Why I’m Not Wow-ed By Wow Air

a plane flying in the sky

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I’ve been saying for a while that I’d like to try out at least one of the low-cost airlines that have broken the mould and have been flying across the Atlantic for the past couple of years. To that end I’ve been taking a look at both Norwegian and WOW air to see what all the excitement is about and to see if and how I should try one or both of the airlines out.

Norwegian looks genuinely interesting. I like that the airline is taking the battle to the legacy airlines and I like its shiny new Dreamliners…..but I just can’t get excited about WOW air.

a white airplane on a runwayNorwegian 787 Dreamliner at paris CDG

Norwegian and WOW have both been making a name for themselves by occasionally offering super-cheap fares between the US and Europe, getting lots of press for it and in turn putting pressure on the legacy airlines not to get too carried away with how they price their fares. Nothing wrong with any of that.

I haven’t had much of an opportunity to check out my option on Norwegian yet, but an itinerary I’ve recently been looking at has got me seriously questioning the point of WOW air.

Booking Boston to Paris (CDG)

In an attempt to see just how WOW air compares to the legacy carriers I picked a random month of the year (September) and then picked a random 7-8 day period and checked to see what a roundtrip fare between Boston and Paris would cost on WOW air.

I gave WOW every chance because, although I had originally selected 1 September as my departure date, I could see from my search that departing on 3 September would be cheaper….

a screenshot of a flight schedule

….so that’s the start date I went with.

I then reasoned that someone traveling to Europe would probably want at least a week to have a look around one of the major cities so I selected 10 September as my return date:

a screenshot of a flight schedule

It turns out that 10 September wasn’t the cheapest date I could have chosen but it wasn’t the most expensive either….so that seems fair.

The next page of the WOW air booking process offered me the chance to pay for baggage and, to my surprise, I discovered that WOW changes for carry-on baggage.

a screenshot of a product

I’m starting to see why the airline is called WOW!

Who charges for carry-on?!

A “personal item” bag is in no way going to be big enough for most people on a 6-8 day trip so they’re faced with a $49.99 fee (in both directions) if they don’t want to walk around Paris in the same set of clothes for a week.

As a point of reference Norwegian doesn’t charge for carry-on items….

a white and blue sign with black textNorwegian’s carry-on policy

…and neither does Ryanair…the airline legendary for trying to charge its passengers for everything in sight!

a black suitcase and a brown bagRyanair’s carry-on policy

Anyway…WOW air charges a carry-on fee so that gets added to the cost of the fare.

I declined to add any checked baggage and I declined to pay for seat selection so this was the final cost of my dummy booking:

a screenshot of a white and black text

WOW air would charge me $569.96 to fly from Boston to Paris (and back) with one carry-on with me.

Fair enough. Time to see what everyone else is charging.

A quick search on ITA Matrix showed that the cheapest flights on this route in September (for a duration of 7-8 days) was $454 round trip…..

a screenshot of a calendar

…..but I ignored that. I wanted to make sure that I was being super fair to WOW air.

I checked to see what sort of fares other airlines were offering on the Boston – Paris route on the exact same dates that I had priced up with WOW.

It turns out Aer Lingus was the cheapest:

a white and black text with black numbers and numbers

At $515.83 Aer Lingus is pricing up at $54.13 cheaper than WOW air. That’s 10% cheaper than WOW.

Importantly, the Aer Lingus fare includes a carry-on allowance of 1 personal item and one regular-sized carry-on…..

a screenshot of a phone

…so this is a legitimate comparison to what WOW air is offering.

There’s more.

Not only does Aer Lingus include a personal bag and a carry-on bag in the $515.83 fare….but it also includes a checked bag too!

a screenshot of a computerAer Lingus transatlantic checked bag policy

This has got to be taking the WOW out of wow air….but there’s more still:

Aer Lingus passengers can expect complimentary drinks and food during their flight…

a close up of foodAer Lingus complimentary meal

….and that’s definitely not the case on WOW.

Here’s an extract from one of WOW air’s menus:

a collage of food on a tableWOW air pay-on-board menu

And in case you thought WOW would save travelers a lot of time….

All of WOW’s flights route through Reykjavik…which isn’t the most convenient airport to pass through if you’re looking to get to western Europe.

