Low-cost NYC with, erm, Primera Air from B’ham and London – book or avoid?

One thing about getting older is that you get a better sense of perspective on news announcements.  This is why I wasn’t rushing to write an article when that well-known airline Primera Air announced low-cost flights to New York and Boston from Birmingham and Stansted.  On an A321.

The list of small airlines that have tried, and failed, to make a go of ‘all business class’ services to New York is disturbingly long.  La Compagnie is the latest to try and fail, but they were simply the last in a long line which starts with Laker Airways and takes in Eos, MAXjet and Silverjet along the way.

Primera Air is different, because they appear to be even madder.  They will be offering a primarily economy service.

Primera Air A321

And yet …..

The economics is not totally bonkers.  The list price of an A321neo – a price which no-one actually pays – is $127m, or $700k per seat.  The list price of an A350-800 is $275m, which seats 280 people in a typical 3-class configuration, so let’s assume 330 or so if it was ‘all economy’.  That is a similar – in fact, slightly higher – cost per seat to buy the aircraft.

Running costs, of course, are a different matter, but in the world of $50 oil these are less important than they were.  And your chances of filling an A321 are clearly higher than your chance of filling an A350 if you are a start-up.

Reselling an A321, if you fail, is also a doddle.  The bigger the aircraft, the harder it is to find a home for it second hand as Emirates and Malaysia are finding with their A380’s.

Who are Primera Air?

In their favour, Primera Air is not a startup.  The airline was founded in 2003 as a charter group.

That said, it hasn’t exactly made huge strides between 2003 and today.  Whilst it has bases in Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, it only has a fleet of 9 aircraft – 2 new generation Boeing 737-700 and 7 Boeing 737-800.

Whilst Icelandic owned, it has a head office in Riga and uses a Danish operating licence.

What do we know?

This is what Primera Air has announced:

Flights to New York Newark and Boston to start in April 2018

Bases to opened at London Stansted, Birmingham and Paris CDG

Routes to be served with new Airbus 321neo aircraft

Additional destinations to be announced later this year

Both Birmingham and Stansted to New York will be daily, Boston will be 4 x weekly.

Is Primera Air really cheap?

Primera says that it will “offer transatlantic flights at prices previously unseen”.  Except it isn’t.

Here is some sample pricing, based on Primera’s ‘comfort’ package which includes meals, hold baggage and seat selection.

NEW YORK (7th June – 11th June)
  • Birmingham to New York (Newark) (Direct) – Primera Air (Comfort) = £411 return
  • Birmingham to New York (Newark) (Via Paris) – Air France/KLM (Standard Economy) = £380 return
  • Manchester to New York (JFK) (Direct) – Virgin Atlantic (Standard Economy) = £394 return
  • London Heathrow to New York (Newark) (Direct) – United Airlines (Standard Economy) = £380 return
  • London Gatwick to New York (JFK) (Direct) – Norwegian (LowFare+) = £493 return
BOSTON (22nd June – 26th June)
  • Birmingham to Boston (Direct) – Primera Air (Comfort) = £325 return
  • Birmingham to Boston (Via Dublin) – Aer Lingus (Standard Economy) = £430 return
  • Manchester to Boston (Direct) – Thomas Cook (Standard Economy) = £400 return
  • London Heathrow to Boston (Direct) – British Airways (Standard Economy) = £860 return (!)
  • London Gatwick to Boston (Direct) – Norwegian (LowFare+) = £437 return

To be fair, prices can change sharply when booking flights 11 months in advance.  Boston looks decent, but is there really that much demand from Birmingham to Boston?

Birmingham to New York could be a winner.  Both United and American Airlines have dropped the route but there should easily be enough demand to fill an A321.

What is the bottom line cheapest fare?

Looking at the first 6 weeks of operation in May and June 2018, the cheapest one-way tickets between Birmingham and New York move around from £189 to £249.

You get NOTHING included with this.  No meals, no seat selection, no baggage.  You do get 1 piece of hand baggage but with a very low 10kg weight limit.  The ‘comfort’ package which includes a checked case and meals costs an extra £50 one-way.

Premium starts at £600 one way.

I repeat.  Do not be fooled.  These are not exceptionally cheap fares.  If you live near Birmingham Primera Air is certainly convenient, but don’t think it is necessarily a bargain.

What will Primera Air offer?

It WON’T be offering IFE.  This may be a deal-breaker for some people, although there will be USB charging ports if you bring your own devices.

Wi-fi is available for a fee which puts them ahead of British Airways.

Food, seating etc is chargeable if you take their cheapest tickets.  Seats with extra leg room are available.

