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Why Norwegian Reward is a more valuable loyalty scheme than it first appears

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We don’t cover Norwegian much on Head for Points, although you can’t deny that they have become a major force on the European aviation scene.

Norwegian is now the 8th largest airline in Europe and the 5th largest low cost carrier globally.  It flies over 500 routes to 150 different destinations.

As well as a substantial short haul operation, it was due to have 32 long haul aircraft (unfortunately, all Boeing 787 planes with the temperamental Rolls Royce engines) by the end of this year.  The average fleet age of under 4 years compares with British Airways at just over 12 years.

Norwegian 787

Despite being technically a low cost carrier, you might be surprised to learn that we recommend Norwegian PremiumI reviewed Norwegian Premium and it is the only ‘premium economy’ seat which is genuinely half-way between traditional Economy and Business.

Rob says that it isn’t far off the old-style seats which passed for Business Class back in the late 1980’s …. not that I was out of nappies then.  You even get lounge access, which isn’t coming to Virgin Atlantic Premium or BA’s World Traveller Plus any time soon.

Our articles on Norwegian tend to focus on takeover interest by BA’s parent IAG and rumours of financial difficulties.  Norwegian also has a loyalty programme, however, and I wanted to look at that today.

Norwegian Reward claims to be one of the fastest growing loyalty programs in the industry.  In 2011 the program had 1 million members.  At the end of 2017 it had 6.8 million members and is presumably now level with Avios at around 8 million.  That said, the major hotel loyalty programmes are approaching 100 million members each …..

Unlike most airline loyalty programs it is a very simple structure.

Norwegian Reward has pseudo-revenue based earning and actual revenue based spending.  For every flight you buy you get at least 2% of your fare back in CashPoints, rising to 10% for Flex tickets which is a very generous return.  Until recently you got 20% back on Flex tickets which was ludicrously good.

Norwegian Reward has no status levels and no ‘outsize’ rewards for large balances (in the way that Club World redemptions with Avios cost 4x a World Traveller seat but, for cash, would cost 5 – 10x more).  There is no point in saving up your CashPoints because their value does not increase disproportionately if you have more of them.

As we show below, though, regular flyers do receive extra benefits which are arguably worth more than CashPoints.  There is real value to be had here if you fly Norwegian on a regular basis.

norwegian reward review

How do you earn CashPoints?

The number of CashPoints earned is based on your fare class.  You earn anything from 2% CashPoints on LowFare tickets through to 10% CashPoints on Flex tickets.

Regular flyers can earn an even higher level of return as you can elect to increase your earnings by 2% every time you complete six flights over the previous 12 months.  Points are based on your fare excluding taxes, charges and optional services.

A typical £270 LowFare ticket from Gatwick to Oakland in January 2019 includes £140 of taxes and fuel surcharges.  This means that you would receive £2.60 of CashPoints, ie 2% on the net fare of £130.  This is clearly nothing to be excited about.

For a business traveller, however, it gets more interesting.  A PremiumFlex seat to Oakland in January is £1,300 on the dates I checked.  Net of £140 of taxes, the cost is £1,160.  You would receive 10% of this in CashPoints which means receiving a credit towards future (presumably personal) flights of £116.

Whilst each member of your family can earn points, even children, each person must have their own account.  These can be pooled in a Family Account if you wish – details of those are here.

More ways to earn CashPoints

One way in which Norwegian is attempting to add some extra interest to Norwegian Reward is by introducing additional ways of earning CashPoints.

For example:

CashPoints with hotel bookings

You can earn CashPoints with you hotel booking via Rocketmiles.  At present you get 400 bonus CashPoints, worth roughly £40, with your first booking of 2+ nights and 100 – 1,000 CashPoints per night after that.

Norwegian Reward has also recently launched a partnership with Hotels.com, letting you earn 5% CashPoints with every hotel booking via the Norwegian Reward website.

CashPoints with car rentals

When you book your car rental via Norwegian you can earn 3% of the cost in CashPoints in France, Italy, USA and 5% of the cost in CashPoints in all other countries. Included are various major car rental companies like Hertz, Avis and Europcar.

The other Norwegian Reward partners which let you earn CashPoints include airport transport, airport lounge access and wine. They are all listed on this website.

Norwegian Reward loyalty scheme review

What do I do with my CashPoints?

CashPoints can be used as full or part payment for:

  • Flights
  • Baggage
  • Seat reservation
  • Cancellation insurance
  • Booking changes

Because you can use your points for part payment, there is no need to hit any specific threshold before you can use them.  The value you get per point is the same whether you redeem £10-worth or £1,000-worth.  Note that your points expire 24 months after the end of the calendar year in which they were earned.

Extra benefits for regular Norwegian flyers

In addition to CashPoints, members can earn extra benefits if they fly Norwegian on a regular basis.

I think that these benefits are more valuable than CashPoints for anyone flying on Low Fare tickets.

After every 6th flight members can choose one out of four extra benefits which are valid for 12 months to use on as many flights as you like.

