Arthur Frommer

Two little-known upstarts are offering bargain airfares to Europe

We are about to reach the slowest days of the European off-season, which starts as we approach the month of November and continues until mid-March. It is then that European hotels search for guests, the cost of vacationing in Europe declines and the smartest of all American travelers choose to cross the Atlantic.

But though the land costs of Europe are lower at that time, especially in this time of a strong U.S. dollar, the cost of flying across the Atlantic is, discouragingly, high. Most airlines – with two exceptions – charge close to $1,000 for round-trip air to most European cities from the U.S.

The two exceptions – and they are the carriers I’d like to examine in this column – are WOW Airlines, of Iceland, and Norwegian Airlines, of Norway.

WOW Airlines charges rates on some days during the period from Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, and from Jan. 10 to March 10, that are as low as $150 each way (and thus $300 round trip, including tax) for a trip from the U.S. to many different European capitals. But just as some helpful medications have disappointing side effects, WOW’s breathtaking low rates carry several important conditions.

WOW Airlines is an Icelandic carrier, and flies from Boston, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., via Reykjavik, Iceland, to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Berlin. But though Iceland currently is a popular destination in its own right for sightseeing the countryside outside of Reykjavik, WOW’s $150-each-way fare does not permit the buyer to stop over in Iceland on his or her way to Europe. If you wish to enjoy that low rate, you must immediately change planes upon arriving in Reykjavik and continue on to Europe.

Aboard a WOW flight, there is no canned entertainment (no TV-like monitors on the back of the seat in front of you), and no free food; you’ll need to bring your own sandwiches. Moreover, baggage rules are fairly strict: Checked luggage cannot be more than 44 pounds in weight, and carry-on luggage cannot be heavier than 11 pounds (a fairly severe restriction). And finally, $150 fares are not available on all flights; you may have to search several dates. But eventually, you should be able to arrange a flight to as faraway a destination as Copenhagen for a breathtaking $150 each way. For more details, go to wowair.us.

Norwegian Airlines (sometimes known as the Norwegian Air Shuttle) is a more standard carrier, with normal amenities and rules, but also with slightly higher – though still advantageous – prices. On numerous dates in the late fall, winter and early spring, it offers one-way rates as low as $299 round-trip between New York and London, including taxes. And it charges even less ($219 to $269) one way between New York and the Scandinavian capitals, as little as $319 one way between New York and Barcelona. Its $299 one-way price to London can create a $600 round-trip fare, and that $600 compares with rates of $900 and even more on other carriers flying to London at that time. Again, you’ll have to search several dates to find these low prices, but the job is manageable – and worth the effort. Go to Norwegian.com/us for further details.

All this is not meant to say that you won’t occasionally find a bargain fare on winter flights of other airlines, including the well-known ones. In a recent article by travel expert Reid Bramblett, which is a slide show on Frommers.com, he surveys the airfare search engines that can sometimes turn up a lower-than-usual trans-Atlantic airfare on well-known airlines. And he finds that a Danish airfare search engine called Momondo.com leads the field in finding such bargains, although he also has good things to say about the new airfare-search services offered by Google.

But generally speaking, if you want to fly to Europe cheaply during the coming off-season months, you’ll first scan the offerings of Norwegian Air and WOW Airlines.

Note to the reader: Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip. The information in this column was accurate when it was released, but prices are competitive, sometimes limited and can always change without notice.

Arthur Frommer is the founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. Find more destinations and read his blog at frommers.com.

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