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HFP in Rio: My review of Norwegian Premium – far cheaper than BA, but do you get less? (Part 1)

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This is our review of Norwegian Premium on the Boeing 787-9, between London Gatwick and Rio de Janeiro.

It is part of my series on my trip to Rio. Norwegian offered us complimentary flights but HFP paid for all of my incidental expenses.

Norwegian flies to both Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, and invited us to review their premium economy flights on one of these routes.  I had a quick look at the forecast for both destinations in August – remember they are in the southern hemisphere – and realised that Rio would be warmer!

How does Norwegian pricing compare to British Airways?

British Airways also flies to Rio de Janeiro although, looking at the BA Low Fare Finder tool, you can expect to pay several hundred pounds more for World Traveller Plus.

This is an important consideration to bear in mind when you read this review.  Here are a few random price points, which to avoid any bias I have taken in monthly chunks from today, based on a one week trip.  The dates are adjusted slightly because Norwegian only flies four times per week:

25th September – £939 vs BA £1,484 (BA price is from a week later due to the pilot strike)

28th October – £939 vs BA £1,484

27th November – £939 vs BA £1,299

28th December – £1,559 vs BA £2,336

28th January – £939 vs BA £1,234

As you can see, the Norwegian option leaves at least £300 extra in your pocket – and often £500+.

What does your Norwegian Premium ticket include?

Note that the British Airways pricing does not include seat reservations which are free on Norwegian.  Both airlines offer free food.  Neither offers lounge access (Norwegian dropped it a year ago unless you have a Premium Flex ticket).  Checked baggage is very similar – 20kg on Norwegian vs 23kg on BA.

Norwegian offers both Premium and Premium Flex products when booking. The biggest difference between the two, apart from the ability to refund the ticket, is that Flex comes with lounge access at the My Lounge Gatwick South, which I reviewed here. This is a unique proposition since most airlines do not include lounge access with premium economy tickets.

In terms of features, this is what you currently get included in your ticket price with a non-flexible Norwegian Premium ticket:

  • 10kg of hand baggage
  • seat reservations
  • two checked bags (20kg each)
  • a 3-course Premium dinner and breakfast/light evening meal
  • complimentary soft drinks, wine and beer throughout the flight

Whilst I haven’t covered the check-in process during this review, Norwegian also has dedicated Premium check-in and bag drop desks at Gatwick.  Virgin Atlantic offers this too for Premium customers, but British Airways does not.

Norwegian 787

The Norwegian Premium seat

I was booked into seat 1A. The Norwegian fleet at Gatwick is now outfitted with a larger Premium cabin with 56 seats, although it still feels like an intimate cabin.  The use of a new Boeing 787 means that you benefit from being on a modern aircraft, both in terms of general ‘look and feel’ and the technical benefits of larger windows and improved cabin pressurisation.

Seats are arranged in a 2-3-2 arrangement, which make the window pairs attractive for couples travelling together.

Norwegian Premium cabin rear

and

Norwegian Premium cabin front

The new layout means that legroom is ever so slightly reduced from the older configuration, although Norwegian Premium has greater pitch than either British Airways, Virgin Atlantic or Air New Zealand’s premium economy (review here). My bulkhead row had plenty of legroom. I could stretch out my legs fully (not a small ask at 6’2″!). Even in non-bulkhead rows you should still have enough room to stretch your legs.

The extra pitch over British Airways is, at the end of the day, the key benefit for me of flying Norwegian.  That and the extra money in my pocket at the end of the day!

Norwegian Premium legroom

1A is directly behind a loo, but I did not find this to be a problem. The noisy flush sound is very quiet from the seat and the cabin is small enough that people wait in their seat until the toilet is unoccupied to make the move forward. In total there are two toilets in Premium, one at the front in each aisle.

Norwegian Premium seats come in this fairly plain grey colour, although the headrest protector adds a splash of colour. The seat has a very generous recline as well as leg rest, both of which can be operated independently of another. At 6’2″ I could just about stretch my legs out flat with the leg rest in the fully extended position.

Norwegian Premium cabin seat

The recline is, frankly, insane. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a photo without disturbing the passengers behind me so you’ll have to imagine it! As someone who normally struggles to sleep in an upright position, the recline allowed me to get two decent hours of sleep, which is more than I have had on other premium economy products.

The only problem with such a recline is that it makes it very difficult to exit a seat in non-bulkhead rows. If you are sitting in a middle or window seat, you will almost certainly have to ask your neighbour to get up to let you through.

On arrival, each seat comes with a quilt. Pillows are not provided, although the flexible headrests do a better job of supporting the neck than a pillow would. Cabin crew also come round offering in-ear headphones.

Norwegian Premium cabin seat

This is the end of Part 1 of my Norwegian Premium review.  In Part 2, also published today and readable by clicking here, I look at the food and drink and the IFE.

If you read HFP by email then you did not receive Part 2.  Please click here to read it on the website.

LAST CALL: Virgin Atlantic offering 0% FX fees until November if you get its credit card today
HFP in Rio: My review of Norwegian Premium - far cheaper than BA, but do you get less? (Part 2)
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Comments

  1. Jonathan says:

    How odd you didn’t cover the seat recline in much detail like a photo – the main differential of their product. Also putting you in row 1 was not really representative.

