You’ve seen the super low sales posted here for $99 (or less) one-way flights to Europe on Norwegian Air. Sure, the price is on point, but what can you actually expect from an airline offering such unbelievably low fares. What’s the catch?
Tips for Traveling on Norwegian Air
Named the world’s best long-haul low-cost airline, Norwegian has been a game changer in the transatlantic marketplace over the last couple of years. By offering prices at nearly half the going rate on routes controlled by big players like British Airways and Air France, Norwegian Air has won over thrifty travelers looking to save some coin on their trip to Europe.
While there are certainly savings to be had, you can also run up your tab pretty quickly if you begin to add-on ancillary items on top of your base fare. A full-service flight it’s not, and while the carrier isn’t for everyone, I found my flying experience on Norwegian to be better than expected.
Here are some tips and insights from my recent trip on Norwegian to give you an idea of what to expect.
Once you've been lured in by the discounted fare deal, you'll soon find that along with that low price comes little else. Norwegian's most promoted and cheapest fare options fall into the airline's "Lowfare” category. These entry-level tickets only allow for a carry-on piece of luggage up to 22lbs/10kg and a seat on the plane. Which seat? You’ll have to find out at check-in because seat selection costs a whopping $45 extra (for just a standard economy seat, even middle seats!) unless you bump up to Lowfare+.
Norwegian is heavy on the upsells but I decided that for my travel needs, and wallet, it made the most sense to take whichever seat was assigned to me and then separately add on a piece of luggage instead of paying the 90 dollar difference with the Lowfare+ option.
You'll find that $45 seems to be Norwegian's go-to price point for add-ons. Alongside this exorbitant fee for seat selection, it's what the carrier charges to order a meal and for a piece of checked baggage. In my opinion, no airline food or seat selection is worth that amount, but $45 one-way for a checked bag is a deal considering what competitors charge. Basic Economy baggage fees from carriers like American, Delta, and United to Europe now start at $60 one-way, giving Norwegian the advantage in this aspect.
A week before I was set to fly, Norwegian began to inundate my inbox almost daily with bids to upgrade to its Premium cabin. While I found the tool and sliding scale fun to play around with the first time, ultimately these offers didn’t seem worth the extra expense.
My Booking Tips: Use Norwegian’s low-fare calendar to find the cheapest price options quickly and to see which days the airline operates. Purchase the "Lowfare" option and skip seat and meal selection, as they are way overpriced.
Try to travel with carry-on baggage only, but if you require checked luggage, $45 one-way is a solid deal compared to competitor fees. If you’re checking bags, make sure to pre-purchase it online. Rates at the airport can cost double.
If you are comfortable navigating the website site in its native Norwegian language, (or using Google Translate), you can often find prices cheaper than what is displayed with the USD conversion. Make a cost comparison and pay for your flight in NOK with a free foreign transaction fee credit card and you’ll find yourself with an even cheaper ticket.
At the Airport
Once ticketed and ready to go, I noticed a few things during check-in and boarding. I was unable to check-in online or via the app for my Boston (BOS) to Paris (CDG) flight and was required to check-in with the airport staff. Norwegian’s flight network in the U.S. is expanding but still quite limited, therefore they usually only have one set of agents working on that particular flight. The upside is there isn't a ton of people trying to check-in for a myriad of flights all at once, just the Norwegian service departing at that time.
Knowing I’d have to manually check-in at the desk and drop off luggage, I arrived at the airport two hours before departure. There was a small line of customers already waiting, but the staff was efficient, and the line moved quickly. Unlike most airlines, Norwegian caps its checked luggage weight at 44lbs/20kg instead of 50lbs/23kg. I weighed my bag before leaving for the airport and knew I was pushing it. When I plopped it on the scale, it tallied 21.5kg, but the kind agent who checked-in my wife and I didn't seem to bat an eye. It was the same weight on the return flight from CDG to BOS with no issues either.
Despite the flight being nearly full, the gamble of not purchasing seat assignments paid off. We got issued seats next to each other no problem. Our carry-on luggage was never weighed, and the whole process took roughly 15 minutes before it was time to head to security.
After security is prime time to prep for your flight, Bring a refillable bottle and top up on water. Grab a quick meal if you haven't already eaten before arriving at the airport, and take advantage of the more extensive selection of snacks and other necessities at the terminal than what will be available for purchase on the aircraft.
My At-The-Airport Tips: Be aware that Norwegian doesn’t usually allow for online check-in for transatlantic departures, so allot the necessary time. If you’re able to bypass this, you will often be sent back to the check-in desk for a verification stamp. Don’t stress if your baggage is slightly overweight., On both my flights, it wasn’t a problem. The same goes for carry-on luggage. Bring a standard sized bag that isn’t bursting at the seams, and it probably won't get weighed. At least, that was my experience.
Agents will try the best to accommodate seat assignments, so again, skip paying extra for seat selection. Before boarding, make sure to fill up a water bottle, bring/buy snacks, and eat a full meal shortly before departure to avoid needing to purchase food and beverages onboard.
