If you haven’t yet heard of the new budget airline, WOW Airlines, connecting the U.S. to Iceland and beyond to Europe, then you’re either incredibly lucky to be flight hopping in style, or you’ve been living under a rock. Either way, I am here to share my brutally honest experience flying with WOW Airlines.
In the Unites States, there are very few options for budget airlines, like real real budget, that would connect you to other domestic locations in the country, let alone an international one. I love JetBlue and Southwest, at least Spirit exists as another option, but I don’t view them as cheap as easyJet or RyanAir in the European and U.K. market, as I’m sure many who have studied abroad will vehemently agree! And as much as I complained and bemoaned flying those airlines, I would much prefer to have that option than nothing at all. Being able to hop on a 20 euro flight to Paris from Dublin is a luxury (yes, a luxury) I miss. I often sat on those RyanAir flights wondering (true story) if any airline would EVER create a budget route from Europe to the U.S. And then I would start thinking, oh my god, could I ever last on a budget flight like RyanAir for more than two hours? Those flights could be miserable.
Well, thanks to WOW, a new international budget airline connecting the U.S., Iceland, and Europe, I now have the answers to those questions. Let me start from the beginning.
I ended up booking my flights–LAX to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Boston–under two separate itineraries, which ended up costing the same amount if I had booked it round-trip. When flying with WOW, every flight between the states and Europe or the U.K. will have a layover in Iceland. Many routes offer a “WOW Stopover” which means you could extend your layover for a few days to further explore Iceland on your way to Europe or back home breaking up the long journey. Because my ticket was not technically a “round-trip” or return ticket, I was not eligible for this stopover–and truth be told I would not have had the time to take an extra day or two off to explore. Next time!
As you’re booking, you will notice nothing is included in your ticket except a small personal item and being able to board the plane. That’s right, if you want to select your seat (per flight!), bring hand-luggage or a carry-on, check a bag, etc. you will have to pay for it–which is to be expected. This is the business model of most budget airlines which is how they make up the cost of cheap ticket prices. But if you’re savvy enough and willing to take the time to read through the small print, you will save an exorbitant amount of money flying to and from Europe, especially from the west coast (best coast!) of the U.S. For me, this is my heaven! #nerdalert I love organizing, planning, and replanning all aspects of travel.
Keep reading to see how I managed planning my trip on a budget with WOW airlines!
Choosing Your Seat
First, I started with my seats. Since I was taking 4 flights (LAX to KEF, KEF to EDI, EDI to KEF, KEF to BOS), that meant selecting 4 separate seats would be 4 different charges. I paid for these seats during my booking process online. Just to clarify, everything you book online will be cheaper than doing it at the airport–they have their online fees and then they have their airport fees which are more expensive. Just something to keep in mind for the rest of this review!
Since I knew I would be heading into a 6 hour time difference, after adjusting to a 3 hour time difference only days before, I knew I wanted to be able to sleep on the plane as much as possible which meant coughing up a few extra bucks for a seat that would accommodate that need. There are varying seat options so you could pay anywhere from $7 to $45 dollars to choose where you’d like to sit on the aircraft. I knew my first flight from Los Angeles to Reykjavík would be the longest so I paid the most for a roomier, comfier seat at $45. The next three flights I only paid the extra $7 just to choose my own seat (I really prefer window seats!)–not bad in my book! The $45 dollar seat was leather and a little roomier compared to the other seats which were standard coach size. The seating arrangement on the longer flight, LAX to KEF, was 2-4-2 so I opted for a window seat near the front of the aircraft in front of the jets (quieter!). The regular seats I purchased, in a 3-3 seating arrangement, were no smaller or bigger than any other airline I’ve experience which was a pleasant surprise.
NOTES: I am only 5’3” so maybe I don’t notice a difference as much, but all the seats felt pretty standard coach size to me! Also, the $45 seat was on a much larger plane than the other 3 flights since it was a longer distance (LAX to KEF), so there might have been nicer seats available for purchase. The other three flights looked like all the seats on the aircraft were the same. I will say, the recline on all the seats on each flight actually seemed MUCH deeper than most other airlines in general which was a nice surprise.
WOW Airlines has various luggage fees depending on your route of travel which is probably another cost saving maneuver for the company. The shorter your route, the cheaper the luggage fees, and if you select the wrong luggage fee for your route you will be charged an extra fee to change it–simply another way to make up for the cheap ticket prices so be sure to read all the information carefully! I would recommend going to their website and reading the fine print in detail. I also recommend booking all your luggage online as the fees go up to do it at the check-in counter at the airport.
All flights include a small personal item sized 42 x 32 x 25 cm (16.5 x 12.5 x 10 inches) weighing no more than 10 kg (26 lbs.). In addition to the small personal item, I opted to pay for a carry-on sized luggage 56 x 45 x 25 cm at 10 kg (22 x 17.7 x 10 inches and 26 lbs.) for $50.99. In hindsight, it was only an extra $20 or $30 to check my bags which would then increase the weight limit to 20 kg (44 lbs.), but I wanted to travel light.
With nightmares of RyanAir brutally shoving my luggage into their tiny sized bin to check its size, I diligently studied the baggage fees and measured and remeasured my carry-on based on my routes to avoid any excess fees.
