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WOW Air’s new A330 seemed great at first, but there’s more to this low-cost carrier than meets the eye. The Pros: Cheap base fares and a fairly new aircraft. The Cons: Uncomfortable seats and lots of ridiculous extra fees — even for water.
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: The Platinum Card® from American Express
WOW Air recently started flying long-haul routes from San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Reykjavik (KEF) on its newly purchased A330s. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of budget carriers and how they’re able to offer such low fares, especially on longer international routes. I’ve flown on Norwegian twice and found it to be an enjoyable ride, so was curious to see how WOW Air would stack up. We’ve already reviewed its A320 from the East Coast to Iceland, which has since been replaced by the larger A321. Here’s what the wide-body A330 experience was like. [Update, 3/28/2019: WOW Air has ceased operations. Find our ongoing coverage of WOW Air’s collapse, and what affected passengers can do about it, here.]
Here at The Points Guy, we’re constantly covering cheap fare sales on WOW Air, so I decided to hop on one of its deals and see if the low prices were worth it. I booked my flight through the carrier’s website and paid $181 for the one-way fare — my return flight would be in economy aboard Icelandair’s 767-300. I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, so I could earn 3x points for the travel purchase, or in this case 543 Ultimate Reward points, worth about $12 according to TPG’s most recent valuations. Alternatively, I could have used The Platinum Card from American Express, which would have given me 5x points on airfare and resulted in 905 Membership Rewards points.
While WOW is a low-cost carrier offering low prices, keep in mind that you’ll be charged extra fees for just about everything. That means you’re shelling out for bags, seat selection, food and even water. At the time, my fare included a free carry-on bag, even though it broke out the price of it in the receipt. Since I purchased my ticket, though, WOW has eliminated free carry-on bags and now you can only bring a small personal item — like a backpack or purse that must fit under the seat in front of you — if you don’t want to pay extra.
Here’s how the airline broke down bag fees from San Francisco to Reykjavik when I was traveling — this might vary from what prices are like now, since it really depends on your route and travel dates. Note that all prices are one-way:
- Full-size carry-on
- $49.99 if purchased during booking
- $54.99 if purchased after booking but before the flight
- $69.99 if purchased at the check-in desk
- $99.99 if purchased at the gate
- Full-size checked bag
- $69.99 if purchased during booking
- $74.99 if purchased after booking but before the flight
- $79.99 if purchased at the check-in desk
- $99.99 if purchased at the gate
I knew I needed to bring along a checked bag so I decided to suck it up and pay the fee — WOW ended up charging me $69.99 even though it was supposed to be $74.99 since I paid for it after I’d booked the flight. This brought the total cost of my ticket to $251. It wasn’t a rip-off, but definitely not as cheap as I originally thought it would be.
My main advice when flying on WOW is to be aware of all the additional fees, which can really add up. If you’re flying round-trip and bringing along a carry-on, know that you’ll be adding nearly $100 more to the original fare. And if you’re connecting through Reykjavik to a European destination, you’ll be paying even more for your bags or to select your seat. Make sure you input your origin and destination in WOW’s portal, which displays the exhaustive list of fees you may have to pay on each route. After calculating what you might want for your trip, you may decide it’s cheaper to just go with a full-service carrier.
I decided to forgo any other extras, like seat selection or cancellation protection, to keep costs as low as possible and emulate how budget-minded travelers might normally fly on WOW — at the time, choosing standard seats added between $10.99 and $11.99, while XL/XXL extra-legroom seats were $49.99 to $59.99 each way.
Check-In and Boarding
WOW departs out of the SFO’s international terminal, which is made up of Terminals A & G.
There was a pretty large check-in area, and the lines to drop off my bag and get my ticket weren’t long at all. Just like Norwegian Air, WOW was using contract employees to handle check-in, just one of the ways these kinds of airlines keep costs down. The woman I got was obviously new and didn’t seem to have a very good grasp on how the systems worked, so the process took a little longer than usual.
I appreciated that WOW had a kiosk where you could check the size of your bag before you went through the gate. Hopefully, people realize that they need to pay for carry-on bags at the check-in desk and not when they get to the gate, where they’d be subject to even higher bag fees.
There was yet another stand at the gate where you could check the size of your bags. The staff also required everyone to come to the front of the gate and tag them according to the type of items you were carrying, something you won’t normally have to worry about doing if you’re flying with a full-service carrier. My two bags were tagged — one as a carry-on, the other as a personal item — although both of them fit neatly inside the personal item box.
The flight was a red-eye — almost all WOW flights from the US to Iceland are — and left at 10:20pm. The terminal was relatively quiet, with just a few other international flights getting ready to depart. Since I’m a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder, I thought I’d try and put my Priority Pass membership to use. There was an Air France lounge that’s part of the Priority Pass network in the international terminal, but I did not visit it, after reading incorrectly the opening hours in 24-hour format on the Priority Pass website, and assuming that it was closed. It was, in fact, open until 1am.
I managed to get a peek of WOW’s new A330, pictured below, all decked out in its signature purple-and-white livery. This plane, registered as TF-WOW, was originally delivered to Air Europa in 2015 before being leased to WOW in 2016. I know it’s only been a year but I could definitely tell it was new when I was on it.
