The next time you travel to Denmark, Sweden or Norway, you’ll likely find yourself flying with the region’s leading airline, SAS. On a recent trip from the New York City area to Oslo, I found that cash fares to and from the Norwegian capital were thousands of dollars cheaper than fares on my preferred airline, United Airlines.
I’ve never flown with SAS before, and since I’ve been looking to earn United MileagePlus Premier qualifying points, I’m hesitant to book directly with SAS and face complicated earning rules. (It didn’t help that the airline declared bankruptcy this summer, either.) But the prices were too hard to beat, and since SAS is a Star Alliance member, I knew I could still earn some points and segments to help regain my MileagePlus status. Eligible to become Prime Minister in 2023.
But not long after I booked the discounted SAS Go economy fare, I started regretting my decision to take the 7-hour overnight flight in an economy seat that didn’t even have a free seat assignment. Fortunately, I was able to bid for an upgrade to SAS Business and enjoyed my transatlantic flight in a lie-flat business class seat. Here’s what I found out about the product — and how excited I was to win the upgrade bid.
You can bid to upgrade
Many airlines allow you to bid for an upgrade, although travelers can usually only do so by a single class of travel — you can’t always jump from economy to business or first class instead of premium economy. I initially called SAS to inquire about the cost of the upgrade and a friendly agent told me it would cost over $5,000 to do so, in part because they can only upgrade the entire four legs of the trip. All I really want, though, is to sleep in a horizontal position from New York to Norway.
That would be a no.
Instead, I decided to take advantage of the airline’s upgrade bidding program. A few days before the flight, travelers can bid for an upgrade to a premium cabin. You can bid on domestic and European flights up to 25 hours before departure, but you can bid on US and Asian flights up to 6 hours before departure.
Business class on my flight started at 420 euros (about $410 at the time due to the strong dollar – a steal in my opinion). I rounded up to €450 (about $440 at the time) to improve my odds. Some research (read: Googling) leads me to believe that many travelers only get upgrades for the lowest bid, and an ExpertFlyer search confirms that business class is widely available on my flight. About 24 hours before my departure, I received an email saying my upgrade had been completed.
Passengers can of course wait until the last hour to check seat availability, but I would make sure you bid on US and Asian flights at least 25 hours in advance, which is when upgrades start clearing.
If you happen to have a large number of EuroBonus points (or Amex Membership Rewards points, which transfer to EuroBonus at a 1:1 ratio), you can also use these points to bid for an upgrade.
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Winning the bid will not change your fare class
While cash upgrades do earn extra EuroBonus points, the fare class of your ticket stays the same, so I didn’t end up earning more United PQP than if I stuck to an economy seat because United The airline still thinks my ticket is a SAS Go fare.
You get business class benefits (regardless of how you book)
My business class experience started at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). Even though my flight to Oslo Airport (OSL) departed from the extremely nondescript Terminal B, which doesn’t even have a dedicated TSA PreCheck line or Clear kiosk, I was able to use the lounge. If I had Star Alliance Gold status I would have been allowed in, but for travelers with no other means of entry, your business class boarding pass will do.
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The SAS lounge in Newark’s Terminal B is close to gate 60 and is fine for a short layover, but I wouldn’t expect a full meal there. There was plenty of seating in the space clearly inspired by Scandinavian design, but the lounge was fairly busy despite the late hour.
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There’s a self serve drinks bar and a disappointing cold buffet (fresh lettuce and raw vegetable kibble, with plates of turkey slices and American cheese slices) and no music; you forget the importance of a little background sound until it’s gone altogether until.
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Other perks include free onboard Wi-Fi (where available) and Fast Track security lanes (where available).
The meal was surprisingly good – even in business class
It’s been years since I last flew international first class on an international airline, and I’ve forgotten how much better the food is compared to economy – in general.
I was very impressed with the service I received during my 7 hour flight from the NYC area to Oslo. But what I loved most about this experience were the thoughtful details and special touches that I wasn’t expecting. Several crew members changed into crisp double-breasted chef’s whites (as did economy class, I found out the next week), creating a more formal dining atmosphere.
My flight attendant “sets the table” with clean white linen napkins, and I order a mix of stout gin and tonic, served with a leftover can of Ekobryggeriet tonic.
