WOW Air is a small, low-cost carrier based in Iceland that just made a power move that could disrupt the lucrative—some say absurdly overpriced—transatlantic flight market in a big way. This week, the airline's U.S. site went live, advertising specials as low as $99 each way, taxes and fees included, on routes between the U.S. and Europe.
Initial transatlantic service connects capital city Reykjavik to Boston-Logan and Baltimore-Washington (BWI) airports. Flights to and from Boston launch in March 2015, and BWI follows in June. WOW offers service from Reykavik-Keflavik onward to London (Gatwick) and Copenhagen as well, so passengers aren't limited to visiting Iceland.
As of Friday, the lowest fare advertised on the site was for flights from Boston to Reykjavik. Availability is limited at the cheapest prices, but we were able to (theoretically) book a round trip in April 2015 for $246 ($99 going, $147 on the return), all taxes and fees included. For the sake of comparison, a round trip on Icelandair with the same route and dates was running $675 at last check.
Earlier this week the travel blog Jaunted was able to secure an April flight on WOW from Boston to Copenhagen (by way of Reykjavik) for $99, but it looks like such insanely cheap fares are already sold out. Even so, without too much hassle we were able to find flights next spring on the route that are bargains compared to the competition. For instance, you could conceivably book a round trip Boston-Copenhagen flight in May for around $450—roughly half the price of what you'd find for the same itinerary at any major travel search engine.
WOW's fares from Washington (BWI) to Reykjavik start at $146 each way, while flights from BWI to London are currently being advertised from $195. Even if the cheapest fares sell out quickly, the (higher-priced) seats on WOW that are still available are likely to be much less expensive than flights with major airlines.
As you'd guess, WOW customers don't get many extras with the rock-bottom prices they're paying. Passengers must pay for both checked and carryon luggage, and services like food, beverages, and extra legroom are available only to customers who pay above and beyond the base ticket price.
WOW's venture into the transatlantic market comes a little over a year after another northern European upstart, Norwegian Air, emerged on the scene with sub-$500 flights between the U.S. and Europe. The world's largest airlines seem to have successfully thwarted Norwegian Air's plans to expand its transatlantic presence, but the carrier is still flying a handful of U.S.-Europe routes and is still advertising fares far cheaper than any of the industry's big players—as low as $169 each way between New York-JFK and Oslo and $189 for nonstop flights all the way from Oakland, Calif., to Stockholm, Sweden.
Like WOW, Norwegian Air lists fares with all mandatory taxes and fees included. That—as well as the long-awaited rise of low-cost competitors on transatlantic flights in general—is music to budget travelers' ears.