NOTES: Leave enough time at the airport to head to a check-in counter whether or not your are checking a bag because it is here where they will weigh your carry-on and give you a luggage tag which says you’ve met their requirements so they won’t weigh it at the gate. At the check-in counter you can still pull some items out to meet the weight requirements, or change it (if you purchased carry-on luggage online at time of booking) to a checked bag which is a cheaper to do at check-in ($40). I’m not sure what happens if it is overweight at the gate, but the fee to check your luggage at the gate is $100.
The only place where the gate agents were weighing carry-on luggage was at my gate at LAX where people did not have luggage tags yet. Luckily I no longer own a printer so I had to print my boarding pass from the check-in desk and received my luggage tag there. In Reykjavík and in Edinburgh, not one gate agent checked or weighed anyone’s carry-on luggage…but you never know.
You’ll also want to go to the check-in counter to print your boarding pass (even if you’ve checked in online)–at LAX people who had printed their boarding passes at home were sent away from the (LONG) security line back to the check-in counter to get them reprinted–I have no idea why!
Ha–there is no in-flight service! Gotcha! Well there are flight attendants yes, and there is food and water, pillows, blankets, and even iPADs full of various movies and entertainment, but you guessed it–everything will cost you. This is where the savings and planning really pays off. Pack your own food, and bring a refillable water bottle–a largeish one if you tend to get dehydrated on flights like I do. The worst part of this trip is that I left my BRAND NEW fancy Yeti water bottle in the LAX terminal before boarding. I was so mad I could have cried. We hadn’t taken off yet and I asked the flight attendant about possibly calling the gate, but I guess that wasn’t possible. She seemed quite confused when I asked her about retrieving it. A water set me back $3 inflight so it was no biggie, but I loved that water bottle!
Also, thank god for Netflix and Amazon Prime’s new offline download feature! I loaded up my phone with the full seasons of Man in the High Castle and the new show Versailles and I was in heaven. I also downloaded Grace of Monaco and the documentary Fed Up for good measure. I even had a few books in there so I was set for entertainment. Another surprise was that each WOW aircraft I was on had an outlet so I was able to keep everything charged for the full flight. It is a norther european outlet so be sure to bring your adapter. Thank god I brought mine! I thought I might need it to charge my electronics in the Reykjavik airport, but it was such a necessity on the plane!
I couldn’t write this review without including every aspect of my experience with WOW Airlines, which would mean sharing my experience with the Customer Service team. I was required to upload my APIS (Advance Passenger Information) 72 hours before the flight departed, and I was told if I didn’t there was a chance I would not be allowed to board the flight. I wasn’t able to upload this information online, so I called customer service which sent me to a call center in India. When I was explaining why I wasn’t able to upload my APIS information (the fields were literally all greyed out), he told me I didn’t actually need to do it and to not worry about it. I was really apprehensive about showing up to the airport without doing this after I had received an email explicitly warning me to make sure the APIS was uploaded 72 hours prior to the flight or risk not being able to board. I asked if I could just speak to a supervisor to get some more information, and was eventually hung up on. I immediately called back, told them I was hung up on, and was then connected to a supervisor who helped me set up the APIS information on my ticket. I also needed to add my middle name to my boarding pass information since it was on my passport and it needed to match my APIS information. He changed the fee I saw on my account from $99 (a name change fee) to $17 (a name correction fee). Great, a fee and some time wasted but I’ll take it. Other than the initial man I spoke to everyone was very helpful. I didn’t do the name change for my return flight and no one mentioned it, so I probably could have avoided the fee and gotten away with not changing it. Oh well!
I was also booking my luggage a few days before my flight once I knew what I would be packing (it was after Christmas and all!). I selected a “via” luggage carry-on since I knew it should only be one fee from LAX all the way through to EDI via Reykjavík. Well, it showed up on my account only being paid for from LAX to Reykjavík. Another call to customer service! It was pretty painless. I just sat on hold for a while and she finally told me it should be no problem at the gate. She gave me her name for reference (although I don’t know if that would have helped at all), if anyone gave me trouble in Reykjavík–no one did.
I think I was over worried about super strict gate agents and flight attendants, but it was much more relaxed for a budget airline than I expected!
If you’ve made it this far then kudos to you! I wasn’t planning on writing a novel and being so detailed, but I’ve had nightmare experiences with the likes of RyainAir, easyJet and others that I was adamant about doing my research which I just wanted to share here with you. The thought of being uncomfortable and miserable on a plane for 8 + hours is not worth saving a few dollars, so I was really looking for good value with WOW Airlines. I was dreading a no frills, dreary, and cramped experience–but I have to say it was no different than flying any other airline in coach. Coming from the states, I’ve mostly experienced some of the worst airlines in the world but I have also flown with British Airways, Air France, Aer Lingus, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, and several others as well. Overall I would say my experience flying WOW Airlines was great, and light years beyond the budget airlines I’ve flown within Europe. WOW Airlines wasn’t especially noteworthy, and it took a littler extra effort in the planning stages, but if I were to fly coach on another airline to Europe I would receive a similar experience and it would cost a great deal more. So, to get the same experience and save some money in the process–or even be able afford the trip at all–is a big win in my book!
How about you? Have you ever flown with WOW Airlines? What was your experience like? I’m curious to hear now that it’s been operating for some time!