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We often cover Norwegian’s fantastic airfares to Europe, but we had yet to fly the low-cost airline. So, on his way to Norway to travel on the world’s longest 737 flight, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig flew Norwegian’s Premium product in the airline’s 787 Dreamliner. Here is his review.
WOW Air is the latest low-cost carrier to take the transatlantic market by storm, but Norwegian Air has been at it for a bit longer, operating nonstop flights to Europe with very attractive airfares. In some cases, you can find Norwegian Air flights for less than $400 round-trip, and the airline’s CEO even hopes to offer one-way flights for as low as $69 as soon as 2017.
There were no $69 fares to be had when I traveled, but I could have flown Norwegian’s regular economy product for about $350 one-way from New York to Stavanger, Norway (with a connection in Oslo). Instead, I decided to pay $575 to try out the airline’s Premium cabin. Premium class is similar to domestic first within the US, but you get a leg rest and a bit more recline, along with a few other perks. Given that I’ve become a bit spoiled with other airlines’ flat-bed seats to Europe, I wasn’t expecting to love Premium — however, I ended up having a really great flight.
Booking Norwegian Premium
I purchased my ticket 10 days before departure, at which point the fares were still quite reasonable. They went up a bit as the departure date neared, as you’d expect, but Norwegian’s fares were still very competitive, especially when you consider that a one-way fare costs roughly half what you’d pay for a round-trip — with other airlines, by comparison, you’ll pay even more to fly in one direction than you would to book a return trip.
As you can see in the screenshot above, I paid 4,847 Norwegian kroner for my fare, or about $575. That’s not bad at all for a one-way premium-economy seat, including a connecting flight from Oslo to Stavanger.
If I had booked the flight on the US version of the site, I would have paid an additional $192 for the ticket, as you can see above. To save a bundle on your booking, simply go through the Norwegian version of the site — you’ll need to click through the prompts in Norwegian, but it’s easy enough to figure out.
Norwegian charges a 2% fee for foreign credit cards, which entirely wipes out your CashPoints earnings (and then some, as you’ll see below). I decided to pay with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card in order to earn 2 points per dollar on the flight, which in this case required paying an additional fee of 98 NOK (about $11.50).
Premium fares include lounge access at ARN, BKK, CPH, JFK, LAX, LGW and OSL. You also get fast-track security access in select airports within Europe, two checked bags (up to 20 kg or 44 pounds each) and a seat reservation. Then, during the flight, you get pre-departure drinks, a three-course dinner and breakfast, along with wine and beer during the flight.
As you might expect, Norwegian’s frequent-flyer program — called Norwegian Reward — isn’t so great. You earn 2% “CashPoints” on LowFare tickets and 20% on Flex tickets, based on the fare amount (excluding taxes and fees). Even though I booked a Premium fare, it was at the lower price point, so I earned 2% for a total of 83 CashPoints.
If you’re booking flights, one CashPoint is worth 1 NOK off the cost of the flight. So a 399 NOK fare would require 399 CashPoints, or you can mix and match cash with points. The lowest upcoming one-way fare on the same route I flew — JFK to Oslo — is pricing at 1,100 NOK (about $130). I could use my 83 CashPoints to bring that fare down to 1,017 NOK (about $120). Based on the current exchange rate, each CashPoint is worth about 10 cents. Since you’ll receive either 2% or 20% of the base fare back, it’s definitely worth signing up for the program.
Airport and Lounge
On the day of my flight, Norwegian had flights departing from JFK to Oslo at 9:55pm and to London Gatwick a couple hours later. Since many of the passengers checking in were likely only traveling on my flight to Oslo, the check-in area was clear. I headed over to the Premium line, where there was only one person in front of me. I had my boarding pass in hand within a couple minutes, and headed over to the Premium passenger security line.
Note that Premium and Flex fares include two bags, while LowFare+ includes one bag. Otherwise, expect to pay $42 for the first bag on nonstop flights between the US and Europe, and $50 for the second when purchased before you get to the airport. Bags cost $50 each at the airport. You’ll pay more with a connecting itinerary. Fortunately, all passengers are allowed a carry-on bag (of up to 10 kg or 22 pounds) for free in addition to a personal item.
After a 10-minute wait at security, I made my way to the Korean Air lounge — Norwegian’s Premium passengers have free access.
Believe it or not, the KAL lounge has even fewer food and beverage options than most domestic lounges in the US. It was a pretty depressing assortment.
As for food, there are Oreos, Fig Newtons or cups of dried noodle soup with a vat of hot water.
I grabbed the only beer option, a Budweiser, and a cup of spicy noodle soup.
Since there wasn’t a Korean Air flight departing until later that night, there was plenty of seating available. Overall, it’s a pretty depressing lounge, but I suppose it beats waiting out in the terminal.
There was free Wi-Fi in the lounge, and while the speed was decent, I had trouble loading some websites. I couldn’t log in to respond to comments on this site, for example, though it was working when not connected to the lounge Wi-Fi.
After a few minutes of boredom in the KAL lounge, I headed to the gate. I had reached out to Norwegian a day before to request early access to the 787 so I could snap some photos, so the agent who checked me in brought me onto the plane a few minutes before boarding began.
Norwegian’s 787 Premium Cabin
One perk of booking a Premium flight is that you can choose your seat in advance. I selected seat 2J when I booked my flight 10 days before departure — at that time, the seat next to me was empty, but another passenger ended up grabbing that seat a day before the flight. There were several empty seats in the middle section — note that Norwegian does offer upgrades if Premium seats are available at check-in.