    • To make you feel better we can hug it out pal

      As Rhys says…. imagine

      • What about Rob’s numerous business class reviews where he doesn’t test out the seat in bed mode!

    • Riccatti says:

      Exactly my thought. It’s also goes to the professionalism (forward thinking, common sense) of the airline: to invite someone to review their premium product and did not organise opportunity to take proper images of a key feature.

      Given that flight is typically 20-40 minutes delayed in landing, or longer (from Internet sources), which means longer periods at Gatwick as the flight catches up in the air — should not be a problem to do the advance boarding for Rhys.

    • I asked for advance boarding but unfortunately was held on the jetbridge until general boarding – it was a push trying to get those photos of an empty cabin!

      • Riccatti says:

        The airline should have arranged for that! Or the front-line employee on minimum income don’t care what marketing department wants.

        • The airline did arrange for it but as I said, it didn’t work out this time. Working with airlines can be touch and go, there are so many other considerations they have. Especially at Norwegian where they try and minimise time at the gate.

        • Riccatti says:

          So, the front-line employees defy the purpose/project of marketing department.

          • This is aviation we’re talking about, there are a lot more factors at play! Just look at the original BA A350 arrival event – cancelled at the very, very last minute!

          • Riccatti says:

            No, Rhys. It is difficult to accept this argument from the “world of reliability” which aviation supposed to be. It is just not serious, and not professional to invite media (yourself) and then not facilitate the access — like it is enough to give you lunch box, and show touch screen — and things will work out for themselves.

            BA 350 cancellation was a better move: rather than holding the event during time when staff/senior management needed elsewhere it was postponed. That is sensible.

          • I promise you, this sort of thing happens all the time. The last time I did a Qatar Airways review, I was banned from the lounge in Doha because I was ‘on a staff ticket’. In London I got in by tailgating with a group of travel agents getting a tour. On the Oman Air review I did earlier in the year, I was chucked out of the ‘First and Business Class’ private check-in zone for, again, ‘being on a staff ticket’ (but when I landed in London, they had sent an escort to the plane door in case I struggled to find passport control by my myself!). When Anika did her Norwegian review, the plane went tech and she returned on a chartered aircraft which meant we couldn’t review it. As you saw at the weekend, Norwegian couldn’t swing lounge access for us at Gatwick so we had to pay in order to bring you a proper review. All part of the fun.

      • Would take these readers less time to type “Norwegian premium seat recline” in to google than it would to have a whinge at you 🙄😂

  2. Ian Creamer says:

    The seat recline was my only gripe to be honest when I travelled Norwegian to SFO. I was in a window seat and, as soon as the person in front reclined, was effectively pinned into my seat. Overall the product was great value with the highlight being no Saturday night stopover requirement. Admittedly I booked late but saved well over 1000 gbp by taking Norwegian.

  3. Peter Taysum says:

    I’m confused you say that you get 20kg in Norweigan then say two checked bags. I might have misread, sorry if I have.

  4. That recline sounds like reason enough to avoid. Who wants someone else that far into their space that you can’t exit the seat.

    • You’d be hard pushed to exit from window or middle seats on other premium economy products, too. If you want direct aisle access, gotta fly business!

      • Can’t say that’s my memory of BA and VS, but while since I slummed it in premium. I’ve a VS premium flight next Feb so I’ll get a reminder.
        I think one downside to the likes of Norwegian you don’t mention is if a flight has to be cancelled they have limited alternatives. I know people may sneer given BAs current woes, but airlines with heftier schedules and more flights much more likely to have better alternatives.

        • Not when almost the whole airline is grounded due to strike! Most people probably end up being rebooked on other carriers.

          • If you refer to BA pilot strike, it’s once in 40 years event, whereas Norwegian has flight cancellations bit more frequently 😉

          • I did hear on the bus to car park at Gatwick a year or two ago some Norwegian customers being delayed for something like two-days in New York due to a flight issue, although they may have improved somewhat since. Obviously on that route there are copious options for re-routing on another carrier, but seemingly they weren’t.

          • You know what Doug M means though ! During IRROPS you are in a much much stronger position with a legacy airline in a big alliance, more so if you have status. That is a BIG deal.

        • Lady London says:

          What’s Norwegian like on duty of care if they strand someone in New York for, say, 2 days?

          • I had a friend who got stuck in (I think?) Boston with Norwegian a few years back. Took two days to get them home but hotel and food obviously provided. Friend didn’t push for rebooking at the time, although I might have myself.

    • Someone who is over 6′.

  5. Great article, very helpful overview for those considering flying Norwegian.

    Do you have an image of the complimentary drinks menu or names of the wines/cava served?

    Are you considering an article on the airlines flying club and redemptions etc?

    Thanks

  6. The Savage Squirrel says:

    “The extra pitch over British Airways is, at the end of the day, the key benefit for me of flying Norwegian. That and the extra money in my pocket at the end of the day!”

    How many ends does this day have? 😀

  7. OT

    Anyone recall virgin atlantic reward+ free wifi with boingo?
    Can’t seem to find this so perhaps it is an old benefit.

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