These extra benefits are:

  • CashPoint boost of 2% for LowFare tickets
  • Free Fast Track Security (at selected airports including Gatwick, New York JFK and Oakland)
  • Free seat reservation
  • Free baggage

The CashPoint boost is the first benefit that will be added to your account. In this case you cannot choose. After 12 flights you can either choose to add another boost of 2% on LowFare tickets (increasing your bonus to 4% on top of the standard 2%), free Fast Track security, free seat reservations or free baggage.

You can have eight boost rewards in total which you will have received after 48 flights over a 12 month period.

norwegian reward review

Conclusion

In general, Head For Points does not get very excited about revenue-based programmes.  There is a reason why Nectar gets almost no attention from the public whilst Tesco Clubcard was in its prime very successful.  Clubcard lets you track down outsize rewards, usually from Tesco’s partners such as Avios or Uber.  As Nectar proves day in and day out, when 1 point is worth 0.5p with almost no ability to improve on that, the programme becomes boring and you start to wonder why you aren’t just given cashback instead.

With Norwegian, however, this approach makes sense.  With a strong focus on the occasional traveller and the leisure market, it is logical to take an approach that rewards every flight taken and offers in return something you can easily redeem (ie money towards a new flight).

In any event, CashPoints are NOT the main way in which Norwegian rewards the loyalty of its flyers.

The extra benefits members receive after every 6th flight have taken Norwegian Reward from a simple ‘cashback’ scheme to a ‘lite’ elite status program.  Because you receive these rewards on every flight you take over a 12-month period, the value can really add up.

Looking at the cash value of these rewards, the best reward is the free baggage.  You need 18 flights to have this an option.  The Norwegian table showing baggage pricing is very complex, but you will pay from £9 to £70 for your first suitcase depending on the length of your flight.  Getting these fees removed is a substantial saving.

Free seat reservations are also good value as ‘Low Fare’ ticket holders pay £7 – £24 per person each way on domestic flights and £25 on long haul flights.  The price list is here.

If you purchase fast track security via the Norwegian website you pay £9 – however it seems only to be available in Spain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland so this benefit will be of less use to UK residents.

Norwegian Reward will never get the same amount of customer interest and interaction as programmes such as Avios enjoy, because they do not offer the potential for ‘outsize’ rewards.  It is free to join however so, if you are booking a flight with them anyway, it is a no-brainer to sign up.

If you try the the Norwegian experience and like it, you will be able to use your points for a discount on your next trip.  If you fly them on a regular basis, you will soon see your seating and baggage fees disappear too.

Comments (54)

  • Peter says:

    The outsized reward in this program is when you get free baggage, free seating and free fast track
    on top of their best pricing in their sales. And it’s rewards availability is not limited to a few seats per plane or stacked with taxes/charges. With a economy product which is better than BA or SAS this is indeed a frequent flier program for the cost conscious.

    The car rental section should perhaps mention the key deal signed with Avis. 10% cash points plus a discount which compares to my best discount for Hertz. Just booked my first car using the deal!

    • Matt says:

      I’ve never flown Norwegian so in no way an expert, but are you sure the Y seats are better than BA? The new 737 slim seats look horrendous for long haul travel?!

      • Mark says:

        The Norwegian slim line Recaro seats are excellent and very comfortable. I’m 6 foot 3 and would take Norwegian economy over BA everytime.

        • The Original Nick says:

          Mark, even in long haul? Looking at NYC for September and Norweigian keep coming up best but I haven’t been in Ecomomy long haul for some years now but I’m thinking of risking it.

      • Peter says:

        @Matt, I only have short haul experience in economy with BA so that was my comparison. Long haul BA business I have tried and it was excellent, but it is a completely different price range.

        I have taken three economy long haul flights on Dreamliners with Norwegian (FLL/BKK). Around 400 pounds return each including baggage/seat/food. It was excellent value for money and no delays. I am tall and had no issues with the seat. Now I have two more long haul booked with them now.

        In the end if your comparison is BA business I am sure you are going to be disappointed. It is an economy seat after all.

    • @mkcol says:

      I was aware of the good rebates for Avis bookings, however when I went to price it up there were around £250 when Avis direct on their own website were £185.

  • Nick M says:

    Sorry OT – Marriott points

    AwardWallet tells me that the points in in one of my accounts (I haven’t merged them yet) expire at the end of Feb, despite having the SPG Amex and winning points in the “29 ways” game…

    I am unlikely to make any stays before then, what can I do to keep them alive? – will merging the accounts work? Will making a booking be sufficient (either for later in the year or to cancel)?

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Merge may work as transferring used to but MR points transfer is qualifying activity.

      Be careful with awardwallet as I don’t think it actually updates the expiry date. It was telling me it was Feb 19 when it’s actually Nov 20 on my account.

