Flights from California to Europe for $69? A trans-Atlantic fare war could be brewing as airlines that already offer some of the cheapest tickets between North America and Europe get set to do battle.
Icelandic discount carrier WOW rolled out $69.99 one-way fares on Tuesday for its flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco to four destinations in Europe.
The fares – good for flights from Jan. 15 through April 5 – are now being sold on connecting itineraries to Stockholm; Copenhagen; Bristol, England; and Edinburgh, Scotland. WOW billed the fares as “its lowest airline prices yet” for customers flying between California and Europe.
WOW also rolled out sub-$100 fares Tuesday from two of its East Coast destinations. WOW said fares from Miami and Boston would be available for $99 one-way to Iceland. And on connecting itineraries to Paris, London Gatwick, Amsterdam, Berlin Schönefeld and Frankfurt, WOW was selling tickets for $129 one-way from Boston and for $149 from Miami.
But it’s the $69.99 fares from California that are most likely to grab headlines Tuesday. A WOW statement about the fares said they’d be offered “for a limited time,” though the airline’s founder and CEO Skúli Mogensen told Today in the Sky he aimed to make the rock-bottom prices a regular offering.
“I don’t want to introduce this as a sale,” Mogensen said. “It’s really setting the stage for what is coming.”
What is coming is a potentially bruising turf battle with Norwegian Air, another fast-growing “ultra low-cost carrier” that’s also rapidly expanding on routes between the USA and Europe.
It’s likely no coincidence that WOW’s just-announced $69 fares came after Norwegian Air officials spent much of the holiday season on a European media blitz promising $69 fares between Europe and the United States sometime in 2017.
“Other airlines have been talking about offering these fares,” WOW Air said in a press release, adding: “But Iceland’s WOW air is actually doing it.”
Mogensen was slightly more measured when asked directly if WOW’s $69 fares were in response to the chatter from Norwegian.
“What I would simply say is that I am thrilled to be introducing these fares on the trans-Atlantic market,” Mogensen said. “I think there’s going to be fierce competition on all routes.”
“Very much like the low-cost airlines changed the game domestically in both Europe and in North America, I think what we and Norwegian are now doing will permanently change the fare structure across the Atlantic,” he added. “The game has changed permanently to the benefit of the consumer.”
However, passengers looking to snap up bargain fares on WOW (or on competitor Norwegian) should know that they'll likely pay a fee for nearly everything beyond a guaranteed seat somewhere on the plane. Part of a new breed of "ultra low-cost carriers" that are expanding both in the USA and around the world, WOW charges a fee for everything from seat assignments to carry-on bags. Norwegian operates under a similar model.
WOW began flying in 2012 and now flies to more than 30 destinations, including seven in the United States and two in Canada. WOW is already flying from its hub near Reykjavík to Baltimore/Washington, Boston, Los Angeles, Newark Liberty and San Francisco. The company will add two new U.S. destinations later this year, adding service to Miami in April and to Pittsburgh in June.
As for the fares announced Tuesday, Mogensen said he expected WOW's fares from the East Coast to eventually drop to the same $69 threshold it rolled out for the California markets. Fares from cities like Baltimore, Boston and Miami remained lists at $99 one way as of Tuesday morning.
"Do I think I can do better in those markets? Eventually, yes. But for now we’re focusing on the California market. And Canada." Mogensen said.
For Canadian customers, WOW was offering fares as low as CDN $99 (about $75 U.S.) for connecting flights from Toronto and Montreal to the European cities of Copenhagan, Stockholm and Bristol. WOW began flying from Canada in 2016.