Is there business class?

Sort of, yes.  Primera Air has a Premium Economy cabin.  It doesn’t seem to include much (one of the “features” is “an individual bottle of water”) but on the face of it, it looks OK:

Primera Air Premium Economy

The 2 x 2 seating intrigues me and, purely on that basis, I’d be interested in trying it.

Any tips?

Day flights to New York and Boston are relatively short and painless, whoever you fly with and however you do it.

What is good about Primera Air – and Norwegian for that matter – is that you can buy a one-way ticket without penalty.  Why not fly out one-way in Primera Economy or Premium Economy instead of wasting Avios, and just use your points to fly back in British Airways Club World?  It is only the overnight flight where a flat bed in Business Class really comes into its own.

And, if you do book, use a credit card and not a debit card.  That Section 75 bankruptcy protection may be needed.

You can find out more on the Primera Air website here.

Thanks to Neil for help with the pricing samples.

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Comments

  1. Andrew Wong says:

    The reviews on TripAdvisor for Primera are pretty shocking: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Airline_Review-d8729132

    • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

      American and United have the same 3/5 rating. BA just a touch ahead at 3.5/5. Slim pickings on transatlantic routes with Delta and Virgin the winners on 4/5.

  2. Andrew says:

    For Birmingham this is good news as the United and AA routes have been dropped. Agreed, the prices aren’t exceptional, but in line with what you would pay from London.

  3. Andrew says:

    Are the fares available at £189 one way – in which case it could be useful if wanting to combine with an Avios booking for the other direction.

  4. I’ve used Norwegian for the return leg of a Transatlantic cruise. This offers some new options.

  5. Tim Millea says:

    “You do get 1 piece of hand baggage but with a very low 10kg weight limit”

    As an experienced hand-luggage only traveller, I can assure you that 10Kg is on the generous side of average. Thomas Cook Airline only last year increased their hand baggage allowance from 5Kg to 6Kg. I can also confirm that 10Kg is enough for ‘infinite baggage’, i.e. enough to wear forever and still be the best dressed in any circumstance. When I travel Club on BA I am usually transporting a kitchen or a vehicle within the silly hold allowance.

    • Peter K says:

      You’ve clearly never met my wife if you feel anyone can manage with 10kg of hand luggage!!

      • I did a 16-day coach tour in the US a few years ago. The tour guide and driver were responsible for loading the cases into the coach each day, and the tour guide always weighed them all and gave a prize to the person with the least luggage at the end of the trip.

        The winner on my trip was a couple who had done the entire trip with one hand-luggage suitcase weighing just 7kg between them. Apparently that was a record – the lightest case the guide had ever had!

        And, by the way, we weren’t staying anywhere more than 2 nights, and we weren’t in the kind of places with overnight laundry services – they were usual hotel laundry rooms or laundries in the towns we were staying in. So as impressive as it was, it did mean the first thing they did when we arrived at most hotels was locate the nearest laundry and do some washing….

      • Worzel says:

        Peter (09:03), yes, it’s a difficult one to argue-when the wife has 15ft of wardrobe space at home and you only have 3! :) .

      • Lady London says:

        Nor me.
        Just wallet, phones, satnav, laptop, tiny network thingy and a very few cables and charges and I’m already at 8kg.

        That’s with no change of any clothing at all….
        Physically not possible.

    • Genghis says:

      I’ve done quite a bit of research and thinking on this and whilst I like the idea of travelling light in principle, it seems like lots of hard work (continual washing and drying etc).

      I use a 55 x 45 x 25 which is good for BA / EZY hand luggage and one reason I fly these airlines for work, but could never get down to below 10kg nor use the smaller hand baggage size some airlines adopt.

    • MrHandBaggageOnly says:

      Agreed. 10Kg is more than plenty. Even MrsHBO can travel with a couple of pairs of shoes and some hair straighteners and keep it under 10kg. (I do insist she leaves the industrial hair-dryer behind though!)

  6. Mikeact says:

    I think you’ll find that Andrew only uses hand luggage for all his travels,whether or not that is 10kg or not, I’m not sure., but I guess it can be done.

    • I am very aggressive on HBO, although obviously it is impossible with kids.

      As long as you are not switching hotels every day, just use the hotel laundry service. Whilst paying £7 or so to get a shirt washed and ironed may sound offensive, it is a) probably cheaper than paying to check a suitcase, b) means you have zero chance of your luggage getting lost, c) cuts down airport hassle and d) you won’t be wearing creased unpacked clothes!

      • Plus you usually get hotel points on the laundry spend whereas you don’t earn extra miles for checking the case.

