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.
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.