we’ll route through St. Petersburg and Moscow, and then take Aeroflot home. Though I’m still working on the exact details there…

Aeroflot
Aeroflot business class

Bottom line

I’m super excited about visiting Longyearbyen, as it has been on my list for years. I’ve kept putting off this trip given that it’s way off the beaten track and the flight times are a bit annoying. However, there’s no time quite like the present, so I’m so excited to visit. I’m guessing I’ll nearly go crazy with the 24 hours of sunlight, given that I’m more or less solar powered. Here’s to hoping the Radisson Blu there has good blackout curtains.

Comments

  1. Congrats on booking this trip. You will most likely enjoy the service on SAS long haul, which for your route should be operated by an A330E (Enhanced), with Wi-Fi. Do not expect too much of local flights on the 737 though, as SAS only offers Premium economy there (sells as Business an award tickets), with no blocked middle seats and minimum service. Do not expect too much of the Radisson Blu in LYR either, as it is by no mean a standard Radisson. Rooms are old and worn, and the standard with remind you of your experience in Iceland a few years back. The destination however is absolutely amazing. Activity booking must be done in advance (http://www.spitsbergentravel.com/start/), and I can personnaly recommend a boat trip, a kayak trip and as many hikes as you can manage. Looking forward to your detailed TR.

  2. Make sure you have you hotel rooms booked well in advance. They sell our quickly in the summer months.

  3. Not sure when you’re traveling but ITA matrix shows some cheap business class tickets for SU SVO-JFK in July. Some dates are ~$1275, other dates are ~$1750.

  4. If Ford is not self employed, his employer apparently has by far the most generous vacation policy on the planet. Very jealous.

  5. It’s very cool there. One cannot leave town without a gun because polar bears! No cats allowed – they run loose and attract polar bears. The grocery store is fun to visit – strange and wonderful food!

  6. As a frequent Aeroflot flyer, I look forward to reading your review of that after your return from this trip 🙂 I would recommend trying to book your return flight on one of their 777-300’s, because the business class in those planes are head and shoulders above the product on their a330’s. Will you fly between St. Petersburg and Moscow, or take a train?

  7. I’m looking forward to reading your Aeroflot TR. I flew SVO-CDG with them last month after changing my initial AF booking and was absolutely delighted by the service!

  8. We found summer at the Radisson was sold out 6+ months in advance, but I’m assuming you already booked a room.

    I was there last May and we are going back for 4 days start of June.

    Breakfast is great, views are stunning, but there are by no means black-out curtains in the room.

    That said, this is by far the coolest place I’ve ever been.

  9. just flew ARN-LAX in C. Wonderful new A330E and lovely seat (window even numbers are preferred).

    WiFi doesn’t always work for the entire flight, but is free for Y (SAS Plus) and C-pax.

    Look forward to your review

  10. Don’t forget you need to apply for a Russian Visa. Which is somewhat of a complicated procedure…

  11. Hey Lucky, how about China Airlines’ 77W Business Class? I do look forward to seeing your opinions on that generally well-received product. Thank you!

  12. This looks like a good one Lucky; in particular the Russian excursion. Are you going to try and fly the Sukhoi Superjet 100-95В? It’s on my list. Very jealous and looking forward to the trip reports!

  13. I agree with Serge. Don’t underestimate the complexity and incredibly onerous nature of the Russian visa process. e.g. the online application asks for every country visited in the last 10 years, along with the exact date (year, month, day); the application couldn’t be saved without dates. I just went by the stamps in my passport.

    I’m headed to St. Petersburg next week.

  14. My feeling is that Lucky’s going to be disappointed.

    Lots of people go to LYR with high expectations and then moan that it was not worth the effort and expense.

    Hopefully I’ll be wrong.

  15. Lucky, if you don’t have a Russian visa and want to visit Saint Petersburg, you can do so without a visa by boat. I did this last year. I took a cruise to St Petersburg from Helsinki (overnight), saw St Petersburg, and went back to Finland (though you can also take it to Tallinn, Estonia). The cost of the cruise cabin was cheaper than obtaining a Russian visa and less of a hassle.

    Also, I am amazed at the amount of vacation Ford gets being an American!

