Skift Take

How much inconvenience can you afford for a bargain basement fare?

Wow Air, Iceland’s second biggest carrier, announced new routes from the U.S. to Paris and Amsterdam last week, launching an unprecedented fare sale in stride.

As advertised, the airline offered $99 fares from Baltimore and Boston to Paris and Amsterdam — including tax — but not far beneath the surface laid a nest of fees and inconveniences ready to pounce. As a result, the few good fares were great for only a small minority of passengers. For everyone else, they were just another chapter of Wow Air marketing.

Like most low-cost carriers (LCCs), Wow’s model works through charging a low base fare and then adding a heap of fees throughout the travel experience — what many call à la carte pricing. Wow’s $99 fare sale is over now, but it’s possible to get an idea of what these fees cost by making a dummy booking.

How It Breaks Down

Past the current $538 BWI-CDG base fare that I can currently price from January 10 to January 17, the following fees come with booking:

  • Carry on bags (over 11lb) round trip: $76
  • Checked bags (under 44lb) round trip: $134
  • Seat selection round trip: $18

Together, those fees would ratchet a $99 fare up to $327 for most travelers, more than three times the advertised rate. Applying the fees to the current $538 fare brings it up to $751, barely competitive with Turkish Air, which currently offers a fare of $731. Neither routing is ideal as well; Wow Air’s flights to the EU require a layover in Reykjavik while the Turkish flights connect in Istanbul.

And then there’s the in-flight experience. While Wow’s service is generally regarded as warm and even enjoyable, their hard product is reflective of their reputation as a budget carrier. In-flight entertainment is sparse, with scattered overhead screens playing U.S. and EU sitcoms, according to Jaunted. True to the à la carte model, food and booze all costs money. On the bright side though, seat pitches hover at around 30-31 inches while widths are at 17 inches. Both of those dimensions are similar to that of a legacy carrier like United Airlines.

Weighing the pros and cons of flying on Wow Air, it’s easy to see where the casual traveler could thus get duped into paying for more for their ticket than they originally planned.

Where Wow’s fares really show their strength is among the ultra-budget travel market. Provided Wow’s having a great fare sale, the traveler has a great deal of flexibility, doesn’t bring carry-on luggage over 11 lbs, doesn’t check bags, doesn’t need a seat assignment until the very last second and doesn’t need to eat, drink, or watch fancy in-flight entertainment onboard, there are some outstanding deals to be had by flying Iceland’s number two carrier. But anyone else with a hint neediness in their schedule may fall prey to the fee monster.


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Tags: low-cost carriers, wow air

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