When it was time to board, everything stayed orderly and there was no crowding near the jetway. I’m not surprised, though, since I definitely wasn’t dying to get on an eight-hour flight operated by a cost-cutting airline. The gate attendants boarded the back of the plane first, starting with rows 36 and higher. Since I was seated in 40A, I was one of the first to get on the plane.
Cabin and Seat
As I mentioned before, WOW only received this A330-300 a year ago, so the cabin felt quite fresh. The plane was all-economy class, laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration, and it felt strange to see such a large plane without a business-class cabin. Note that WOW has since outfitted one of its A330s with “Big Seats” similar to premium economy on other airlines.
All the seats were dark blue with paper-thin white head covers, while the carpet was purple with “WOW” inscribed all over it. The cabin felt sterile and unwelcoming but mood lighting could have easily fixed that.
I was happy to not have a middle seat on this trip!
Since I didn’t pay to select my seat, I was randomly assigned one and ended up in 40A, a window seat, which I soon realized had a lot of legroom. According to WOW’s website, I was in an XL-legroom seat, which normally costs $50 more to select. The site says these seats come with at least 32 inches of pitch, although it seemed to have even more than that. According to SeatGuru, they have about 34 inches of pitch, which is about the same as you’d find in American Airlines’ Main Cabin Extra or Delta’s Comfort+ seats. All seats on this aircraft were 17 inches wide. If you were in a regular economy seat, SeatGuru says you’d have 31 inches of pitch on the A330.
Considering it was such brand-new equipment, the seat was pretty uncomfortable. It was thin and could barely recline — good luck finding the recline button at all, too, since it’s hidden underneath the seat. The lack of a headrest didn’t allow me to lean my head to one side or the other so it wasn’t easy to fall asleep either. The armrests were thin and short, making it hard to fully keep an arm on one. Luckily, I didn’t have a seat-mate this time, so I was able to stretch out and relax. I definitely wouldn’t recommend these seats for an eight-hour flight, especially if being even semi-comfortable is a priority.
The seat-back pocket was basically nonexistent, with just a small net to store a few tiny items. There was also what appeared to be an in-flight-entertainment box underneath the seat in front of me, although there was no traditional onboard entertainment to be found.
The way these A330s are designed, the back few rows are laid out with 2-2-2 seating, making it a good area to be if you want to avoid being stuck in a middle seat. Note, though, that these seats are near the lavatories, so you might have to deal with some noise.
There were six bathrooms on the aircraft. I checked out a few and they all seemed basic but clean.
In keeping with the theme of a bare-bones airline, WOW offered virtually no in-flight entertainment. There were no overhead screens or monitors installed in the seat-backs and there was no WIi-Fi available. The only option was to rent an iPad loaded with 11 movies, 12 games, a “fact book” and a digitized version of the in-flight magazine for 2,000 ISK (~$19). No thanks.
If you want to be entertained on WOW, I’d definitely recommend loading up on entertainment options before the flight. Fortunately, you can now download movies and shows straight to your tablet or phone via Amazon Prime or Netflix. There was a 110-volt power port located between the seats, so it was easy to keep my device charged, though I would have probably had to share it with my seat-mate.
Food and Beverage
The WOW staff were courteous and friendly, while the crew made multiple cabin runs to ask if anyone wanted to buy food or beverages. I had no problems getting their attention whenever I needed to purchase something.
As I said above, if you wanted anything to eat or drink, you had to pay for it, even if all you wanted was water. I passed on the food but did get a few photos of the menu and prices, which seemed reasonable compared to other airlines. WOW also had a special menu for departures from LA and San Francisco, but it only included four choices. A fellow passenger told me their ham and cheese croissant was nothing special but not disgusting, so that’s good to know.
There was a decent variety of soda, beer, wine and liquor to choose from.
One thing that frustrates me about low-cost carriers is that they don’t even offer passengers complimentary water, so you should either be prepared to buy a bottle or two on board, or make sure to bring your own. Here’s my beautiful $2.99 bottle of Icelandic spring water.
With WOW, you’re definitely getting what you pay for. I can’t say my experience was completely horrible, but I definitely would not want to repeat it again. The seats were uncomfortable, especially for an eight hour-flight. I wasn’t expecting much from the carrier, but it did get the basics of operating an airline right and I managed to get from point A to point B safely and on time. The crew members were friendly, while both the check-in and boarding processes were smoother than expected.
While more and more airlines are starting to follow WOW’s low-cost model, this airline really takes things to the extreme and its extra fees are just plain crazy. Don’t be fooled by the cheap original fares — you’re essentially going to have to add $100 to any round-trip itinerary if you plan on bringing a carry-on. I can only really recommend WOW if you really really want to save money, are only traveling with a small personal item and don’t purchase any of the extras. The fees add up quickly and you’ll soon find you’ve reached the price of a regular full-service airline ticket anyway, which would probably end up giving you a better overall experience.
This review originally stated that the Priority Pass lounge at SFO was closed at the time of our visit. It has been corrected to show that it was in fact open.
Have you flown with WOW Air before? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.
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