As you can see from the map (courtesy of Great Circle Mapper) the WOW air route covers 3,809 miles….

a map of the world with a red line

…and, if you refer to the booking screenshots at the top of this page, you’ll see that the traveling times are:

  • 10 hours 30 minutes Eastbound
  • 10 hours 55 minutes Westbound

Total = 21 hours 25 minutes of travel

Compare that to the Aer Lingus route which covers 3,482 miles (327 fewer miles than WOW)….

a map of the world

….and whose traveling times are as follows:

  • 9 hours 50 minutes Eastbound
  • 11 hours 25 minutes Westbound (the 2 hour 5o minute layover is a killer!)

Total = 21 hours 15 minutes of travel

There’s nothing in it.

So, To Sum Up (this bit):

  • WOW air is 10% more expensive than the competition
  • The competition offers a free checked bag – WOW doesn’t
  • The competition offers free food and drink – WOW doesn’t
  • Flying WOW isn’t any faster than the competition

But It Doesn’t End There Either!

Every now and again the legacy airlines have a sale and, right now, Delta has some good fares to Europe from a number of US cities…one of which happens to be Boston.

A traveler with a little bit of flexibility in their schedule could fly out of Boston on 4 September (one day later than the WOW air fare) and come back 8 days later (not 7) on the 12th of September for just $459.96.

a screenshot of a computer

Not only is that fare a staggering $110 cheaper than WOW (the supposed low-cost carrier) but that fare also includes:

  • A carry-on allowance
  • A checked bag
  • Food and drink onboard
  • Miles/points in any number of loyalty programs

a map of the world with a red line

On top of that, Delta’s flights are non stop so there’s no need to have to deal with a connection. That also has a great knock on effect on the total travel time which comes out to be 15 hours and 5 minutes…….or 6 hours 20 minutes shorter than WOW’s itinerary.

Lastly, and this really is the last thing (I think I’ve made my point), the seats Delta offers should be more comfortable.

WOW air’s A321 which operates this route offers seats which offer less seat pitch and less seat with than the seat’s on Delta’s 767s:

a close-up of a signWOW air A321 seat dimensions

a screenshot of a seatDelta 767 seat dimensions

So Delta’s current offering on this route:

  • Is $110 cheaper
  • Offers a checked bag
  • Offers complimentary food and drink
  • Is quicker
  • Should be more comfortable

Bottom Line

I picked the dates and route I used completely at random so I genuinely had no idea what I was going to find when I started crunching the numbers.

The fact is that even if I had tried to skew the numbers in favor of WOW the cheapest flights I could see (in September) would only have been $30 cheaper and so would have made no difference to the result.

The killer here is the ridiculous carry-on fee that WOW insists on charging and, unless you’re going somewhere for 1 or 2 nights (max), you’re not going to get the basic clothes you need into a “personal bag” – you have to pay the fee.

a close-up of a suitcaseMy preferred carry-on luggage from Briggs & Riley

I can imagine some arguing that no one is forcing passengers to take a carry-on bag with them so, if I was to take out the carry-on fee, WOW would be the cheapest option….but that’s a nonsensical argument.

You have to take a carry-on if you’re flying transatlantic for a trip of more than a couple of days so traveling without a carry-on isn’t an option – it has to be factored in to the cost of the flight.

Some will no doubt argue that at other times of the year WOW will be the cheapest…but so what? On any given route any number of airlines could be offering the cheapest fare at any given time but isn’t the point of a low-cost carrier to consistently offer a realistic low-cost option? If not then it’s just another airline and has no right claim the title of “low-cost” which WOW wears with great pride.

So that brings me to the thought I was left with after I saw how the math was panning out:

I always thought that the idea of a low-cost carrier was to be…well…low-cost…but if a low-cost airline isn’t cheaper than the likes of Aer Lingus and Delta is it actually a low-cost airline?

Are we in fact misnaming airlines like WOW when we call them “low-cost” when we should really just be calling them “unbundled airlines” or “add on airlines” after all the extra charges they like to tag on?

More importantly, it actually doesn’t really matter what name you use to label WOW because, if its fares aren’t working out cheaper than the fares of some legacy airlines what is the point of WOW air in the first place?

Featured image and logo courtesy of WOW air