Preparation

Icelandair vs. Wowair vs. …

Iceland – Airport” by Jiashiang is licensed under CC BY 2.0

[Updated May 2017 with new Wowair fees and fare classes.]

Just a few years ago, there weren’t too many options for flying to Iceland from the United States. You’d take Icelandair. But in 2012, discount carrier Wowair started and suddenly things got a lot more interesting.

Let’s plan a trip to Iceland in May of 2016.

Icelandair

Icelandair offers flights from JFK airport any day for the same price.

icelandair

The return trip is also the same price every day, though that price is $26 more.  (Both fares are actually $270 each, but come with different taxes, airport fees, security fees, etc.) Some of these days will start getting more expensive as Icelandair sells its quota of the cheapest tickets.

Icelandair Kid’s Fares

Note that tickets for children are offered at a 25% discount on Icelandair.  But the discount is only on the base fare, and not taxes, fees, or fuel surcharges.  The actual discount off of the total price was closer to 16%.

children

Wowair

Wowair has been rapidly expanding the number of US cities they fly from. In early 2016, they only flew from BWI (Baltimore Washington) and Boston. Flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco began in June 2016;  Newark airport, 30 minutes outside of New York city, was added in late Novemeber 2016. Service from Miami began in April of 2017, and service from Pittsburgh begins in June 2017 and Chicago Midway in July 2017. (If you’re in Canada, Wow also has flights from Toronto and Montreal.)

On Wowair, the price varies by which day you want to fly, but all prices are cheaper than Icelandair:

wowair2

This was a search for 2 people. When I upped it to 4 people, some of the prices increased, by between $8 and $20 per ticket or so. Wowair does not offer any discount for children, so airfare is almost the exact same price. (There is a small fare decrease for kids is because the Iceland airport charges a slightly lower tax for kids compared to adults.)

Return flights were available for between $194 and $238 for most days.

Icelandair vs. Wowair: which is cheaper?

Let’s compare actual prices. For 2 adults and 2 children (no child discount on Wowair!), flying May 9 – May 17, the total cost is $1,480.12. On Icelandair, the total cost is $2,295.92. That’s over $800 more—real money.

But the services offered aren’t comparable.  What do you get with Icelandair that you won’t get with Wowair? Don’t worry- Icelandair will tell you on their web site:

(They also offer at least one free checked bag per person.)
http://www.icelandair.us/flights/

Wowair used to call themselves “Iceland’s most punctual airline,” but even that is now gone from their web site. All they now say is “We promise you that WOW feeling!” and then everything else is about low prices.

Luggage: Icelandair vs. Wowair

Icelandair Wowair (from East Coast) Wowair (from West Coast)
Carry on, small       $0 17x13x10in $0
Carry on, larger $40 22x18x10in $50
Carry on, under 22 pounds $0 50x40x20cm
One checked bag $0 50 pounds $50 40 pounds $70

With Wowair, you can’t get both a free carry on and a paid carry on—it’s one or the other. Also, Wowair used to have weight restrictions on carry-ons, but those have been eliminated.

Sources: http://www.icelandair.us/information/baggage-information/, http://wowair.us/travel-info/fees-charges/
(All Wowair prices are updated as of May 1, 2017. But they tweak them every few months; the last change moved all of the prices down a dollar.)

The Wowair restrictions are severe; take a minute to really understand those carry-on rules. Want to put something in the overhead bin? That costs $40. The only free carry-ons are those that fit under your seat.

Note that these are the fees you pay Wowair if you pay online. If you pay at the airport, they are more expensive. So if you show up at an east coast airport with a carry-on that’s too big, you’d need to pay $50 instead of $40. Checked bags would cost $70 instead of $50.

Wowair is now offering premium ticket classes, that bundle checked bags and other options into the higher fare. “Wow Plus” gives you a carry-on, a checked bag, and cancellation insurance. “Wow Biz” adds food, an XXL seat with lots of legroom, and priority boarding. In most cases, though, I don’t think the savings from the bundle justify the cost– just picking the individual upgrades you want to pay for will often be cheaper.

Seats: Icelandair vs. Wowair

Next, let’s look at seats. With Wowair, you have to pay to choose specific seats. Reserving a seat in the back of the plane cost $10, while seats in the middle cost $11, or $2 more each for flights from the West Coast. All of those seats have 30” or 31” of legroom.

Icelandair gives you 32” of legroom as their smallest option. If you want to reserve 32” seat on Wowair, you’d need to pay an extra $40 for a group of 4 ($50 from the West Coast.) That’s per ticket, each way.

Remember that you don’t need to reserve a seat and pay any of these fees. But now you’re involved in a game theory exercise. How many other people reserved seats? By the time you board, your options may be limited. Presumably, Wowair would make sure kids aren’t seated away from their parents, but families may be split up? (Anyone have any experience with this?)

Update: A new law would help with this. The LIFT Act, (Lasting Improvements to Family Travel) requires airlines to seat families together. I haven’t seen any movement on this in 2017, though.

Let’s go back to our hypothetical family of 4. Remember that Wowair was $815 cheaper. But let’s assume each person checks a bag each way, with free small carry ons. And let’s assume you reserve $10 seats in the back of the plane. That’s 8 checked bags (4 each way) at $50 each, and 8 seats at $10 each. Total incremental cost: $480, or more than half of the difference in cost.

If you decided you wanted 32” seats to match Icelandair, now your incremental cost is $800, and Wowair is about the same price as Icelandair. And you don’t get free drinks or an entertainment system.

The bottom line is that Wowair can work well if you plan ahead. Maybe your family can get by with 2 large checked bags instead of 4 smaller ones?

There’s one more type of seat on Wowair that I didn’t mention, and it may be a worthwhile splurge for some. There are “XXL” seats that cost an extra $50 ($60 from the West Coast), and give you at least 35” of legroom.  For an overnight flight, paying the extra $200 for a family of 4 might be well worth it. Especially a tall family of 4.

Icelandair offers 33” seats in their economy comfort class, which will cost you at least $100 extra per person each way, if not much more. That does give you meals and lounge access. But then the only option for more legroom beyond that is the 40” pitch offered in Saga business class. And now we’re talking an extra $500 or $1000 or more per ticket.

Perks for kids: Icelandair vs. Wowair

Besides qualifying for modestly discounted tickets on Icelandair, children 2-11 will get a free meal, free headphones, and some games, puzzles, and crayons. Besides the meal, everything was inside the bag our kids received:

And the meal came in a cute cardboard box with activities printed on it.

The third option: Delta

A third (and I think final?) option from the United States to Reykjavik is Delta. For our hypothetical trip above for our hypothetical family of 4, the total cost is $2,629, or more than $300 more than Icelandair, and over a thousand more than Wowair. Amenities are similar to Icelandair, though slightly worse. Legroom is 31” or 32”, there is an entertainment system included, but you only get 1 free checked bag. You do get a meal included on each flight, which neither of the Icelandic airlines offers. If you find a competitive fare, Delta could be a fine option. Delta may also have a bassinet available for your infant. They call them SkyCots. But note that “SkyCots can be requested, but cannot be guaranteed.” Otherwise, I think Icelandair or Wowair will generally have better choices if you are booking several months into the future.

So which did you choose, or will you choose? How was your experience flying to Iceland?

Icelandair vs. Wowair vs. … was last modified: May 28th, 2017 by Eric