        So in a way it’s a cherry on the top

        I don’t mind paying hotel laundry prices for shirts as they’ll do a better job at ironing than I do!

        • RussellH says:

          Ironing shirts?

          I did not know that anyone did that anymore!

          • You just need to find a Primark like place in the country you’re visiting (so target or Wal-Mart in the USA). Then you basically have disposable clothes with no need to worry about laundry

          • Genghis says:

            Even non-iron shirts need a quick going over!

          • Kinkell says:

            Ha! I do! My husband appeared on TV for commenting on something years ago, in the days before we married. He never ironed his shirts and he looked very crumpled! So, one of my wedding vows was to never let him out of the house looking creased!

          • I think I may have ironed a couple of shirts in the last 10 years, but only ones I don’t often wear because they need ironing.

      • Claire says:

        It’s actually easier with kids (perhaps not babies as they need tons of kit) as you get all that extra luggage and their stuff is so small! We’ve managed many family-of-4 holidays with 2 kids. A lot of stuff that gets brought is the same whether there’s one person or 4 (phone chargers etc) and 4 clear bags for liquid makes it a lot easier than one or two if you’re packing for a week!
        Now the kids are a bit older and most of our trips are to the USA we always end up with tons of spare luggage. Usually best suitcases and check 2 in, and ram them full of stuff to bring home!

        • Have to agree with this 100%. Once you’re not schlepping infant formula or nappies around – and so long as you’re not going skiing for a week – travel with kids on a HBO basis is more than possible. I think the first time we managed it was 2 weeks round SE Asia with a 6yr old, a 4yr old and an 18 month old.

          I would also add that I find it difficult to get much more than 10kgs of stuff in our regulation sized carry on bags.

        • MrHandBaggageOnly says:

          Absolutely! :)

        • Their allowance is great, especially the ziplock sandwich bags! The security staff always give me a look which obviously asks why one woman, one man and an 11 year old boy need 3 bags of makeup!

          • Oh come on, why would you want to revel and dress like a pauper everyday. Use the allowance to the full. 10 night trip to Vegas, and we get a washer dryer in our suite. Wife, 10 dresses, 15 or so bikinis. 8 pairs of shoes and assorted daywear. I take 5 pairs of shoes, 6 trousers, about 8 shirts with 2 suit jackets. Then there is our running stuff.
            We only stay in 1 hotel so only have to transport the 3 suitcases once.

  7. Scottydogg says:

    I looked on their website last week and could find any super cheap flights to New York like the advertising I seen suggested

    • What a surprise. Probably 2 seats per flight loaded at the very cheap headline prices as a gimmick.

    • There is plenty of the low fares available…. £149 on way is their lowest from the UK

      From Birmingham, nearly all or their NYC flights on Monday-Wednesday in September are £149 with most other flights being £169. There is also a lot more availability for Boston!

      The flights back to the UK are also a lot cheaper with NYC/Boston to Birmingham being £77 one way!

      Just use http://www.primeraair.co.uk instead of their .com site!

      • Does anyone really want to book a flight for September 2018 now?! On an airline which may not be about then?!

  8. I use a TImbuk2 messenger bag for trips of up to 5 days. Fits under a seat if required, has loads of clever pockets for laptop, tablet etc.

    • Lady London says:

      Getting a bit OT but like @Gavin, I used the XL size of Timbuk2 messenger bag for years as HBO. That bag I will admit, did carry everything. It didn’t weigh 8kg though it weighed more like 15kg! I tried to look nonchalant carrying it on but yes it was heavy. They wear like iron.

      With the Timbuk2 both on and off the bike I have always found it well worth purchasing the strap that holds it to your chest – it stops the bag moving and makes it almost feel pretty fixed like a rucksack. So much less strain. You can carry some surprisingly heavy/bulky weights in them. A tip with Timbuk2 bags : if you won;t be able to wait for a special order to be made, you’ll often find a better selection online than in the original San Francisco Timbuk2 shop.

  9. Margaret says:

    I’d have thought the cheapest option for Boston or new York would be the Norwegian flights to Providence and Newburgh, both just over an hour into the city centre. We are flying into Providence in a couple of weeks and paid about £150 return each x4 when they launched, and extra for two bags. The downside is they are flying 737 max planes though. ..

  10. RussellH says:

    The big advantage BHX has over other airports is that is accessible by through train from Glasgow, Edinburgh, the NW, NE, South Coast, London and much of the Midlands, and with one change the SW. I have never understood why it does not work better for the airlines.

    • Graeme says:

      you clearly haven’t experienced the joys of cross country trains….

