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Several years ago low cost carrier Norwegian Airlines launched service to a select number of U.S. destinations. Since then they have expanded substantially, offering an array of cheap destinations for Americans looking to hop across the pond.
I’ve been looking to fly Norwegian someday on a trip to Europe. With fares lower than $300 during their best sales, I’ve barely restrained myself from pulling the trigger on a long weekend in Stockholm. Now they have even more destinations than Oslo and Stockholm, the original two offered. I still remember a large sign at Oakland airport years ago, advertising the budget carrier. That was my initial introduction to Norwegian.
Their expansion since then has been extensive. The airline has launched service from the UK and Cork, set up new bases at more regional airports in New England, added service to Rome, and have their sites set on South America, the Far East and Africa. It’s hard to keep up.
Tallying up Norwegian’s destinations from the Golden State
Last year Norwegian announced a couple new routes from Oakland, and I decided to count the array of options now offered from the Bay Area to Europe. The count now stands at 8, which is fantastic. Here are the options, with cheapest round-trip prices I could find in Google Flights during the past several weeks.
- Stockholm Arlanda – 3 times weekly – $378
- Barcelona – 5 times weekly – $381
- London Gatwick – 4 times weekly – $366
- Paris – 4 times weekly – $392
- Copenhagen – 2 times weekly – $390
- Rome – 2 times weekly – $353
- Oslo – 2 times weekly (seasonal) – $474
Those in the southern part of the Golden State have just as many options. Here is a comparison of the destinations and the current best prices I can find for each:
- Stockholm – 3 times weekly – $380
- Barcelona – 3 times weekly – $383
- London Gatwick – daily in summer, sporadic in winter – $428
- Paris – 6 times weekly – $423
- Copenhagen – 2 times weekly – $373
- Rome – 3 times weekly – $440
- Oslo – 2 times weekly – $401
Going off of what I’ve seen historically, you can definitely score better deals than even these sometimes. Cheapest I’ve seen to Sweden is $280 round-trip, for example.
Bottom line: there are almost always dates available for sub-$500 fares. Often, you can find sub-$400 fares.
What you need to know about flying Norwegian
Keep in mind that Norwegian is a budget carrier and operates with the charge-you-for-everything-extra model. The base fare gets you a seat, a carry-on, and a personal item. Your carry-on can be 21.5″ by 15.5″ by 9″, and your personal item must fit underneath the seat in front of you. This is pretty congruent with other carriers.
Beyond that, expect to pay for it all. Checked bag? Pay up. Seat selection? That’ll cost, too. You’ll also have to pay for any food and drinks on board. You can bundle some of this together, but this’ll often put you in the price range of other full-service carriers. The ability to book one-way tickets is still an advantage. You can currently get a LowFare+ (includes seat selection, meals, and checked bag) for $230 between Oakland and London next month. The base LowFare, however, is a mere $140.
Some people don’t like this business model, and I understand that sentiment. But don’t overlook Norwegian just because of the bad rap budget airlines sometimes get. They don’t charge you for a carry on, and the seats are actually fairly standard with 31″ of pitch, in-seat power, and inflight entertainment. You really couldn’t ask for better flying economy on a legacy carrier.
Sam, one of the other PWaC writers, recently flew Norwegian long-haul across the Atlantic and said the experience was great. The one thing you have to watch out for is the fact that Norwegian sometimes has to lease planes for some of their routes. While their own economy is good across the board, you could end up in a crappy product if they pull an aircraft swap on you.
Competition means falling fares among legacy carriers
The byproduct of Norwegian entering a market is that they introduce needed competition on many routes. When I priced out some of the above fares, I found (amazingly) that some of the legacy carrier options were far more reasonably priced than I ever remember. For example, Delta and Air France were recently offering one-stop flights between Oakland and Paris for under $450. I later booked an open-jaw itinerary to northern Europe for $484 per person.
I can recall multiple sales within all alliances, where round-trip flight prices to major European destinations range from $400 to $500. If you’re not keen on flying Norwegian and looking for a deal on full-service airlines (if that means much anymore), just subscribe to some fare alert sites and bide your time. I (almost) guarantee you’ll be able to pick up flights to London, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dublin, or Paris for under $500 from either SFO or LAX. You do need to be flexible with your dates. Don’t expect these prices over major holidays (SEE: The truth of the traveler’s triangle).
If you want to get to Europe cheaply from California, look to Norwegian. They offer a number of great destinations for consistently good prices. During the summer you’ll typically see some elevated prices, but if you don’t mind heading to Scandinavia during shoulder season (or especially during winter), the budget airline offers some crazy deals at times.