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. Have you factored in the cost of checked luggage with those prices? A checked bag from gatwick to New York is €33 each way!

    I know your example used a long weekend but we’d usually end up needing a checked bag, on the return at least, for shopping.

    • Idrive says:

      The only thing i can think of it is a one way ex london with no luggage to pair with a one way redemption (AA) But still i would not want to get to Nyc at night. I would prefere to sleep at home get to LHR in the morning and enjoy my weekend. But still…agree with you fully.

      The flights will be full probably…as ryanair flights are! :-(

      • Brendan says:

        You do get a free checked bag on AA. It is only on domestic travel within the US that you don’t.

        • Idrive says:

          Yes the point is ex Lon hand luggage only and ex Nyc with AA with a checked luggage after shopping!

    • You’re talking to a man who can easily do a week-long holiday on 1 piece of hand baggage!

      Of course, it is possible that Norwegian would start getting fussy about the size of my piece of hand baggage, I didn’t actually check what their dimensions are and I have no idea if they enforce it.

      I came back in a Singapore Airlines First Class private suite (A380) on Monday night, complete with Krug, caviar and lobster for dinner (not easy to eat at 11pm but hey ho) so I don’t think Norwegian and I are meant to be. If they offer me a review flight I will turn it down!

      • I’d be interested in their Business Class to FLL (although it’s not particularly cheap). Can you review that please 😉

  2. sandgrounder says:

    The low cost option may be a better deal for a one way or a return without a Saturday night stay. Or short notice. Maybe.

  3. Richie says:

    Surely it’s better to get to NYC at night. You can go straight to the hotel, have a good nights sleep and wake up refreshed at your destination early the next morning.
    I paid £360 with ba to New York for long weekend in November.

    • Richie says:

      Dates are the same as your example swell!!

    • I personally prefer getting there during the day.
      I hate arriving late at night and paying £200 or whatever for a hotel room that you pretty much walk into and go to sleep in. I’d rather have that room all day to get my money’s worth out of it.

      • Richie says:

        Never thought of that, does seem a bit of a waste when you put it like that.

        • squills says:

          I used to like travelling early out (so that you get paid to fly during the working day) but to get the red eye back to give yourself a bit of a weekend at home.

    • My preference is to get to my hotel for around 4pm-5pm, which means landing about 2pm-3pm.

      On Friday I landed in Newark at 7pm. Luckily immigration was empty, I was happy to pay for a taxi, I was staying in Battery Park and I had no checked baggage, so I still managed to get to the Conrad by 8.30. I then lost some time at the Conrad because I had to change my room. It doesn’t give you much time to relax and plan out your trip.

      On the other hand, nothing is worse than getting to your hotel at 5pm, being totally knackered and having to force yourself to stay awake until 9pm/10pm for fear of waking up at 3am!

      • andy21 says:

        Or take Queen Mary 2 to New York and arrive at 9am with no jet-lag (they adjust the clock on board by an hour on 5 of the days at sea).

  4. Martin Wood says:

    Article here on the difficulty of finding true low cost Norwegian flights to NYC.

    http://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/jul/02/norwegian-bargain-flights-no-frills

  5. For those of us that don’t work in Central London there’s also the minor issue of having to connect to Gatwick on a separate booking leaving sufficient time between flights for safety! At least with BA there’d be little extra cost to include a (protected) connection.

  6. Worzel says:

    A brief survey for Nov13-18:

    Norwegian LGW-JFK: £489-including suitcase,seat reservation,meal.

    BA LHR-JFK: £468- including suitcase, meal/drinks.

    BA(Avios), LHR-JFK: £361 + 40k avios.

  7. Richie says:

    For me this a no brainer, as a ba silver 13,800 avios, lounge access, extra 32kg bag. Seat selection, meals on board, tier points. All add up to make ba a better deal even at £150 more for the ticket. It just so happens that when I booked ba was cheaper anyway.

  8. squills says:
  9. Don’t think that Head for Point readers demographics are the target. For me the timings and small fleet make the (potential) £150 saving not worth thinking about. But a few years ago when budgets were tighter and time was less of an issue £150 would have swung me to them.

