Is the Norwegian Gatwick to New York service really ‘low cost’?

The Norwegian service from London Gatwick to New York which I originally previewed back in October has now launched.   They have also started flying to LA and Fort Lauderdale from Gatwick, although I am concentrating on the New York service here.

The company has been promoting itself as offering £300 return tickets.  As the October post above shows, there was a LOT of availability at this level when bookings first opened.  (£300, remember, is less than the tax on a British Airways Avios economy redemption to New York!)

You could put that down to PR ‘bluster’ of course.  The key question is whether Norwegian can continue to offer low fares.

On the positive side, they are using brand new Boeing 787 aircraft which are very fuel efficient.  Using Gatwick also save them a few pounds per passenger in landing fees.  The downside – and it is a big downside – is that they don’t have any bankers on £4,000 return fully flexible tickets sitting on flat beds at the front.

Norwegian

I randomly priced up three ‘long weekends’ in New York this Autumn.  I looked for a day flight going out on Friday and an overnight flight coming back on the Monday.  Not coincidentally, this is exactly what I did myself last weekend.

It wasn’t easy.

The first problem is that Norwegian only flies on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.  This is not great for the ‘weekend break’ market.  I assumed that Thursday to Tuesday would be the best comparator although, personally, that is at least one night more than I would want (and you are running up a higher hotel bill by staying longer).

Norwegian also prices in Euros.  I have added 3% to the converted £ price to reflect the credit card FX fee you would pay.

Finally, the Norwegian outbound flight is 18.40.  This is OK if you head to Gatwick from work, but if not you are effectively losing a day of your trip due to the 21.30 arrival in New York.  Coming back, the flight leaves at 23.50 from JFK which is pretty terrible given that your hotel will want you out of the door at noon.

Thursday September 4 – Tuesday September 9:

Norwegian: €699 (£573)

British Airways:  £599

Thursday October 23 – Tuesday October 28 (half term):

Norwegian: €583 (£477)

British Airways:  £585

Thursday November 13 – Tuesday November 18:

Norwegian: €545 (£445)

British Airways:  £585

Based on these prices, you would be crazy to take Norwegian for the September trip:

The flight times are not great

The days they fly are not terribly convenient

The flights are not particularly cheap, especially factoring in baggage and on-board food and drink costs

Norwegian has a very tiny fleet and you are running a real risk of being stranded if your aircraft develops problems

The October and November trips are more marginal.  Norwegian save you £110-£140 over British Airways.  However, with BA you could travel Friday morning and not Thursday evening and so save on 1 night of hotel cost.  You could also get a more convenient flight back (say 8pm) which would allow you to get into work in Central London at a sensible time on the day you land.

If you factor in the value of the Avios points awarded by British Airways (1 per mile flown in economy) which are enough for a one-way flight to much of Europe, plus the value of free food and drink, the BA option looks even better.  And if your BA plane develops a problem, there are no shortage of alternative flights.

A saving of £140 over British Airways is, if I’m honest, probably enough to fill Norwegian’s planes – but in terms of convenience, you are getting what you pay for.

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Comments

  1. Jeremy I says:

    The crucial advantage on all of the Norwegian long haul routes is that they allow one-ways , which is a game changer in the long haul market. Get a cheap outbound from London and a large portion of the one-way fare will be APD anyway. Return on points and you’ve got a real saving.

    • Worzel says:

      Nov13-18:

      Norwegian: LGW-JFK(one way) £244-including suitcase,seat reservation,meal.

      BA: JFK- LHR(one way) £149 +20k Avios- including suitcase, meal/drinks.

      Total: £393 + 20k.

      Reply

  2. I agree that for a single traveller the £170 pound saving is less than compelling. However, as the HFP yardstick tends to be “family of four to DXB”. On that basis the saving of £680 is substantial. Certainly £500 after food and bags.
    For those south of London or within easy reach of gatwick the convenience needs to be factored in.

    It’s a shame that they don’t offer WiFi on the long haul product. I believe it’s free on the majority of their short haul fleet.

    • Fair point, but on the same ‘family off on holiday’ route I’m not sure I would risk it with an airline which has zero chance of helping you out if the plane goes tech (and this is a 787 we’re talking about!).

      I was never trying to suggest that Norwegian isn’t worth a look. I even mentioned it to our nanny last week as an option as she was thinking of going over. As with all budget carriers, the key things I like to stress are:

      * do not assume a budget carrier is cheaper because it is not always true
      * take into account other factors such as the need for additional hotel nights, transfer costs, refreshments, baggage etc

      Whilst I am sure Norwegian has done the maths, I struggle to see how they can make any money out of this. Although – in terms of fuel cost – the Los Angeles flights must be even more difficult. Dreamliners are meant to be 20% or so more efficient than older aircraft, but that is only 20% of the fuel bill which is hardly your entire cost base. If Ryanair doesn’t think it could work (and they have the marketing machine to fill every flight) then I worry for Norwegian.

      • If you ‘risk’ it – then you’ll most likely end up on a ‘Hifly’ or subsidiary 20+ year old aircraft, rather than being left at the airport – they sell a number of their flights as ‘a dream-liner’ experience, whereas they know that they don’t have the planes to service this demand, for the time being.

  3. Hmm. This is 9 across seating on the dreamliner?
    Taking into account seat comfort, checked baggage, aircraft tech risks and NYC-LON flight timings I’d be happy to pay £100 rtn more on VS or BA.
    Further taking into account lounge access through airline status and the FF points, just pushes things further in favour of the main carriers and upping the premium I’d bear more.

    Norwegian may well come into its own for very late bookings if the plane is looking less than 67% loaded. In which case the comfort / cost equation might tip back towards them.

  4. Norwegian (like a lot of “low cost, no frills” airlines) look like good value on the surface but I’m a firm believer that you need to look deep before you leap. I’ve been watching the whole Norwegian deal quite keenly, mainly in terms of the Ft Lauderdale route. For me, BA is a better option. Cheap prices are only as good as they are useful. Having to travel on set days, having to pay to check bags, having to pay for a meal etc. make for a whole lot of inconvenience or added expense.

  5. Rich. S says:

    Premium seat has around 8″ more pitch than VS / BA on a new aircraft, includes two bags and premium catering.
    Flight time is good for me on the return, I hate the 6.30 / 7.30 / 8.30 pm flights back, they are too early for me to get any meaningful rest.

    Particularly useful is the one way flight if you are picking up a cruise or similar.
    I hope they challenge what has become a very poor product in BA and others in Y