    • Liz says:

      I merged my account and hubby’s account earlier in the year and despite having MR transfers and Amex spend in both, mine always said Feb 20 expiry and hubby’s expiry unknown. When I contacted Marriott I got a reply from SPG Rewards saying as long as there is activity it will be 2 years and not to worry about the date shown. On Award Wallet I had 2 accounts each listed – one with the new merged number and one with my old SPG number. In the last couple of weeks I have noticed on Award Wallet that they both now show the new merged number and mine and hubby’s accounts have all reset to Dec 2020 which is correct. Will keep an eye on it and see if it moves to Jan 2021 next month when the credit card spend goes on. Think they are still working through their IT glitches.

      • Nick M says:

        Thanks both – will merge and have a look on the actual account!

        • Nick M says:

          I’ve just checked the app and it’s showing 03/12/20… I imagine that is in UK format as last CC points hit at the beginning of Dec – had been getting a bit concerned!

  • Carlos says:

    I used to fly Norwegian every month before they culled a number of European destinations from Gatwick back in early 2017. I had just about managed to get the free baggage and seats. Being able to book lowfare tickets and add free seat selection and free baggage often provided ludicrously good value for money. Haven’t used them once since they downsized their network and have since lost all of those perks after only using them for about 6 months. Genuinely gutted as I enjoyed flying with them and the free WiFi made time pass just that little bit quicker. Always hoped with the constant delivery of new aircraft they’d reinstate some of the routes from Gatwick, but doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

    • Mark says:

      It’s a shame that the Gatwick short routes have been reduced. The last few summers Norwegian has been doing a lot of charter flights for TUI.

      It’s hard to compete with easyJet at Gatwick as they are so large and have multiple flights to most destinations per day so can undercut rivals on flights that coincide and then bump up the fares on the flights at other times of the day. Ultimately if Norwegian can’t make money on the route, it has to go. Slot restrictions also make it harder to move flights around.

      • Carlos says:

        In some cases Norwegian were the sole airline flying to some of the destinations that were dropped and the flights appeared to be well used. The convenience of taking a direct train from Guildford to Gatwick was also immeasurable. I certainly wouldn’t have objected to a fare increase but I know very little about what goes on so I’m guessing it’s not that simple. Easyjet resumed services to some of Norwegian’s old routes back in October so that’s certainly a step in the right direction and I hope they can make the finances work where Norwegian couldn’t. Aside from the odd delay, they were my favourite airline. Had the feel of a premium carrier, especially with the newer 737s, but with terrific prices. Booked Gatwick to Warsaw for £35 6 hours prior to departure! Purely my opinions, I’m sure others have had less pleasant experiences.

        • Bill says:

          Before their full at LGW they were the 3rd largest carrier at LGW. Such a shame because their short haul product is excellent

    • Peter says:

      Norwegian’s passenger numbers for Gatwick is up by 1 million y-o-y in Q3 2018 with a market share of 11% at this airport according to their investor presentation. But perhaps that’s only long-haul traffic driving the numbers? Think they mentioned a focus on increased frequency rather than new destinations.

  • The Original Nick says:

    Sorry no Bits today so dropping O:T here, 250 Shangri-la points have posted for the recent promo.

  • Andy Stock says:

    I would have concerns about the financial stability of this airline before collecting any serious number of points.

    Just a quick online search brings up some worrying coverage about the financial stability if this airline.

    • insider says:

      I agree. Doesn’t matter how good a loyalty scheme is if at some point it becomes worthless overnight.

    • Bonglim says:

      With no bonuses for bigger redemptions, the value should be redeemed on your next flight, the exception being if someone else is paying.

  • Graham Walsh says:

    I have 800 odd Norwegian points expiring today, CBA doing anything about them. Fed up heading to Gatwick to get the flight to OSL BA so much easier from LHR for me and cost isn’t that much difference vs extra time needed (as Norwegian are always delayed).

    • toflytoserve says:

      Good for you. Those of us who are near Gatwick CBA driving up the M25 to Heathrow to fly the world’s most self important airline. To fly, to serve!!

    • Alan says:

      They’re the only direct EDI-OSL option here – really hope they don’t go bust in the next couple of months whilst I complete my trip!!

  • Tom says:

    I love this scheme so much. I accrued some great credits for flights that I can take any time I like on their great European network.. all thanks to flying premium flex for work.

    I haven’t flown them for a while because I’ve been flying to other destinations..and hadn’t clocked that they had reduced the bonus to 10%. That’s a bit of a disappointment, but I still consider them excellent value and one of my favourite airlines in the sky.

  • Mark says:

    @TheOriginalNick

    Nick, I found the long haul economy seat surprisingly comfortable. Good leg room, excellent seat back IFE, and at seat charging points (which is really handy on a long haul flight). You can order food and drinks from your seat and you just swipe your credit card below the IFE screen.

    I’m a big fan of the 787. It’s noticeably quieter and more comfortable than other planes, certainly 747/777. The lower cabin altitude and higher humidity really makes a difference too. I’ve flown premium too and that’s also very good. Personally if it’s a good deal, I wouldn’t hesitate. Happy travels!

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