Head to Helsinki often? A regular in Reykjavik? If you need the skinny on Scandinavian air travel
for frequent flyers, find out what kinds of reward programs are available. Depending on your departure cities, your destinations, and your desire for different rewards, you’ll find a frequent flyer program that pays off with Icelandair, SAS, or Finnair.
Whether you’re staying in Iceland or just stopping over on the way to Sweden, Icelandair has service and scope well-beyond its homeland. Serving a surprising number of American Cities, Icelandair offers service to each of the Scandinavian capitals: Reykjavik, Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Helsinki. Not only can American travelers begin their travels in northeastern cities like Boston, New York (JFK), Philadelphia, and Boston, but they can depart on Icelandair from Baltimore, Minneapolis, Orlando, and even San Francisco. Chicago, though, is notably absent.
By routing their flights through the Keflavik Airport outside of Reykjavik, Icelandair has made a name for itself as a provider of excellent discounted service to Scandinavian destinations. The stopovers have also increased tourism for Iceland, as many travelers choose to stay in Reykjavik overnight on the way to or from other cities.
In terms of reward programs, Icelandair offers a frequent flyer program known as the “Customer Club.” The program involves two different point systems, which can be a little confusing at first. Award points are used to obtain rewards like travel and hotel accommodations. Card Points allow you to move up in the reward system to earn memberships in Saga Silver or Saga Gold. The Saga Cards cater to people who fly extensively on Icelandair and want priority treatment before, during, and after flights.
If you’re enrolled in the regular Customer Club to earn Award Points, you can redeem those points for travel on SAS airlines as well as on Icelandair. Additionally, there are partnerships with Radisson and Marriott hotels and Hertz and Thrifty auto rental companies. One particularly pleasing feature of the Award Points is that they can be combined with a reduced amount of money to purchase tickets. You need not earn a full free flight before redeeming points; you can simply use the miles you’ve earned to take a discount, which makes the Customer Club an excellent option for someone who will use Icelandair just a few times.
Icelandair also offers a branded Master Card through MBNA America which earns 5000 Award Points with a first purchase and a percentage-based number of points for all subsequent purchases.
SAS (Scandinavian Airlines)
The largest airline based in the Scandinavian region is SAS, or Scandinavian Airlines. With extensive connection capabilities in the United States and a much more comprehensive list of destinations in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, SAS can somewhat dwarf Icelandair in scale, though its fare are often pricier. If you’re visiting more exotic locations in Scandinavia or you need more flexibility with cities of origin, then SAS is your best choice.
The SAS frequent flyer program is called EuroBonus. Not unlike Icelandair, SAS has different levels to its reward system: basic, silver, and gold. Flyers are automatically upgraded when they reach the appropriate number of points. The list of airline partners for SAS is large, including not only Icelandair but other regional or national airlines, ranging from Qantas (if you’re headed Down Under) to Estonian Air (if you plan on bypassing Sweden for the Baltic region). Avis and Hertz are the rental company partners, and Best Western and Radisson are the most recognizable hotel chain partners.
One apparent drawback to SAS. The “combined” card program, which allows you to earn SAS points through shopping with a Master Card or a Diners Club Card, is only available in Nordic Countries. It appears that Americans are out of luck if they’re looking to link up for SAS for a broader way to earn points. One idea may be to sign up for the Icelandair Card and use the relationship between SAS and Icelandair to earn and redeem points with SAS. Though the solution may seem a little complex, it’s better than not gaining any rewards at all for basic credit card purchases.
Based in Finland (which is technically not part of Scandinavia but considered Nordic enough), Finnair is an exemplary national airline. US departure cities include the somewhat expected New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago but also include Los Angeles, San Diego, and Saint Louis. As you might imagine, service to Finnish cities outside of Helsinki is better on Finnair than SAS, so if you’re traveling to Turku or Tampere, this is the way to go. Also notable is service to Baltic nation capitals like Vilnius (Lithuania), Riga (Latvia), and Tallinn (Estonia).
Finnair Plus is the frequent flyer program available. Partner airlines include TAP (Portugal), British Airways, American Airlines, Qantas (Australia), and Aer Lingus (Ireland). if you’re a fan of Hilton Hotels, your Finnair points can earn you accommodations, and if you use Avis or Hertz, your points can be redeemed for car rentals. In addition, Finnair has some other partners, like a cell phone company, but unless you actually live in Finland, the additional partners may not be incredibly useful.
A main drawback to Finnair’s loyalty program is that it lacks a credit card option of its own. You may be able to connect an American Airlines Card with it, however, since both airlines are currently part of the same network, known as OneWorld.