      • RussellH says:

        I do not like Voyagers, whether Virgin WC or XCountry, that much, true. But they are vastly more comfortable than any aircraft economy cabin!

  11. Darren says:

    I’m just pleased to see that BHX have an option across the pond again.
    I hope it’s a success.

  12. Additional fees:
    https://primeraair.co.uk/travel-info/fees/
    Premium beef meal £60!! Yikes! Please review this premium beef meal if you do test Primeraair!

    It also seems paying for your flight costs £9 (visa/mastercard only), unless you pay by bank transfer to their Icelandic / Swedish account (bank fees instead)..
    https://primeraair.co.uk/travel-info/fees/payment-options/

    • Hahaha. Please Rob, do a review of this “premium beef meal” and let us know if it lives up to its hefty price tag!!!

    • RussellH says:

      Do UK banks routinely charge for transfers to Sterling accounts abroad? I have no idea. But if you have an EUR a/c, transfer to another EUR a/c within the SEPA should be free of charge.

      Odd that the SKK a/c is in Reykjavik, not Stockholm.

      Personally, in this case I think that Rob is quite correct to suggest, strongly, that payment be made by Credit card in order to qualify for section 75 protection. Think of the £9 as an insurance policy?

      • £9 fee will also go in January with the new rules launched by the govt’

  13. As someone who couldn’t care less about IFE and could probably manage with HBO, the thought of flying from Birmingham, rather than having to schlep to That London and either pay to park, or negotiate the trains into and out of the centre of town, is fine. Even with a fairly low price difference, it would be far cheaper from BHX than LHR and the return journey is much nicer.

    It’s just a shame that the friends who have been living in Boston for the last 6 years or so are returning back to the UK for the beginning of October. Although, if they keep the weekend house, there may still be opportunities for holidays out there.

  14. I flew LGW-BOS on Norwegian earlier this year for £209 – the first Y flight longer than 4 hours in 5 years (and that was the excellent Turkish LHR-IST) – I usually fly J for longer flights.

    I was dreading it.

    I thought they were fantastic.

    Rather than copying their competitors it’s like they tore up the rule book and started again. Great aircraft, great crew, fantastic free IFE (wasn’t expecting that!) And it’s quite a short day flight.

    Unless Primers are substanialy cheaper (which it isnt), Norwegian have nothing to worry about

    • Michael Jennings says:

      Where I live now (London south of the river) I am likely to stick to Norwegian, unless Primera are a *lot* cheaper. If I still lived in Cambridge, though, there’s a fair chance I’d give them a try. The convenience of going to a closer airport is worth quite a bit.

  15. They also have ‘Pet in Cabin’ option – I thought this was a US domestic flight phenomenon… Rob can you please take pet cat / dog / guinea pig during flight eating premium beef?

    As an aside, does everyone else find Icelandic Krona the most difficult European currency to do quick in-head conversions with? (not quite as confusing as Indian Lakh and working in base units of 100,000!)

  16. Stuart H says:

    Did anyone mention the seat pitch:

    30″ economy ….. 32″ premium economy

    LOL

  17. Nigel H says:

    Me and my wife, where possible, always travel hand luggage only. In fact two years ago we did a road trip around Arizona, Nevada and California taking in Vegas (where we got married), San Francisco and Los Angeles; stopping off at smaller towns in between. Hand luggage only, even with a wedding suite/dress !! To be fare though, we did travel WTP on BA.

    Last year we did two weeks in Spain on hand luggage only, this was a bit of a road trip as well. We flew Ryanair so a couple of weeks can defo be done, travelled just over 1100KM in a rental car.

  18. Craig Emptage says:

    Perhaps a stupid question but are all pilots equal in terms of training? Not something I’d normally worry about but with these ‘cheap’ new airlines that spring up, are they likely to be making savings on the crew?

    • No. There are more qualified pilots than jobs. I know a German pilot who went to a low cost Indonesian carrier – it builds up his flying hours and he is now with a UK charter airline.

    • Within the EU (and neighbouring countries governed also by EASA), yes all pilots are equal. There are seriously strict rules on what they must do, checks they must take, and how often. It’s fair to be suspicious in dodgy third-world countries, but knowing the rules and seeing their enforcement, it’s not an issue in Europe and I wouldn’t be scared to fly on any airline subject to their regulations.

  19. Jimster says:

    Really good trip regarding the two bookings. cheers!

  20. Michael says:

    I don’t understand why BHX is so under capacity. Didnt it top the list of most punctual UK airport recently on Watchdog? It’s such a great option from Euston on Virgin Trains and accessible directly from the station. Good luck to them.