  16. @josh. Ford “works” for Lucky hence all the vacay
    @avioshunter. I agree I was underwhelmed.

    I found SAS J lacking in service and food.

    The hoops you have to jump through for a Russian visa are ridiculous.

  17. Svalbard is absolutely amazing in winter, and the choices of things to to are a bit bigger then. Although I haven’t been there in summer myself, from what I’ve heard, taking a boat trip to the abandoned russian mining town Pyramiden is one of the more interesting things to do. This will also take you close to a big glacier.

  18. Was there last July for 2 nights. Cool place but yea nothing much too do unless you go for hiking and camping in the wilderness. If you happen to visit the abandoned mining town of Pyramiden, try to sneak into the abandoned hospital and see those old Russian equipment

  19. Hi Ben!
    @Lucky

    I’m Russian. I’ve born in Russia and lived there for many years. So let me inform you a bit of what you shall expect on your coming trip.

    First of all Russia is a beautiful country with great airlines which have improved they service a lot in the past years. Such as Aeroflot and S7. It’s certainly worth visiting.
    In 2016 there’s absolutely nothing to worry or be aware of when traveling to any major city in Russia. People who live there aren’t aliens (as some people often think of Russians) and can turn out to be very kind and helpful. If you’ll need some help on the street they’ll be happy to show you the road. Most of the people you will meet in Moscow and St Petersburg will be able to speak Wnglish quite well, so that’s definitely not a problem.
    In both cities tourist are al always welcome. There are many city and sight tours at a very reasonable price.

    Aeroflot has a competitive product on their 777-300ers. Just compare it to the Business class you’ll find on other European carriers (Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France) and you’ll be convinced that it’s a very good product and certainly worth reviewing. Apart from this, Aeroflot offers superb intra-europe and domestic Business class, compared to the economy seating with the middle seat blocked and improved service on other European airlines. Aeroflot A319, A320, A321 and their brand new 737 are in a 2-2 configuration and the seat is very similar to American domestic first class, rather than to what we often find on intra-europe flights. Aeroflot flies this planes both domestically and to Europe. I highly recommend you to look for the new 737s. They offer an improved Business class product with the entertainment screen in the seat infront of you, instead of the tablet you’re given on the A320 family (this is smother huge improvement over the typical European business class which doesn’t offer any entertainment at all).
    The high speed train “Sapsan” is a great alternative when traveling between Moscow and St Petersburg. It will get you from the centre of Modcow to the centre of St Petersburg in less than 4 hours. It also features a bar/restaurant and you’ll be able to enjoy panoramas of the russian country out of the window all the way.

    Regardless the hotel, I can’t really suggest you a hotel in St Petersburg but I can in Moscow. There are a number of great 5 star hotels in Moscow. In the centre of the city you’ll find almost every hotel from any of the major chains (Hyatt, Radisson, Ritz-Carlton).
    All of them offer quite good service. I can recommend you the Ararat Pak Hyatt which is nice and is also situated in a good location or the Radisson blue which offers great views over the Moscow River and where you’ll not have the issue of too much noise from the traffic but unfortunately it’s more distant from the main sights than other hotels.

    The best transport in Moscow is the Metro. Moscow has a HUGE amount of traffic, always. If you use Uber, Gett or Yandex Taxi they taxi can turn out not to be such expensive, but then again you’ll loose a huge amount of time and pay more because of the insane traffic. So every person who lives in Moscow would tell you that the Metro is the best choice. Of course at rush hours (7.00-9.00 / 18.00-20.00) there is a huge amount of people in the metro too but it will be still way faster than moving by car, taxi or bus.

    Also don’t forget that Moscow is the capital of Russia. This means that it’s the biggest city in Russia and its actually very big. It has one of the largest Metro networks in the world and has a population of more than 12 million people. So it can become very busy at times.
    People in Russia say “Moscow never sleeps”. This is actually true. There are a lot of bars and night club which stay open all the night and are really worth visiting. Another good thing is that many restaurants are open 24h so if you desire you can eat at 2am without any issue.

    I Really hope all this stuff will turn useful to you.

