Budget carrier WOW Air has rolled out a sale offering $49 one-way tickets to Europe.
The budget carrier already was known for rock-bottom fares across the Atlantic, but the Icelandic airline says its latest $49 offering is its lowest-ever for travel between the USA and Europe. The $49 fares are available on routes such at Pittsburgh-Frankfurt; Newark, New Jersey-Brussels; and Detroit-Dublin.
All of WOW’s flights from the USA operate to its hub near Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik, with connecting service available to other European destinations.
However, WOW’s jaw-dropping $49 offer on trans-Atlantic flights comes with the usual fine print. What’s relatively new are concerns about financial difficulty at the airline.
WOW launched in 2012 and expanded to the USA in 2015, expanding rapidly here since then. Its cheap Iceland and Europe sales fares became a staple as it grew its footprint here. In 2018, however, WOW ran into financial headwinds that raised questions about its survival. A cash crunch created pressure for the airline, and a subsequent acquisition by rival Icelandair seemed like a lifeline until the deal fell through.
Ultimately, Indigo Partners – the parent company of Frontier Airlines and several other successful “ultra low-cost carriers” (ULCCs) – stepped in to say it planned to invest in the carrier and help it remake its operation. No agreement has yet been announced and the sides said in December that terms were still being arranged.
In the meantime, WOW had to return or sell several of its aircraft to free up cash. WOW had 20 planes in its fleet in mid-2018, but that had dropped to just 11 by early 2019. Amid the turmoil, WOW has axed numerous U.S. cities from its route map, dropping service to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas/Fort Worth, New York JFK, St. Louis, Cleveland and Cincinnati. It still flies to four destinations in the USA, the company confirmed to USA TODAY’s Today in the Sky blog on Monday. Those cities are Baltimore/Washington, Boston Detroit, and Newark Liberty. WOW also flies to Montreal and Toronto in Canada.
As for the fare-sale fine print, the special fares are for travel from Jan. 21 through March 11. Sale fares will not be offered on every day of travel, with WOW saying the $49 one-ways are available only on “selected dates.” Additionally, WOW says the offer will cover “1,000 seats on selected flights” and only when booking round trip flights.
So, what’s the catch?
Concerns about the carrier’s finances aside, one catch for the $49 one-way sale fare is the requirement for a round-trip purchase.
A Today in the Sky search of WOW’s website for February flights between Baltimore and Frankfurt showed availability of the $49 one-way fares, but not on every day of the week. Out of a one-week window (Feb. 1-7), the $49 fare was available on two days.
The cheapest return fare available during a similar one-week window (Feb. 10-17) was $189.99, and it was offered during only one day of that window (Feb. 13). The return fares on the other dates ranged from $219.99 to $299.99.
Still, pairing the $49 outbound flight on Feb. 7 with the $189.99 return on Feb. 13 produces a round-trip fare of just $238.99 – still a remarkably cheap base fare.
But, in the true form of “ultra low-cost carriers” like WOW, everything beyond an unassigned seat is extra. A carry-on bag that must be stowed in the overhead bin? That starts at $49.99 per person, each way. A checked bag begins at $67.99 per person, each way. Assigned seats, food and beverage also cost extra.
Still, for a passenger who can get by with just one checked bag (and no carry-on) for a week in Germany, adding the round-trip bag fee would bring the total round-trip fare to $374.97. By booking that fare – still a good bargain – a customer would not be able to bring anything onboard that wouldn’t fit underneath the seat in front of them. Seats would be assigned at check-in and buying food or drinks in-flight would cost extra.
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