Wow air.jpg
Courtesy Wow Air

A few months ago, budget airline Wow Air announced plans to start flying between California and Iceland. Well, now those flights are bookable, and come with the mind-bogglingly low price tag of $99. Flights to the rest of Europe are also very cheap.

Or at least that was the story this week in headline after headline.

Sadly, however, there are a bunch of catches that drive up costs significantly. The fares are still very low, and if you’re a budget traveler this is still great news. The added fees also shouldn’t be a surprise; they’re all pretty standard. Still, in the interest of having realistic expectations, here’s what I found when I went through the booking process:

1. You probably have to book way in advance.

I tried finding a $99 fare, but ultimately failed. When I checked for a weekday flight in November, the best price Wow Air’s website quoted was $229 one way.

Screenshot 2016-01-14 00.15.52

When the LA Times checked a few days ago, they managed to find some $99 seats in October, but by the time I looked those seats were long gone. And either way, planning a trip 10 or 11 months in advance is not easy or ideal. So sure, you might get lucky and find one of those ultra cheap fares, but there are apparently very few seats at that price, and they go quickly.

On the other hand, $229 it’s still an incredible price.

2. There are a lot of added fees. 

The ticket I tried to book would have allowed me to bring one, 11-pound carry-on for free. Anything heavier and I would’ve had to pay $48 . That wasn’t surprising — charging for carry-ons is standard practice among ultra-low cost carriers — but it does drive up the price.

The ticket also included costs for seat selection.

Screenshot 2016-01-14 00.33.02

I tried skipping this step entirely and it took me to a purchasing page, so it appears you can get around the seat fee — though I don’t know if you’ll be forced to pony up later at the airport.

And even in the best case scenario, you avoid the fees but end up with a miserable, left-over middle seat in the back of the plane. Not fun for a very long flight.

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In the interest of experimenting, I went back and chose an exit row seat for $48. I then clicked through several pages offering hotels and tours, and finally arrived at the purchase page. My final total was $325.

Keep in mind also that this was only one-way.

That’s quite a bit higher than the original $99 I went looking for, but it’s still decent. Not amazing, especially when you consider the round trip costs, but at least competitive.

Still, Iceland in is also an amazing place, and Europe is obviously worth visiting again and again. So if you were considering going, Wow Air is a boon because it adds another, potentially cheaper option.

— Jim Dalrymple II






Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

One comment

  1. I guess those fares fall into the “if it look too good to be true it probably is” column. I’ve never been able to get one of the super low fares I’ve seen either without it ending up being much higher. I’m sure a few people do get them but with all of the extra fees I’d rather use an airline I at least get miles on that I can use in an alliance. I’m off to Iceland next month hoping to see the Northern Lights!

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