Are you an American daydreaming about the beauty of a starlit Eiffel Tower? Or a European wishing you could explore the endless metropolis of Manhattan? When we think about these things, we immediately feel a sense of distance from them – surmountable only by an expensive flight across a vast ocean. But like everything in this world, these far-away places are becoming ever-closer and more accessible.
It may sound too good to be true, but the cost of flying across the Atlantic Ocean has become far, far cheaper in the last five or so years thanks to European budget airlines that have found various clever tricks allowing them to offer transatlantic low-cost flights to North America.
The cost of flying between the continents has dropped to as low as just $350 / €295 / £260 return, a savings of nearly 50 percent compared with even the most competitive fares offered by “classic” transatlantic airlines.
This emerging low-fare market fares benefits everybody – from helping retired couples seeking a short adventure, to opening up new holiday destinations to students and low-income families. For me and Avery, these new choices are a lifesaver. Without these options, it would be simply not be viable to visit each other with the same regularity on our budget.
Being a young market, there is only small selection of airlines which are uniquely positioned to offer extremely low prices on flights. Nonetheless, they fly to dozens of destinations and every year introduce new routes.
With the choices presented below, your dream holiday to another continent may just have become a whole lot closer to reality.
WowAir is an Icelandic airline based out of Iceland’s only international airport, Keflavik [KEF], which serves the capital city, Reykjavik. WowAir was set up in 2011, but only began offering transatlantic flights from continental Europe to North America in 2014, with passengers changing planes in Iceland.
All of WowAir’s routes fly from Reykjavik in Iceland to and from the above destinations. This effectively means you can fly from any of the European destinations to any of the North American destinations, and vice versa.
Keflavik airport operates as a giant interchange station connecting two continents, performing the same role as the Dubai or Abu Dhabi airports do for Europe and Asia. In other words, the airport is like a giant train station, where people arrive from multiple destinations, change trains, and then continue onto multiple other destinations. And in this case, WowAir runs all the trains.
Dozens of planes arrive within a couple of hours, then passengers quickly switch planes and depart again, all within two hours. This happens twice a day, every day.
In the airline industry, time is money – and WowAir’s system is so time and space efficient that it keeps their running costs very, very low. Hence, they can offer very low fares to us.
If you book well in advance and are flexible with your dates, you can book a return flight across the Atlantic with WowAir for around $450/€375/£330 on average. If you are very lucky, you might even find fares as low as $400 / €330 / £295 return.
However, if you book closer to your departure date, fares are likely to be higher, approaching $500 or even $600. For the greatest value, make your travel plans at least 4 months in advance so you can book flights early and have more spending money for when you arrive at your destination.
The flight will take a few hours longer since it has to go via Iceland, which is somewhat out of the way compared with a direct route, particularly if travelling to and from the southern end of the USA.
But if you are like me, those two or three lost hours can be more worth far more than the hundreds of pounds more I’d have had to spend on a flight just a few years ago. I could not afford to have made those trips without WowAir’s low prices. Over the last two years, that’s been a game-changer.
WowAir is also adding new cities to its network each year. In 2017 it added Tel Aviv to mark its inaugural flight to the Middle East, and from April 2018 will begin flying to five new US destinations: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, and St. Louis.
Just recently, they also announced an increase in flights from May 2018 to Baltimore/Washington D.C. due to surging demand from bargain-hunters like you and I. These cities will have two daily WowAir flights across the Atlantic during the summer months on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends.
Norwegian Air broke into the transatlantic low-cost market in 2013.
Unlike WowAir, Norwegian does not use Iceland as a base to hop the Atlantic. Instead, they fly direct. By purchasing the latest aircraft, including Boeing’s 787 “Dreamliner,” they have lower running costs than other airlines, allowing them to offer very low fares to passengers with comfortable, high-quality flight experiences.
Norwegian has an ever-growing transatlantic route map. Until very recently, they only offered routes from staple large cities such as London, Paris, and Vienna in Europe to New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles in North America.
But in the last year or so, Norwegian has added many smaller transatlantic destinations. They now offer direct flights from Oakland, California to Rome, Italy, or from Hartford, Connecticut to Edinburgh, Scotland. This may come as a surprise to many, but it opens up cheap transatlantic travel to millions more Americans in particular, and Norwegian’s list of smaller destinations grows every year.
The true hook of Norwegian’s operation is in price. Some of their transatlantic fares are unfathomably low. For example, Norwegian’s direct flight from London Gatwick to New York JFK in a brand-new, comfortable “Dreamliner” costs as little as $350 / €295 / £260 return. That is simply amazing. For Londoners particularly, the idea of flying direct in comfort to see the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline for £260 return sounds far, far too good to be true.
But it is true. Google Flights just found me this flight set to depart two weeks from now, returning four days later. Check out the price tag:
For those of us who only carry a medium-sized backpack, there are no catches and no special conditions to this price. For larger suitcases and bags checked into the hold, Norwegian charge a modest extra fee. This is common practice for European budget airlines, but everybody should be aware of it to avoid a nasty shock to their wallets at the check-in desk.
The final low-cost airline pushing into the transatlantic market is the relative newcomer Primera Air. Traditionally a Northern-European regional airline, Primera Air will begin flying across the Atlantic to North America in Summer 2018.
Being a new operation, Primera Air are starting small. From North America they will only operate out of New York City (Newark), Boston, and Toronto in 2018. From these three airports they will offer direct flights to London and Birmingham in the UK, and Paris. However, their prices are set to offer an even more competitive market for passengers from these cities.
This example flight, scheduled for April this year, offers an even lower fare than Norwegian from London to New York City (Newark airport), of just £257 / $349 / €291 return. It’s fair to say that with this entry, the London – NYC market is set to become one of the most competitive long-distance, low-cost routes in the world. And the trend will continue.
It is worth remembering that only three years ago, Norwegian Airlines had a similarly modest network of transatlantic routes. Come 2021, Primera Air may well be offering flights to 30 destinations all over both continents. With the added competition, transatlantic flights are set to become cheaper than ever. That should come as exciting news for all of us.
So those are your three transatlantic airline options as of January 2018. All three airlines are aiming to add new routes throughout the year – we will be sure to update this post with details when any new routes launch. In the meantime, happy cheap flying!