If you haven’t made vacation plans for winter or spring break 2020, rejoice! The airline SAS recently announced that its popular deal whereby kids fly free, renamed this year to Travelers Start Young, is back. Up to eight kids, ages 11 and under, can fly free on SAS from the U.S. to Scandinavia (you only pay taxes and fees) from U.S. gateways with the purchase of a paid adult ticket. I flew with a horde of kids to Helsinki for spring break earlier this year and am thrilled the deal is back.
SAS flies to Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway from seven U.S. cities: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The kids fly free deal is valid in three seat classes: SAS Go, SAS Go Light (no checked bag, but it can be added for a fee) and SAS Plus (wider seats, more legroom). Valid dates are Nov. 1, 2019 through Dec. 1, 2019 and Jan. 8, 2020 through March 25, 2020. Tickets must be booked by Sept. 27, 2019.
Related: How to book kids fly free on SAS
Timely too is the airline’s promise to offset carbon emissions for each youth ticket with a CO2 Youth Offset Program that calculates an equivalent amount of funds to be allocated to energy projects run by an organization that replaces fossil fuel with renewable energy. That means your kids, at least, won’t have to worry about flygskam (a Scandinavian buzz word, which means “flight shame” over the effects of air travel on the environment). Read more about airline carbon offset programs.
Experiences this SAS deal can unlock for your family
I’ve traveled in recent years to all four countries included in SAS offer and I can confirm that everything you’ve heard about Scandinavia being exceptionally kid- and family-friendly is true. From special kiddie buffets at hotels to playgrounds and parks everywhere and lots of attractions offering free admission for kids under age 18.
Norway has long been my favorite part of Europe for a family vacation. Here are some of my favorite Scandinavian experiences — from hunting the Northern Lights in the official hometown of Santa Claus in Finland to a great hotel bookable with points in Copenhagen. Any of these destinations are easily attainable once you press “purchase” on the family airfare deal of the season.
If you visit Copenhagen
Stay at a hotel near Tivoli Gardens
Marriott Bonvoy members have several good options when it comes to cashing in points to stay in Copenhagen, but I like the Copenhagen Marriott Hotel best for its central location just a few minutes from the central train station and Tivoli Garden (best merry-go-round ever). Most rooms are bright and have harbor views. Rooms can fit families of four, which is hardly the norm in European hotels with strict occupancy limits.
As a Category 6 hotel, award nights start at 40,000 Marriott points per night off-season and run to 50,000 for standard redemptions and 60,000 during peak dates. You can use your Marriott 50,000-point free-night certificate that you get on the anniversary of your Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express® Card to stay at this property on standard and off-peak dates.
For the most fairtytale-esque castle, visit Kronborg Castle near Copenhagen. It’s an educational day trip for the kids and it’s just a 45-minute train ride north from the city center to Helsingør. A UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s open year-round, the Renaissance castle dates to the 16th century and was immortalized in Shakespeare’s Hamlet as Elsinore. Admission is free for kids under 18 years old.
If you visit Helsinki
For a true Finnish experience on arrival in Helsinki, fight the family’s jet lag with a visit to this open-air pool and sauna complex fronting the harbor that’s open year-round. I visited with my family in March and it was an incredible experience to be splashing in warm water with the icy harbor all around us. If you’re up for a cold plunge, there’s direct access into the harbor from the complex too. After bathing, we hit the on-site cafe for a hot cocoa and some board games — cozy to the max. Day passes cost from 14 euros per person, 7 euros for kids ages 3–12 and free for kids under 3.
If you visit Stockholm
Hard-to-impress teens and preteens should light up at this incredible museum in Stockholm that’s devoted to a ship that spent more than 300 years on the sea floor before being excavated from the muck and displayed in an airy museum. Entry is free for kids 18 years and under (about $16 for adults).
If you visit Oslo
You can indoctrinate your gang into Scandinavian-style sledding shortly after landing in Oslo by hopping the Holmenkollen metro line for a 14-minute ride from the city’s central railway station. Ride it to its end at Frognerseteren, the departure point for the Korketrekkeren (translation: corkscrew) Toboggan Run. The sled run is more than 6,000 feet long and free, with sled rentals available from around $12 per day from a cafe on-site.
You can earn 500 SAS EuroBonus points per night when you stay at this affordable family hotel in Oslo’s compact center. It’s intimate with just 65 rooms and has one of the best rooftop terraces in the city. A delicious Norwegian breakfast spread that includes smoked fish and hearty breads is included in the room rates and there’s a metro station just two blocks from the hotel. The medieval Akershus Castle is just a five-minute stroll out the door, too.
Radisson hotels can also be a great choice in Oslo and Scandinavia in general where on average they are more plentiful and higher-end than in the United States — family rooms are also often bookable using Radisson Rewards points.
How many world capitals have a snowboarding park right in the city center? Bring the kids to the trendy neighborhood of Grünerløkka in Oslo to watch the locals jibbing (aka, sliding down) the rails at this urban snowboard park, where seven different rails are free to ride. Entry is free, but it’s BYO board.
If you visit Malmö, Sweden
East of Copenhagen, the friendly coastal city of Malmö in Skåne, Sweden, can be reached in just 35 minutes by trains that leave regularly from Copenhagen Central Station. Your skate rats will love a visit to one of the best skateboarding parks in Europe at Stapelbäddsparken, located in a former shipyard with all kinds of bowls and pools for carving it up. Even if they don’t skate, it’s a blast to watch the action at the largest skate park in Scandinavia.
If you visit Rovaniemi, Finland
Note: While Finland isn’t part of Scandinavia (it’s a Nordic country), SAS flies there and it’s part of the awesome kids fly free deal so we’ve included it in this roundup.
Fly SAS to Helsinki on Kids Fly Free and then either take the overnight Santa Claus Express train or hop an hourlong flight north (on airlines that include Norwegian and Finnair) to Rovaniemi, where you have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights from September to early April. Head out with local operator Safartica for aurora borealis picnics in the forest where you’ll roast sausages around a bonfire to keep warm while waiting for the grand spectacle in the sky. From 69 euros per person for adults and 34.50 euros per person for ages 4–14. Free for kids 3 and under.
Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland is known as the “official hometown of Santa Claus.” If you have little kids, a visit to pose with the bearded guy at Santa Claus Village is a must. But for something that might stick in their memories even longer, spend the night under the dome of a glass igloo at Arctic SnowHotel & Glass Igloos, where you might get lucky enough to see the Northern Lights overhead.
For families with younger kids, it’s hard to score a better deal on flights to Scandinavia than with SAS’s Travelers Start Young. And although this part of the world isn’t inexpensive, you might be surprised by just how many free and inexpensive things there are to enjoy in the great outdoors and cool Scandi cities.
Looking for more adventures in Scandinavia? Here are some ideas:
- Best Northern Lights Adventures for Families
- The Best Places to See the Northern Lights
- The 7 Most Extreme Ways to See the Northern Lights
- Norway’s Best Experiences for the Family Trip of a Lifetime
- 10 of the Most Instagrammable Places in Copenhagen
- Helsinki: Is it the Ultimate Destination for Families?
- How to Plan an Affordable Family Trip to Stockholm, Sweden
Featured image taken in Sweden by Samuli Vainionpää / Getty Images