How a $99 flight to Europe becomes $500

Maybe you’ve heard the news that the Icelandic company WOW Air is once again offering $99 one-way flights to Europe beginning in 2018. I think it’s a wonderful idea to make international travel affordable — similar to what IKEA has done with furniture — but like IKEA, you should understand exactly what you are getting yourself into with a WOW Air flight.

I tried to book a flight on WOW Air’s website with the approach that I am a New York City resident who wants to go on a one-week European trip next spring. I have flexible dates and a flexible destination. I found a $99 one-way ticket to London next April (pretty wow!), but that does not include a return flight, fees or even a carry-on bag.

I found a return flight one week later for $189. If I want to bring a carry-on bag, that’s another $39 each way. If I want flight protection, it’s another $25 each way. To reserve a seat (and you have to reserve at least a basic seat), it costs another $10-$124 depending on leg room. I go with the basic seat. My tab stands at $516.

Once you board a WOW Air flight, nothing is free either. A water costs $2, a bag of chips is $3.25. The airline offers a variety of other snacks: yogurt, sandwiches and something called “flatcake.” The only thing that appears to be free is a bite-sized Icelandic licorice candy. WOW also offers an in-flight magazine and puzzles, but no movie.

When I researched flying from NYC to London in the same time period I found a $570 flight on British Airways. It is $54 more than WOW Air’s flight, but that price includes a checked bag, meals and drinks (including wine or beer) and movies galore. Also, the British Airways flight is non-stop while WOW Air’s stops in Iceland.

The bottom line: WOW Air is worth a look, especially if you can fit everything in a purse, are bringing your own lunch and enjoy black licorice. It’s a great option if your final destination is Iceland. Otherwise, I would recommend searching all airlines using an aggregator such as Kayak.  (Or you can always hire me to do the legwork for you!)

Photo courtesy of WOW Air

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There are California girls and there are Bakersfield girls. I am the latter.

3 thoughts on “How a $99 flight to Europe becomes $500

    1. Well, you can get a pretty good deal if you are willing to forgo all creature comforts, baggage, insurance, etc. I think I’m too old to start doing that now 🙂 Oh, and it costs $75 to bring a stroller each way on WOW, whereas most airlines check it for free.

  1. My coworker did it two winters ago and packed everything into a hiking backpack. She saved a lot of money. Oh, and she was 22 — much easier to forego certain creature comforts and embrace the boho lifestyle at that age. I agree that fees and charges REALLY add up on these budget airlines. Important to do your research!

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