Perhaps you’ve heard, chances are you saw it in a tweet somewhere, but our economy is doing really great these days, just fantastic. Whether or not you’re feeling entirely flush is another matter, but someone’s out there, making money. Seriously, have you tried to book a trip somewhere in the U.S. lately? From middling, $200 hotel rooms in that notable summer vacation hotspot Detroit, to $450 Southwest flights from New York to Texas, staying at home and enjoying everything America has to offer, well, excuse me if I’m starting to wonder if maybe a raincheck is in order? Particularly when the only thing between Paris and me is a one-way Norwegian flight, costing just a little more than $100, a fare that is available pretty much every day of the week, for most of the year.
Since 2013, Norwegian has been the new bestie to budget-conscious travelers with sights set beyond our shores. Also since 2013, experts and heads of competing low-cost airlines have been predicting Norwegian’s imminent demise. Except here we are, enjoying everything 2020 has to offer. By my math, this makes the so-called experts seem less expert-y. Who knows, they may yet be proven correct, but in the short-term, they’ve been wonderfully, completely wrong, and for anyone looking to spend more time in Europe and even beyond, Norwegian has been, quite simply, a massive gift. A gift that too many travelers are looking in the mouth and saying, meh, no thanks, we’ll fly United. Some people, as the English say, simply won’t be told.
Related: How to Fly Norwegian Air
How useful is Norwegian? The first thing you need to remember is that Norwegian flights from the majority of its American departure points, ranging, at this point, from Boston to Los Angeles, Seattle to Miami, is that Norwegian can get you out and back for roughly the cost of a transcontinental journey. Quite often, they can do so last minute, with the notable exception of July, August, and the Christmas period. The second thing to know is that you can book fares in their Premium cabin for roughly $1100 round-trip, as a matter of course. Think old-school domestic Business Class, which is totally fine for Transatlantic. What, exactly, are we all waiting for? An engraved invitation?
Maybe you’ve been burned before by low-cost airlines—it happens. It’s certainly happened to me. Will Norwegian even be around by next fall, when you’re hoping to be in Italy? And what’s it like onboard, at those prices? These are all entirely fair questions, comments, and concerns. Norwegian has, by its own admission, been in a period of rather extreme expansion over the last few years. Some of their most heavily-promoted routes seemed to disappear as quickly as they were launched, with the company moving from growth (as in, let’s throw a lot of stuff at a wall, and see what sticks) toward profitability. Year-round services have become seasonal, and seasonal services have blown away like so many fall leaves. Even for someone who likes using the airline, keeping up has been somewhat of a challenge. I’ll say this, however—in the decade I’ve been using Norwegian, they haven’t so much as moved gates on me, let alone cancel a flight.
Don’t let fear of sudden change stop you, particularly if you live near any of their major hubs, which have been far more consistent. New York, for example, is a no-brainer. Same goes for Florida, where even if they shuffle things around, they still serve enough airports (Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, even Tampa) to keep you connected. Los Angeles is strong as well. Same for San Francisco, and it’s from California that you’ll often find some of the best deals. Think fares either at the same price or within a few bucks of the same flight from the East Coast, making a round-trip entirely doable for roughly $400, and that’s at times been a high estimate. It's similar for Premium fares. Boston to London-Gatwick is fairly often $1100 round-trip; for $1300-ish, you’re going to London too, all the way from sunny Southern California. Now that’s a freaking deal, people.
But what’s the flight like? I prefer to think of Norwegian as a slightly less experienced cousin—if almost nearly as well-meaning—to my favorite domestic carrier, Southwest. Southwest is great because it encourages you from the start to manage your expectations, allowing everyone to go home relatively happy. Likewise, Norwegian is not promising you the world, and you don’t ever get on board expecting it, which tends to help everyone remain calm, believe it or not.
Once again, like Southwest, Norwegian feels like something of a club anyone can join. If you know, you know, and if you don’t, well, it’s never too late. To boot, long-haul routes are served by Boeing 787 Dreamliners, which promise better airflow and less jet-lag, and they really do deliver. Even if it’s just my imagination, landing at Gatwick now, after years of being ruined from overnight flights, I can’t even begin to tell you how much less disoriented I feel upon arrival.
Seats are perfectly fine in either class. No real surprises. Baggage and seat reservation fees aren’t dramatically different than any other low-cost fare these days. The real value tends to be in shorter trips, when you’ll only need a moderately sized bag that can go in the overhead bin, for which Norwegian now charges roughly $10 each way for Transatlantic flights. Service is minimal, but in the efficient, European sense—once again, they never promised to treat you like royalty, they’re just there to make sure everyone gets where they’re going in one piece, and perhaps sell you a snack. I can’t tell you how many Norwegian flights I’ve been on where I’m very nearly impressed by how agreeable the typically young multi-national crew has been. Bottom line: I stopped using the legacy carriers for transatlantic flights years ago, for a multitude of reasons, and the longer I fly Norwegian (and a couple of other carriers I’ll be writing about soon), the more I wonder if I could ever go back.
The booking process on Norwegian has in the past felt a tiny bit rubber-band-and-paper-clip, but site and app have been improving over time—mostly just fewer bugs, and faster speeds. These days, everything’s straightforward enough. Their low-fare calendar searches and departure city searches that instantly list all the fares in a given month to everywhere they go are excellent for people like me who have flexibility with their dates and choice of European gateway.
Or maybe you don’t even want to stop in Europe? They’ll take you onwards to Dubai, Marrakech, or even Buenos Aires if you don’t mind doubling back. The airline also offers affordable winter round-trips from the main Scandinavian gateways to Bangkok. And when I say affordable, I mean dirt-cheap. At last check, there were fares as low as $197 from Oslo in March, which you could easily get to from New York for only $129, on at least a dozen days that same month. Anyone in the mood for a dirt-cheap, round-the-world adventure? We’ve just gone most of the way now, for half of what JetBlue is charging sun-starved New Yorkers to get to some windy beach in the Caribbean this winter. Any questions? Didn’t think so.