My flights were aboard Norwegian’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner models, which provide a 3-3-3 across cabin layout (Norwegian also flies 737s on some routes, which I will touch on later). In economy, most seats are nearly identical with a 31-32 inch seat pitch, except for bulkhead and exit rows seats that offer extra legroom. If you do decide it’s worth the $45 for seat selection, these are your best options and get claimed first. Row 38 doesn’t have a window, which is good for those who don’t care for a view and prefer a flat surface to rest against.
The Dreamliner’s cabin structure provides ample room for overhead baggage. Middle row storage bins recess into the ceiling providing an airy cabin with a spacious feel. The extra storage space reduces the need to jostle to find overhead room even when the flight is nearly full, making for a much more civil boarding process.
My biggest surprise was that each economy seat had a new touchscreen monitor in the headrest including a USB input and free IFE, including a limited but perfectly acceptable amount of movie and TV options, as well as a moving flight map and other info (most airlines are removing this amenity).
I quickly learned the reason for this. The seat back screen is the epicenter for all in-flight purchases. Prices are consistent with what other airlines offer and much more cost effective than pre-ordering a meal. Soft drinks and water are $3 each, beer is $4.50 - 6.50, and most wine and liquor is $6.50, all on par or cheaper than U.S. domestic flight prices. Sandwiches and snacks are $7 - 9, headsets cost $3, and blankets are 5 dollars — all very reasonable. Swipe a credit card, and you can make in-flight purchases at any time throughout the flight with the option to start a tab. Duty-free purchases are also made through the touch screen-shopping portal.
Norwegian does offer a premium cabin, but I've yet to try it and can't offer any insights into it for the sake of this review.
My Onboard Tips: Seats are generally the same as other international carriers but thinly lined and not as cushioned. Don’t forget your own headphones, pillow, scarves, or other garments to serve as a blanket if needed. The IFE entertainment selection isn't as large as other carriers, but there is indeed enough to keep you busy. So, no need to fret if you didn’t load up your laptop or iPad.
As with many airlines, seats toward the back tend to fill up last, so you’ll have the best luck of finding empty seats or a row to spread across in that section of the aircraft. Charge up your phone or device using the USB to have a full battery when you reach your destination.
I was pleasantly surprised by my Norwegian Air experience. The online booking process is pretty straightforward and alerts you that you won’t be receiving any extras when purchasing the "Lowfare" option. I found that those who did buy meals received standard meh airline grub not worth writing home about. Check-in was streamlined and efficient, and faster than comparable international service.
Although I had known the airplane was a newer Boeing Dreamliner, I was impressed with the choice of free in-flight entertainment and simple navigability of the touchscreen monitor that Norwegian offered (as many other low-cost carriers do not provide free IFE or charge extra to access it). Ordering snacks via the seatback monitor was efficient and timely. The standard economy provided a decent amount of legroom, and I never felt cramped or boxed in due to the airplane’s generous headroom. Both my flights departed on schedule and arrived safely on time or even earlier than slated, which is what I value the most when flying. My bag was on the carousel shortly after I passed immigration on both legs of my journey.
Things to Take into Account
Both my flights on Norwegian went smoothly, but that isn't always the case. Norwegian's low-cost model and fleet leave little room for error regarding delays and cancelations. Any technical or weather issues can cause a logjam in the airline’s network, which has earned the airline a reputation for having a higher rate of cancelations.
Due to its spotty flight calendar, departures aren’t always daily. If a flight does end up canceled, you may get stranded for a day or two until the next scheduled service.
Or you'll be offered an alternative trip that may require extra connections or layovers. If you are using a Norwegian flight as part of a larger itinerary, leave a generous amount wiggle room on either end in allowing onward connections on other airlines.
It is also worth noting that Norwegian is helpful in providing free hotel accommodation during these rare instances and, if applicable, customers can use EU Regulation 261/2004 to claim up to €600 if the flight qualifies for delay or cancelation compensation.
Since Norwegian is not a member of any partner alliances and doesn’t codeshare with any other airlines, the carrier is hesitant to rebook you on another airline and will often only let you rebook on a future flight on Norwegian or receive a refund. If pressed, they will rebook you on a competitor airline, but you will need to be persistent. Norwegian’s call center is often be overworked during major storm cancellations and getting through requires quite a lot of patience.
Norwegian also operates 737 models that feature a three by three layout, which is similar to that of domestic carriers like Southwest. Those Boeing 737 flights are limited by range any are only used on flights from Providence (PVD) and Newburgh (SWF) to destinations in Ireland, UK, and Scandinavia. These aircraft will feel more cramped than Dreamliner and do not provide amenities like seatback entertainment. They are a great low-cost option for those cities, but may not be worth the savings and hassle for those in Boston or New York City to travel to.
Norwegian makes for a great budget-friendly alternative once you’re aware of its pricing model and practices. Even then, be prepared with your own food, drinks, headphones, and sleeping items (if needed), and you can have the same experience as flying on a traditional full-service carrier without requiring to pay for the name brand. I would certainly fly with them again if the need arises.
Check-in image by Sorbis, Woman in Front of Flight Board image by Ekaterina Pokrovsky via shutterstock.com