Unless you’ve been on a social media hiatus, you may be wondering why so many people seem to be traveling to Iceland lately. Is the Icelandic Krona heavily influenced by the British Pound? Did Walter Mitty develop a cult following of Icelandic explorers? Is the food in Iceland REALLY that good? Perhaps. However, there’s a much simpler, overarching reason: WOW Airlines.
Until recently, cheap round-trip tickets to Reykjavik from the United States hovered around $1,000 US from the west coast; $600 US+ from the East Coast. Enter WOW Airlines. Following a business model similar to Norwegian Air, Icelandic discount carrier WOW infiltrated the U.S. market in 2016 with seemingly amazing $99 US tickets to Europe (one-way). Initially offering flights from Pittsburgh, Boston and Baltimore, WOW now also services New York, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
$99 US flights to Europe?! So, what’s the catch? Filtering through reviews, it’s unclear whether WOW is absolutely amazing or utterly abysmal. So, we hopped on a $299 US round-trip flight from Los Angeles direct to Reykjavik to test whether this no frills airline is on par with other U.S. carriers or creates a new low in the U.S. aviation industry, as some reviewers suggest.
Existing in a space somewhere between Ryan Air, EasyJet and Virgin America, WOW flies new, hot-pink Airbus 320, 321 and 330 airplanes, and touts their brand as “the youngest fleet in Iceland with the lowest emission.” They offer online check-in, electronic tickets and cater to less service-oriented travelers. The interior and overall atmosphere of WOW’s planes is less rave-y than Virgin America; however, unlike their tech-savvy, highly integrated counterpart, there’s no entertainment system or wifi on board, so be sure to load your iPad or tablet with some form of entertainment for the flight. On the plus side, power outlets exist throughout the cabin and the allocated legroom is surprisingly generous. Food selection isn’t extensive, but prices are reasonable and similar to other carriers.
Our Verdict? Simply put: it’s a discount carrier, as advertised. Tickets are cheap; you pay for everything else. Additional fees include pre-reserving seats, any food or drinks and luggage, including carry-on. You’re allowed a ‘small carry-on’ weighing up to 10kg (22lbs) for free, but the dimensions are restrictive, and likely not enough to account for a weekend’s worth of cold weather gear (it is Iceland). These are not a hidden fees, however. Dimensions, weight and cost are posted on the airlines website and highlighted when you purchase your ticket. Fees vary by origin and destination, so make sure to reference the fee schedule when booking. That said, once we choose window seats ($13US each way) and checked a large bag ($71 each way), our $299US ticket came to a total of $454US…still far below historic fares, and less than many domestic tickets for flights within the U.S.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. Iceland is amazing! As long as you’re a flexible traveler willing to forego luxuries, WOW is a good discount provider. Additionally, you can book a last minute session at the Blue Lagoon, tours and airport transfers through the airline before you leave or while in flight, a great perk! Some reviews have indicated a lack of customer service, but the WOW employees we interacted with in Los Angeles and Reykjavik were professional, accommodating and didn’t take issue with the fact that one of our checked bags was 0.5kg (1lbs) overweight. As long as you find cheap tickets and anticipate paying an extra $100-$200 for seat selection and baggage, it’s a great deal. DO NOT, however, purchase tickets on WOW expecting to be pampered or catered to.
Measure, weigh and pre-purchase your baggage. Baggage purchase is available at check-in for a slightly higher fee, and gate-side purchase is much higher. If you’re traveling with someone, consider splitting the cost of one ‘large baggage.’ You can fit a lot into a 20 kg (44 lbs) bag. Bring your own food and entertainment on board and you’ll be good to go!
If you don’t live near airports currently serviced by WOW, use Google Flights to search flights to/from one of the airports they fly to and see if it’s cost effective to book a separate ticket connecting flights.
Featured image courtesy of Marissa Tangonan