Although my co-workers later commented that I should have flown international business class more often (no argument), I was still thrilled when dessert was spread out on trolleys for passengers. I immediately felt like I was being transported aboard the Hogwarts Express – only instead of a trolley witch selling chocolate frogs and boxes of weird jelly beans, a stewardess was handing out seasonal fruit, vanilla yoghurt , apple donuts and ice cream.
Even before dessert, I was impressed with the variety and execution of the meal that night. Start dinner with bread of choice, mixed green salad and appetizers of choice (beef tenderloin carpaccio or Maine lobster with smoked tomato vinaigrette and corn salsa).
Entrees include four options to cater for nearly every dietary preference (roast chicken with lemon and garlic sauce; mustard and pepper ribs with truffled Gruyère brioche; grilled sea bass with fennel and tomato ragout; porcini veal Cappuccino ravioli with mushroom ragout).
I ordered sea bass which was well prepared; it was soggy and crispy with no sign that it had been reheated in the kitchen microwave.
Attentive and frequent
I was barely in my seat until the flight attendant came over and offered me a drink (water, red wine or sparkling white wine). The drinks didn’t stop after that, and the flight attendants often asked me if I wanted another gin and tonic.
I’ve taken longer international first and business class flights in the past, where you’d have to time between drinks, or have to get up and ask for one (which I always found a bit uncomfortable). I can’t imagine how much alcohol you can drink on a SAS flight if you can drink a full glass between flight attendant check-ins.
Although I slept most of the night flights, the flight attendants also politely woke me up for breakfast upon request and assisted me with overhead luggage when I needed it. This isn’t the first time I’ve found overhead luggage to be too high to reach, but somehow these do seem taller.
You can enjoy a massage on your seat
The best part of a strip mall pedicure is, I’m sure we can all agree, the massage chair. The lie-flat seats on SAS planes are also equipped with the same technology, I wouldn’t say it’s for a more restful sleep, but it’s especially fun while I’m waiting for my food to arrive.
You can increase the firmness of the seat five levels, and a simple massage function provides a gentle rolling massage.
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While they aren’t the roomiest business-class seats in the sky, they offer Hastens bedding (including seat cushions, thick checkered blankets and comfy pillows) that puts even United Polaris’ Saks Fifth Avenue bedding to shame.
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The Scandinavian bedding brand is known for its craftsmanship, and it can easily set you back between $800 and $5,000 if you want to have a duvet of your own at home. (Travelers might know the brand from the $11,000-a-night Regent Seven Seas Cruises suites, which feature handcrafted Hastens mattresses valued at about $200,000.)
Seats are competitive – especially the price
Business class on the SAS A330 is arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, with the window seat alternating between the seat itself or the console facing the window.
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Even though each seat allows every passenger in the cabin to have direct aisle access, with the seat against the wall of the plane (like my 2H), getting in and out of the seat can be cramped, although the actual Thompson Vantage XL seats are comfortable Spacious, with easy-to-use controls.
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The boat’s seats are 23 to 24 inches wide and fold flat to become a 77-inch bed. Footwell does get a bit cramped when in a fully flat bed.
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This is a great introduction to Scandinavia
I love flipping through my travel kit when I board a plane and see various Scandinavian brands in small bags, including lip balms and moisturizers from Verso Skincare in Stockholm. The aforementioned Hastens bedding made my nights much quieter than I expected; comfortable and heavy enough to transport me from a cold sky to a mattress shop in Sweden.
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The menu features a variety of Swedish, Danish and Norwegian brands and ingredients – apple juice from Norway’s Upper Ringi farms; port wine jams from Malmö, Sweden; and Danish IPAs and pilsners – and goes out of its way to celebrate the region. My only disappointment was that the seafood entree featured sea bass instead of the iconic Norwegian pink salmon.
the bottom line
My SAS Business Class flight wasn’t perfect. When I got into my seat, I quickly realized I had an unusable tray table and had to lean on the armrest to eat during the flight.
The boarding process was not dissimilar to watching the gates of Best Buy on Black Friday: Either everyone on the plane was given priority boarding, or the gate agent did nothing to maintain order.
There wasn’t enough room in the seat for my stuff either; there was no enclosed storage, like the tiny lockers you get on United Polaris seats. But SAS still brings great value for its premium service.
Now, if only I could convince them to recalculate the total fare of my upgrade offer so I could earn more United PQP.