The seats are arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration — you’ll want to avoid the “E” seats if you don’t want to end up sitting in the middle.
Since you can bring a carry-on bag for free, that’s a popular option in the economy cabin. Fortunately, the Dreamliner’s overhead bins are huge, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding a spot for your bag.
There are five rows of seats on the side of the Premium cabin and four in the middle.
One of the Dreamliner’s “coolest” features is the customizable LED lighting — a flight attendant selected the “rainbow” color mode for boarding.
The windows are also a big hit. Each window has an individual dimming button, or the crew can set the brightness for an entire cabin from a control panel near the cockpit. That way, they can set all of the shades to dark and keep the sunrise from waking passengers too early.
Norwegian’s 787 Economy Cabin
If you’re after the absolute cheapest fares, you’ll be traveling in Norwegian’s regular economy cabin. Seats are arranged in a 3-3-3 configuration, which might feel a bit tight for the Dreamliner, which isn’t as wide as a 777, though most of the major airlines have nine-across seating on this plane.
Some seats are definitely much better than others — particularly those in the bulkhead in the front cabin. If you can, select seats A, B or C in row 6. After that, I’d go for D, E or F in the same row, or G, H or J in row 7.
There’s a ton of space in front of row 6.
Each seat includes an Android-powered on-demand entertainment system. The picture is sharp and the IFE responds well — believe it or not, all of the entertainment is free. As you can see, legroom is a bit tight (31-32 inches of pitch) if you aren’t in the front row.
Above is the front economy cabin from the rear. You might need to select a seat in advance if you don’t want to end up in the middle.
The lavatories are fairly compact in both cabins, but they’re state-of-the-art with automatic faucets.
Each lavatory also has a motion-activated toilet, so you don’t need to tap a button to flush. There are two lavs in the back of the plane, four in the middle section and two in the front of the Premium cabin.
Premium Seat and Amenities
I selected seat 2F in the Premium cabin, which is pictured above right next to the window.
The seats look pretty close together, and they are — expect to have about 46 inches of pitch, which is still more than you’ll find in domestic first class.
While the IFE screen is positioned in the seat back in the economy cabin, it’s attached to an arm in Premium.
As you can see, there’s a fair amount of recline — each seat also includes a leg rest and a foot rest that extends from the bottom (it’s not fully extended above).
When the seat in front is reclined, it’s nearly touching the IFE screen, making it difficult to get out if you’re in a window or middle seat. Bulkhead seats in row 1 don’t have this issue.
Each seat has its own power outlet in Premium, while there are two outlets for every three seats in coach.
The IFE screen is the same size as in coach. Unfortunately, since it pops out of the armrest, you can’t use it during taxi, takeoff or landing.
There’s a variety of content to choose from, including new release and older movies, TV shows and documentaries.
You can also play games through the IFE and order “snacks,” which in the Premium cabin was limited to a headset ($3) or blanket ($5). Note, however, that both of these items are provided for free (though pillows are not available, unfortunately).
Passengers traveling in the Premium cabin get these (surprisingly decent) earbuds for free.
If you do want to make a purchase, you can simply slide your card through the reader that’s built into the IFE.
You can flick through a selection of duty-free items using the entertainment system, however you can only add them to a “wish list” — you’ll need to place your order directly with a flight attendant.
There are also a few different map views to choose from, including an option to zoom in and out.
Since the IFE offers touchscreen control, I didn’t use this remote control at all. You can even control the light and call a flight attendant from the display.
I was really excited to try the free in-flight Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, even though I saw ads on Norwegian’s site, Wi-Fi isn’t available on the airline’s flagship plane. You can use it on most 737 flights within Europe, but that didn’t do me much good over the Atlantic.
Food and Beverage
If you’re traveling in coach, you’ll need to pay for your meal. Also, you can only order meals before departure — you can purchase snacks on board, but only after the main meal service is complete. So if you want to eat, be sure to order your meal in advance. Note that if you’re traveling in Premium, you only need to pre-order if you want a vegetarian or other special meal.
Passengers traveling in Premium get their pick of juice or water before departure.
Then, before and during the meal, you can choose from wine or beer. I had a very pleasant Sauvignon Blanc.
You also get a three-course dinner. I assumed that meant each course would be plated and served individually, but instead it was served all at once in this box. That ended up being a better choice, ultimately, so I could eat and then go to sleep. Dinner was served roughly an hour after takeoff, which is a bit later than I would have liked, especially with the 10pm departure. The steak was very tasty, though, and it wasn’t overcooked.
We were served breakfast about 90 minutes before landing, which consisted of a warm bagel with lox, cream cheese, tomato, onion and lettuce, along with a side of capers. It was great, and I appreciated being able to build my own sandwich.
After a quick descent, we landed at Oslo’s Gardermoen airport. There’s a small arrivals area for international flights, and since I stayed on the plane for a few more minutes to take pictures, there was a fairly long queue for immigration by the time I arrived. Still, the line moved quickly and I was through in 10 minutes — passengers with tight connections made their way to the front. I ended up having a two-hour layover, and even though my domestic gate was at the other end of the airport, I cleared security and made it there within 25 or so minutes of walking off the Dreamliner.
Overall, it was a great flight. As I mentioned, my expectations were fairly low given what I had heard about Norwegian’s sometimes days-long delays shortly after the airline began flying to the US in 2013. In just two years, however, the airline has managed to turn its reputation around, and with friendly flight attendants, good food, manageable fees and the fantastic Dreamliner, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly Norwegian again. I just wish the airline had a more rewarding frequent-flyer program, especially for lower-cost tickets. Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.