    • squills says:

      And whilst there aren’t very many cheapo flights at the moment, with budget airlines if you’re canny you buy as soon as the next tranche gets released (ie well in advance) or else watch prices like a hawk. Ie if I were a student, I’d be fairly sure to find something close to £300-350 return and (for NY at least) wouldn’t be taking checked luggage.

  10. My partner used the service to NYC on Saturday and was very complimentary. Total price genuinely a lot less than BA (OK, a Saturday in July isn’t necessarily the fairest comparison), and she said it was a very pleasant way to travel. She said the service was a lot closer to Virgin’s chumminess than what you get on BA, but no worse for that.

    Accept the points about aircraft availability etc – but ultimately it’s like any other comparison between BA and an LCC – if the price of what you get bundled with BA doesn’t offset the price difference for you, you should go with the LCC. If not, choose BA.

    • Richie says:

      Exactly, I don’t think we have a clear winner. It totally depends on each airlines price at time of booking, status, timings, etc. it’s nice to have the option of a Lcc on this route though.

  11. I think. the benefit of going to work on the morning you land with ba is a bit of a non starter really. I wouldn’t go to work after an overnight flight in economy so that aspect of the return flight time is irrelevant to me. If in flying in cw or first I might try to work that day, but not economy.

    • I used to fly back from the US to Manchester, arrive around 8am, get the train back to Huddersfield, walk down to the office and work until 4pm, then go home and crash!

      Try telling that to the young people of today. They won’t believe you!!! 😉

  12. Matthew says:

    Stupid article.

    £300 is almost half as cheap as £599 QED.

    You may not like cheap airlines but claiming they aren’t cheaper just because they don’t suit your needs is absurd.

    • The Norweigan fares being compared to BA are £573, £477 and £445. Who is stupid now?

      • Matthew says:

        Then get one of the £300 flights instead?

        • Are you so flexible that you can travel exactly when you want? Most people have particular dates when they can travel. Those who don’t can probably afford more expensive, better-quality flights…

        • flibbly says:

          Can you actually read?

    • Andrew S says:

      I assume you are not familar with headline price grabbing marketing techniques?

  13. squills says:

    Here are some REAL scheduled airline £300 return flights http://www.holidaypirates.com/flights/flights-to-nyc-from-manchester-for-just-gbp-297?

  14. I don’t think you can make the point about BA’s flexibility regarding times (flying on Friday morning, for instance) without acknowledging that those BA flights are likely to be more expensive since they are more desirable!!

    • squills says:

      I bet you BA introduce a hand luggage only option on certain long haul routes for a discount (as they have already done with European flights).

  15. If you want non-stop then Kuwaiti Airlines frequently has £300 return on it’s 3 x weekly flights. Including luggage, food & entertainment (no booze). And flights from LHR-JFK.

    On the New York route i’d always been led to believe that Y is heavily subsidised on BA / VS by those flying upfront anyway?

    Always happy to see a new carrier try on this route, but cannot see them succeeding where so many other have failed, despite lower cost base. The mid / long haul market in Y is so competitive anyway. And they have had a mountain of 787 issues and have had to sub a lot of their ex-Oslo flights with wet leased 767’s.

    One good thing that the Air Asia X STN-KUL showed us is that if they do pull the route at short notice they will HAVE to rebook you onto another carrier as there are plenty of options, so there should be confidence in booking IF they suit you for whatever reason (i.e. live in Brighton, get £300 return, happy with hand luggage, not eating, etc).

    • Yes, I was on one of these services – not a 787 Dreamliner (not to London, however) but rather a old 777 (Boeing) service, with a company called ‘Hifly’ and the staff where in ‘Hifly’ uniform.

      Probably the worst experience I’ve had flying internationally, no food service (even to purchase) and main-screen entertainment – and very poor service.

      This said, the 787 experience was above-par and comparable to a number of major airlines, if you buy the ‘plus’ option.

  16. 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

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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