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Would You Board This “Mystery Flight” to a Secret Destination?

By Peter Vanden Bos
Read time: 3 minutes

Before you visit a new destination, it’s likely that you spend a significant amount of time researching it. You plan which famous landmarks to visit, uncover the coolest secret gems, and book reservations at the best places to eat and sleep. But what if you threw all that out the window and embraced your spontaneous side? That’s exactly the appeal of a unique concept recently introduced by Scandinavian Airlines (SAS). A group of adventurous passengers recently boarded a flight to a city only the pilots knew of beforehand — here’s how it played out.

Huge Interest

SAS Boeing 737 on airport tarmac
Credit: Artur Widak/ NurPhoto via Getty Images 

In February 2024, Sweden-based SAS launched “Destination Unknown,” offering members of its loyalty program the chance to book a mystery flight in April to a secret destination. According to a press release from the airline, more than 6,000 people signed up for the chance to participate in the experience, including more than 1,000 within minutes of the announcement. The airline also reserved six seats for a special contest that attracted 20,000 entries.

In the end, 180 lucky passengers were randomly chosen to score tickets for the mystery trip, which could only be booked using the airline’s rewards points and cost just 30,000 points round-trip. Perhaps the huge interest wasn’t all that surprising: As Paul Verhagen, EVP and chief commercial officer at SAS, put it, “The prospect of embarking on an adventurous and mysterious journey with fellow enthusiasts, finding new connections and friendships along the way, is truly exciting.” 

Destination Revealed 

Aerial view of Athens, Greece, with hilltop Acropolis in background
Credit: Dave G Kelly/ Moment via Getty Images

On April 5, passengers boarded an SAS airplane at Copenhagen Airport set to take off at 9:25 a.m. local time, returning on April 8. According to an interview with the Daily Mail, only the pilots knew of the destination beforehand — even the airline’s CEO didn’t know where the plane was headed, and passengers didn’t find out until about two hours into the journey. The airline made special tweaks to its usual processes, including marking boarding passes with “XXX” instead of the typical three-letter airport code.

The mysterious destination turned out to be Athens, Greece. Once there, travelers could explore one of the world’s oldest cities, first settled sometime between the seventh and 11th centuries BCE, and home to iconic landmarks such as the ruins of the Parthenon at the Acropolis of Athens (where the travelers received a VIP tour). The airline also arranged special hotel rates, cocktail parties, dinner reservations, and other tours — promising a memorable getaway for those lucky enough to experience it.

Other Mystery Flights

Passengers boarding jet via air stairs on airport tarmac
Credit: izusek/ E+ via Getty Images 

Though the first foray was clearly a hit, SAS hasn’t said yet if it will offer the “Destination Unknown” program again in the future. Other airlines, including German carrier Lufthansa, have offered similar promotions in the past. There are also companies that specialize in surprise vacations. With Pack Up + Go, for example, you provide a budget and a few other parameters, and the company plans the entire trip for you — all the details are sealed in an envelope you open right before you depart.

Or, if you’re feeling spontaneous, consider taking advantage of an unlimited flight pass. For instance, the Go Wild! All-You-Can-Fly Pass from U.S. budget carrier Frontier Airlines lets travelers book last-minute flights to any destination the airline flies. And there are benefits in waiting to book a hotel room until the last minute, too.

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