WOW air Versus Icelandair

A few days ago, I saw a friend get really excited on Facebook about WOW air offering cheap flights to Iceland. Apparently, WOW air had advertised $99 fares to Keflavik, the nearest international airport to Reykjavik.

Immediately, I knew there had to be a catch of some sort. So I wanted to crunch the numbers and on a WOW air Versus Icelandair showdown.

I whipped up itineraries to get me from Phoenix to Keflavík International Airport during the summer months when I could go do cool things like hike, camp and experience the Inside the Volcano tour. I made sure the itineraries on both airlines matched. Here’s what I found comparing WOW air to Icelandair.

Now boarding in Bergen - the daily flight to Keflavik, Iceland.
Now boarding in Bergen – the daily flight to Keflavik, Iceland.

WOW air

WOW air’s site didn’t allow me to book directly from Phoenix, my home city. So I have to break this out separately, starting with the WOW air fare from Boston.

Roundtrip: $461.39 with tax. This includes one carry-on item. I can purchase extra weight allowances, but I can still take only one carry-on item and can’t exceed 26 pounds – and even that weight gets you a nominal penalty; I usually check my backpack and carry a small day pack and a camera bag aboard. There are also fees for sports equipment, picking seats and cancellation protection.

Fees Lurk Everywhere

What other fees and charges might lurk? I checked the Fees & Charges page on the WOW air website, and found it -- blank. Same with the FAQ page. If you’re checking luggage, you’ll pay an extra $48 per bag, per leg – if you check in online (it goes up if you check bags at check-in and even more if you check at the gate – $67 or $95). That brings the price to $557.39. But hang on a second – I always have to carry-on bags and my one checked bag. That means I have to check a second bag -- so now my round-trip online price is $196 added to the original fare. For those counting at home, we’re at $657.39.

English: A pair of Douglas DC-8 of Icelandair ...
Icelandair has been at this air travel thing for awhile. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the way, WOW air flies the Airbus A320 series of aircraft. The airline configures them with 30-31 inches between each seat (airplane nerds call this "pitch"). What about onboard entertainment? Here’s what WOW air says: "There is no organized entertainment on board, except for the thrill of sitting high up in the sky enjoying the flight with us." I’m not sure if WOW air provides blankets and pillows.

Bottom Line for a “Cheap Flight”

Before I can take advantage of this cheap flight to Iceland, though, I need to get to Boston; I’m looking at about $335 on US Airways. I’ll need to add $50 to check your first bag for a round trip. Call it $385. I’m now at $1042.39.

Wow air versus Iceland Air

The Icelandair Difference

Icelandair scores big for allowing me to book from Phoenix. My cheapest option is $1260.43 with connecting flights on JetBlue. I could also pick different options to fly Alaska Airlines.

Better Planes by a long shot

Icelandair flies some pretty shiny Boeing 757s with on-demand entertainment at each seat. Meals aren’t free, but the non-alcoholic beverages are. Pillows and blankets are available, but I’d have to ask for them on non-trans-Atlantic flights.There are 32 inches separating the seats.

Flights to and from North America also get two free checked bags weighing up to 49 pounds. By the way, every time I’ve booked an international flight on a foreign airline that included connections on domestic airlines, I have not been charged for baggage on the domestic airlines. So that’s further good news for the big guy in the WOW air Versus Icelandair comparison.

Wrapping up WOW air versus Icelandair

Who wins the WOW air Versus Icelandair showdown for cheap flights to Iceland? WOW air is still $200 cheaper. But I can’t speak to its service, and the SKYTRAX website has customer reviews ranging from one star up to nine.

Wow Air versus Icelandair
IcelandAir’s “Surtsey” pulls into Gate 2 at JFK’s Terminal 7, ready to take another load to Iceland.

The same is true for Icelandair – but I can tell you that anyone who rates Icelandair below 7 stars is likely to be a whiny, high-maintenance, impossible-to-please complainer; this is a classy airline with some of the most-immaculate aircraft I’ve flown in. Here’s a review of my flights with Icelandair.

And honestly, if a leg of your flight gets delayed, would you rather deal with the airline that booked you for all flights, or multiple airlines? It’s easier to set things right if you book every leg with one airline.

What can a low-cost airline offer?

I’d still be very interested in trying WOW air just out of sheer curiosity. And sometimes, ultra-low-cost carriers rise above that label – just look at Norwegian Air Shuttle, which blows many legacy airlines out of the water.

Still, I can see where the extra $200 goes on Icelandair. Take the WOW air deal if you’re really desperate to get to Iceland and don’t have a lot in the piggy bank, I guess. Or take Icelandair and just drink fewer overpriced beers and liquors while you’re there.


Why I Went to Iceland

IcelandAir’s “Surtsey” pulls into Gate 2 at JFK’s Terminal 7, ready to take another load to Iceland.

People often ask me why I went to Iceland. Ever since my wife, Sarah, and I have traveled together, every international destination (sorry, Canada, but you don’t count) has taken us south. New Zealand took us to 45 degrees south.

This time, we’ll go north. To spitting distance from the Arctic Circle.


We tell people our destination. They ask "why? What are Iceland’s attractions?”

Honestly, if I have to tell you, you probably won’t get it. But I’ll try, anyway:

Scenery. The place has volcanoes, glaciers, massive slabs of hardened lava – some of which are younger than I am. Explosion craters. Post-apocalyptic remainders of geological wrath. We love these things. No, Iceland is not a lush tropical paradise of cocktails sipped from coconut husks. Only 1 measly percent of the island is arable. It’s stark. Parts of it are are visually indistinguishable from Mars. Others look like Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back. [Edit: Since I went to Iceland, the country has provided many scenes for Castle Black and areas north of The Wall in A Game of Thrones.]

Solitude. You can hike four hours without seeing another living creature. And that’s on the country’s premiere hiking route, the Laugavegur. I drove from Lake Myvatn to Húsavík in the north part of the country – and saw a mere handful of vehicles. Most of the route was unpaved. Outside the capital, the main highway aka The Ring Road, is often just one lane.

Novelty. Yes, most people speak English in Iceland. They have a high standard of living, and you’ll find all the modern conveniences. But you’ll see the interesting little differences. Like the language. Iceland’s language has been largely untouched since Vikings landed on its shores 1,000 years ago. They work to preserve it via the Iceland Language Council, which scrupulously adds words as-needed rather than letting foreign words invade willy-nilly. Iceland is modern, but it’s thoughtfully developed.

This adventure starts with a trip to New York’s JFK airport.

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