Luggage?Food? Even with the add-ons new flights to US are still cheaper

With Wow Air and Norwegian in the market stateside travel has never been so cheap - or has it?

Heading to the US this summer? If you are, you may well have checked out the offerings from low-cost transatlantic carriers.

Thanks to the likes of Icelandic airline Wow Air and the imminent arrival of Norwegian International, it’s now possible to fly across the Atlantic for less than €200 return.

But with a significant number of additional charges, is it really cheaper to go with a new arrivals rather than the incumbents? Or can you cut your cloth to suit your measure and fly to the US without a bag or a meal, but with a lighter charge on your credit card?

The answer it seems is yes, if you can: a) secure a low fare – and at the time of writing there were still some available for this summer; b) relinquish the need for a meal and checked baggage, and; c) be happy not to sit beside your travelling companion.


The deals

Last year Icelandic carrier Wow Air upped its Irish presence, offering travellers new routes from Dublin and Cork to Chicago, four times a week, with fares starting from €139 one way including taxes.

The airline also operates a number of US routes from Ireland via Reykjavik, including New York, Miami, LA, San Francisco and Pittsburgh.

More recently Norwegian Air has arrived, quickly selling some 5,000 seats with fares starting at just $65 (€60.62) between New York and Dublin.

The Scandinavian group is to begin flying from four Irish airports – Belfast, Cork, Dublin and Shannon – to Stewart International (New York) and Providence Rhode Island (Boston) from July 1st.

At first glance, it’s significantly cheaper than existing offers; fares to New York or Boston from Dublin with Aer Lingus for example, start at €249 each way, or €329 to San Francisco.

The extra charges

Of course, the cost of flying to the US is only part of it; you should also expect charges on everything from the seat you put your bum on, the blanket you put on your lap to the luggage you’ve stored in the hold and the earphones you wear to watch a movie.

First off is booking your seat. While you don’t have to pay a fee for a seat, and can simply turn up on the day, if you want a particular aisle or window seat you’ll have to pay up. With Norwegian Air you’ll pay €35 to reserve a seat, while the cost drops to €6.99 with Wow Air.

However, you can pay more for a bigger seat. The airline for example, offers a number of different seat types including a “XL legroom” for €16.99 or XXL for €25.99.

You should also expect charges for your luggage. Norwegian Air allows you to bring a carry-on bag onboard, as well as a small personal item, such as a handbag, for free. With Wow Air however, you’ll have to pay for your carry-on bag; and if you don’t measure your “personal item” carefully, you could find the charges quickly rising.

Booking your carry-on bag ahead of time online incurs a charge of €16.99 – hoping you’ll get away with it and finding out your bag is too big at the airport, will set you back a heftier €40.98.

If you want to check in a bag to the hold, prepare for additional fees. With Wow Air, it’ll set you back €33.99 if you book ahead of time – or €57.37 if you buy too much in Macy’s and decide at the airport that you want to bring home a suitcase of clothes.

With Norwegian Air, a fee of €35 applies per bag booked ahead online, or €50 at the airport.

You can, however, cut the costs by opting for a bundle when booking; a lowfare+ ticket for example, costs €65 extra, compared with €102.50 if you had booked a bag, a meal and a seat separately.

Now you’re on the plane but the costs don’t stop there. If you want to watch an inflight movie, you’ll have to pay €3 for a headset with Norwegian, while Wow Air typically offers no inflight entertainment, although it does allow you to rent an iPad on flights to San Francisco and Los Angeles for $18 (€16.50).

Hungry? Better take out your wallet again. Norwegian charges a fee of €32.50 for a three-course meal each way, including beer, wine or mineral water, or you can choose from snacks, with an alcoholic drink costing from €7-€15 for example.

With Wow Air, you can choose from a selection of options, including a sandwich (€8.50 for a ham and cheese baguette).

And, like the Ryanair model, Norwegian flies to airlines “close” to its advertised destinations, rather than directly to the cities.

Stewart International Airport for example, is in Newburgh, Orange County, 96km from New York city, while TF Green Airport is in Providence, Rhode Island, some 112km from Boston.

From Stewart International, you can get a bus into Port Authority Bus terminal on 42nd street for $20 (€18.65, adult, $10/€9.32 per child) one way, or an alternative is to get a taxi to connect with the Metro North train service.

Peter Pan offers a $24 (€22.38) round service bus trip from TF Green to Boston city centre, a journey which takes 2½ hours.

Prepare also for booking or credit card fees. Norwegian Air charges a hefty 1.99 per cent charge if you book with your credit card, which would bring the cost of a €300 flight up by €6, while WowAir charges €8.99, plus 2.25 per cent if you book with your credit card.

So is it cheaper?

By segregating out the charges and advertising rock bottom fares, the challenger airlines are very much giving the impression that low cost fares to the US are a reality.

But, while they have been criticised in some quarters for doing so, the reality is that if you can give up on certain things, you will be able to cross the Atlantic for significantly less than with a traditional carrier.

It all depends on what you’ll be willing to give up.

Some costs you will be able to go without; others however, will be trickier to avoid. If you’re a sole traveller for example, and happy to keep your legs tucked tightly underneath you, reserving a seat is a luxury you can easily give up.

If you’re travelling with children however, you will need to reserve seats to ensure you all sit together, and four reserved seats with Norwegian Air will add €140 to the bill. Oh and you’ll need them to come home too, so better add another €140.

It’s the same story when it comes to luggage. You should be able to make it for free for a weekend trip with Norwegian Air, as there is no fee for carry-on luggage.

With Wow Air however, a charge does apply. With the dollar so strong, and the expense of carrying luggage so high, shopping in the US has become distinctly less attractive

A single traveller – even if they opt for a bag and a meal – can make significant savings on the Shannon-New York route, of some €250. And if they had packed their own meal, paid for their fare with a debit card, and just brought a carry-on bag, they would have saved another €135.

While transfers, of almost €40, are another expense, a transfer from JFK to New York city will set our traveller back about €30 return – so not much of an additional expense.

For a family, packing two bags and requiring a seat reservation and meals, the Norwegian Air option can still work out significantly cheaper by the order of about €1,000 – provided they secure a low fare to begin with.

If our family flew from Dublin-New York on the same dates with Norwegian Air – rather than from Shannon – a heftier fare puts the airline on a par with Aer Lingus, once additional charges are added in.

And this is the conundrum, the cheapest fare on the Dublin-New York outbound route over the summer is €220.60 each way, although there are fares in August €173.30 coming home.

If you can wait until November however, fares drop to less than €150 each way.