    If you have any sort of questions about Moscow, Aeroflot, hotels or Russia in general please contact me by email
    andrey.chmutov@gmail.com

    Believe me it will be a pleasure for me to help you the same way you always help me and thousands of us (readers of your blog) in our trips and vacation.

    Well, now that I’ve posted my e-mail everyone who is reading this can contact me. You’re always welcome.

  20. I’m thrilled that Ben will be visiting Petersburg, my mother’s birthplace. I fear, though, that he and Ford shall be spending a scant amount of time in this gloriously wonderful city. I also fear that Ben will be tempted to use points and stay at the rather generic W hotel. I personally love the traditionally Russian Hotel Astoria.

    While I certainly condemn the heinous government sanctioned anti-gay propoganda, I also get really pissed-off at the “oh, no! You just can’t go to Russia!” attitude of many OMAAT readers. The gay communities of Petersburg and Moscow are not cowering in fear; to the contrary, they are as stubbornly determined, fun and vibrant as ever. As a gay man I have been harassed far more on the streets of Little Rock, Arkansas.

  21. I have been to Longyearbyen twice and it is absolutely amazing. Make sure to visit Santas office 🙂 I wish you a lot of fun! Thank you very much for your very interesting articels and reports.

  22. Nice, but I think the threshold of 1,000 for a city is very low. I’m not even sure I’d call that a town. Maybe a large village

    Hammerfest in Norway has always claimed to be the furthest north city. I wonder what they have to say about this upstart.

  23. Moscow has changed remarkably over the 10yrs I have visiting. More equipped for the tourist now but not to the level of other European capitals. St Petersburg is very different. Couple of tips for first timers.

    In summer in SPB don’t get caught out at night when the bridges go up. You could find yourself trapped on your island for a few hours unable to return to your hotel.

    Train from airport to Moscow city centre is a must. The traffic is horrible and you could get caught up for hours trying to get into town.

    I have been quite generic in my visa application relating to previous countries in past 10years. E.g ‘multiple European / African / Asian etc countries over a wide date range’ with an attachment and statement to refer to passport stamps has been enough for me.

    Hot restaurant tip for Moscow – White Rabbit. Awesome view, music, sound system and food.

    Major Russian airlines are quite good (Aeroflot, S7) but I personally draw the line at Orenair and other smaller carriers..

    Good luck.

  24. Hi @Navi75

    Could you please tell me more about the restaurant White Rabbit. I heard it’s located in the centre and it has great views but I also know that it’s on the expensive side. I have many friends who’ve been there (unfortunately I never had the opportunity to join them) and some of them say that it’s an amazing place while others say that it’s not worth the price and it’s nothing special. So I have mixed reviews about it.
    Is the price really worth it? Are the views that great? Maybe you can recommend me a meal you especially enjoyed?

    Thanks in advance.

  25. Hi Andrey

    Yes, White Rabbit is expensive but as a foreigner with the decline in Ruble it actually represent good value compared to other similar offerings in major European cities (except for wine which is still quite expensive like Dubai).

    I think it’s worth it. Food is very very good and the view is great. Just be sure to request a window seat when you reserve.

    Personally I usually go for seafood and quite like the dorado and seabass. As an expat living in Kazakhstan I relish any opportunity to get something from the sea!! Very good catfish dish with artichoke and zucchini recently and duck was very creative and cooked perfectly. Desert go for goats cheese mouse if that is your thing.

    Suggest one tries one of the creative cocktails. I quite liked the gimlet and Bolgarin.

    In 2015 it was awarded number 23 of the 50 best restaurants (for what that is worth if it at all means anything). In my view yes, it is very good but have had more memorable, creative and tastes food elsewhere. But having said that, one of the best I’ve been to in Moscow and keep coming back.

    Recommend you (and Ben & others) try sometime. Worth the price.

    Hope this helps

  26. @Navi75

    Thanks a lot. That really helps.
    Will definitely visit it during my next trip to Moscow after your recommendations.

  27. I’m really looking forward to reading this one, and how you’re going ti swing it re accommodation – pricey! I also would love to visit Longyearbyen so I am envious.

    Moscow and St Petersburg are also very expensive cities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *