You know that feeling when something you are hesitant about actually goes right. That something for me was booking a Trans-Atlantic flight on Wow Airlines. Wow Air is a low-cost-carrier (LCC) meaning they charge for pretty much everything along the way. Some of the better known LCC’s in the US are Frontier, Spirit, and Allegiant Air. Let me tell you something, Wow Air is light-years ahead of our US LCC’s.
One of the biggest reason LCC’s receive such a bad name is because people don’t read the fine print about every added fee. Do you really think an airline is going to be profitable selling $40 flights to every passenger without nickel-and-diming along the way? You may not realize it but a good chunk of your ticket cost is going to pay government fees so the airlines don’t keep much of that $40 you are being charged. Now, I am not saying Allegiant or Spirit don’t deserve their negative stigmas, I just feel like people wouldn’t hate them as much if they were better informed from the start. I like the option to pay for a cheap base fare and only adding the items I need. (notice I said option, I haven’t flown a LCC in the US in over a year)
Wow Airlines is based in Reykjavik, Iceland and every flight they operate connects to and from the REK airport. They currently fly to Boston and Baltimore and next month (June) they are starting their West Coast operations out of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Keep in mind, they also fly to MANY European countries so you can simply connect in Iceland and venture further into Europe.
So how was the flight experience?
I flew from Paris to Iceland and then from Iceland to Boston, a total of about eight hours in the air with Wow. I must say, I was presently surprised by the overall experience on both my flights. Wow, right? Here are the main things that stood out to me:
– Clean and newer aircraft (A321 to the East Coast and A330 to the West Coast)
– Smiling and very courteous flight crew
– Both flights left 15 minutes early
– Seats had more than adequate leg room (even the base ones)
– Each seat had 110v outlets for charging
– Straight forward boarding process
Elaborating a bit further, both aircraft were really clean. It seems as though they actually vacuum the floors between flights. The seat-back pockets were clear of trash. Each seat had the seat belts folded across so you don’t have to feel around for your belt. Each headrest also had an “anti bacterial” throw-away cover so you aren’t swapping bugs with the person before you. Oh yea, Alyssa found a whole baby’s bottle in her seat pocket on a Southwest flight a few months ago, goes to show they really don’t go through the planes that well in the US. Domestic flights have VERY quick turns so there is typically little time to clean them thoroughly. It appears as though Wow Air really takes their time between flights to tidy things up.
The flight crews were VERY friendly, almost to the point where you feel bad asking for something since you know they would never say no to you. You could definitely tell their first language was Icelandic but they all spoke decent if not good English. I cannot recall a single flight in the US (I’ve flown probably 250 flights in the US if I had to guess) where the entire flight crew was friendly and smiling the entire time.
There is no free in-flight entertainment or WiFi, you have to bring your own laptop or tablet. They will rent you an Ipad for about $15 and it is loaded with movies and games. If you are on a flight for 5 hours it may be worth the $15 to help keep your sanity. I listened to music and slept and time flew-by, pun intended. Keep in mind, each row has a 110v outlet so you can keep your phone or laptop charged the entire flight, this was really appreciated!
Leg room is a huge deal for me, I am a tick over 6 foot so I can become cramped very easily. I found the base seats on the Wow Air A321 to be more than adequate. I had about 2-3 inches to spare when sitting in my normal upright position. They do recline pretty far, similar to a Delta seat where the base cushion slides forward. Speaking of seats, you can pay to reserve seats before you check in. A base seat reservation costs around $9 to reserve per flight and can creep up to the $40 range for XXL seats with loads of legroom (this may end up being a tad higher on longer flights from the West Coast). I didn’t bother to pay to reserve seats (come on, are you really surprised?) on either flight and they had Alyssa and I sitting side-by-side automatically. On the second (longer) flight to Boston, we had an empty middle seat and were each able to lay down for a short period. Both flights were about 85-90% full.
Boarding was about a simple as it gets. They page that they are now boarding and you get in line, first come, first serve. (This could vary depending on the airport you fly out of).
The other big expense with LCC’s are the baggage fees. With Wow Air the only free baggage you can bring on is a single piece weighing no more than 11lbs and one duty-free bag. (for things you buy in the terminal after security). If you want to increase the weight of that single carry-on bag up to 26lbs, that will run you about $40 one-way. Checked bags up to 44lbs cost anywhere from $48-$58 one-way. If you and your traveling partner could share a 44lb checked bag, that would definitely help to cut costs.
Now here is the kicker, my carry-on bag weighed over 20lbs and they never weighed it. When I first purchased my ticket Wow Air informed me that everyone, even those not checking bags, had to go to their check-in desk to weigh baggage. Fast forward to the day of departure, Wow Air now offered me a digital boarding pass and stated that I could bypass the check-in counter if I did not have “hold” luggage (checked bags). Needless to say, I would not have needed to pay for hand baggage since they did not weigh anything during the boarding process. Will this be the experience for everyone at every airport, I can’t say with certainty.
I can tell you this, the fees, whether they be seats or bags, increase by about 25% if you wait until the day of departure. The next time I fly Wow I am definitely going to pack my bags heavy and hope they are not weighed (I know I live life on the edge). Some people have stated if you depart from the US they do weigh your bags, again, your mileage my vary. I did not see any bags being weighed during boarding even for folks with larger carry-on’s.
The food and drink selection on-board was stellar. They had everything from fancy chocolate bars, healthy snack bars, soups, wraps, sandwiches, chips, cookies, and a handful of some other healthy choices. They DO serve alcohol and offer many non-alcoholic choices. EVERYTHING costs on-board, remember what I said about expectations. If you do not bring money on-board you will not receive food or drink. The prices are pretty modest, it will run you about $3 for coffee, tea, or bottled water. My healthy soup was about $5, wraps and sandwiches cost about $8. They accept card and cash, EUR, USD, ISK, GBP, and CAD from what I overheard.
So how cheap are the flights?
I scored a smoking deal on our flight back to the states, $115 per person from Paris to Boston. Keep this in mind, even using points I would have paid $90 in fees flying out of France. There are country enforced duties and customs fees that are built into every ticket whether paid with points or cash. That means Wow Air only made about $20 or so from each ticket. Make sure to follow us on Facebook (and make sure to receive push notifications so you don’t miss timely deals) as we often post and share the best travel deals and steals, like this one. The sale was so big when I booking this flight that it crashed their ticketing system for four hours.
In case you were wondering, no I don’t live in Boston, I live in Phoenix. My options for getting home would have been to use 30,000 American Airline points per person (plus pay $90 in fees), or pay $115 for a Wow Air ticket to Boston and then use 9,000 JetBlue points per person from Boston to Phoenix.
30,000 AA points plus $90 fees
9,000 JetBlue points plus $115 Wow Air ticket
You decide which makes more sense (I know what did for me). You see, mixing and matching can sometimes be the best way to save massive points or money. Don’t simply assume that you have to stick with one airline and be forced to pay their asking price. I paid an extra $25 to save 21,000 points. Those points I saved are easily worth $300+ (more than enough for a one-way to the Caribbean) and remember, this was the savings per person.
There are a few flights in September and October from the West Coast to Iceland for $400 round-trip. That includes all of your ticketing fees, you will just have to consider baggage costs, seats, and food/drink on-board. Even if you get out for around $500 round-trip from the West Coast to Iceland, that is a smoking deal. A $500 flight will not typically get you any farther than 5 hours away, this flight would be 9 hours.
I’ll wrap up this review by saying I will definitely fly Wow Air in the future. I had a great experience and Alyssa did not even know we were flying on a low-cost-carrier until they told her that her coffee would be 350 ISK (about $2.75). I didn’t want to send her into it with any expectations, we just got on-board and as it turns out she also thought it was a great product overall.
Watch our take-off from Iceland