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

Jan 15, 2019

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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.

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.

Featured image courtesy of Anna Zvereva via Flickr.

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