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Are Wow Air's $49 Flights to Europe Just Another Nail in the Coffin?

Jan. 15, 2019
4 min read
Are Wow Air's $49 Flights to Europe Just Another Nail in the Coffin?
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Icelandic carrier Wow Air has had a tough few months. It's cut route after route because of a serious cash crunch and went through a failed buyout by Icelandair. The carrier is now working with Indigo Partners (parent company to budget airlines like Frontier and Wizz Air) to keep it afloat with an investment, although a deal hasn't fully been worked out. [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.]

Now the ultra-low-cost carrier has launched airfare so cheap, it's claiming these are the lowest price it has ever offered on flights to Europe. But are these sales just another reason why Wow has had such a hard time turning a profit?

With the new offer, passengers can fly from Boston (BOS), Washington, DC (BWI), New York (EWR) and Detroit (DTW) to Reykjavik (KEF), Dublin (DUB), Brussels (BRU), Frankfurt (FRA) and London (LGW) for as little as $49 one-way. The fares are available for flights taken between Jan. 21 and March 11.

However, there are a few caveats with this deal. To take advantage of the $49 one-way fares, you'll have to book a round-trip ticket, and all those flights coming back to the US are at least double the price of the dirt-cheap fares.

The cheapest round-trips we found were flights from Newark to Reykjavik for $159 total.

Round-trip flights to other destinations in Europe were a bit higher, like Detroit (DTW) to Dublin (DUB) for $199.

While these fares are ridiculously cheap, you have to keep in mind that because Wow is an ultra low-cost carrier, you'll have to pay for just about everything else during your flight, including a checked bag, large carry-on, seat selection, meal and even water. Carry-on bag fees from start at $50 one-way from Detroit to Dublin, so expect to tack on at least $100 to that $200 fare.

Another thing to consider if you want to buy a seat on Wow: You're not guaranteed that you're flight will even take off. Flights from New York’s JFK, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, St. Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Tel Aviv have all been in cut in the last few months and Wow's quickly reduced its fleet of Airbus aircraft from 20 to 11, even returning its four A330 widebody aircraft.

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Wow blames rising fuel costs and increased pressure on bondholders for its financial troubles. But offering tickets at these prices likely don't help the airline's bottom line. However, Wow's CEO Skúli Mogensen has said in the past that the airline's business model turns a profit with all the ancillary fees like seat selection and baggage fees.

Aviation industry analyst Robert Mann told TPG that this sale is just Wow's answer to other carrier's winter flight deals, which we've seen plenty of.

"If anything, jet fuel prices are now much lower than they were during the March to October 2018 period," Mann said. He blames Wow's trouble on other decisions the airline's made, like its rapid expansion into unprofitable markets.

"Operating far too much capacity (and incurring far too much operating cost) in markets that can't sustain it (where revenue in fares and fees are insufficient to cover costs)," said Mann. "Any airline that does that in any market loses money."

Consumers have also gotten more savvy at comparing real out of pocket costs on budget carriers Mann added, another difficulty Wow's had to cope with.

So if you do nab one of these flights, make sure to put the purchase on a credit card with travel insurance — cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi Prestige offer some of the best-in-class protections in case the airline goes belly up. Also, the European Union's 261 rule requires airlines to get you to your final destination or refund you the cost of your ticket.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

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10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023