Norwegian Air’s strong reputation is due in part to the relatively comfortable accommodations it features on its sleek new planes, but its affordable airfares are equally as important in bolstering the airline’s status. There are some downright incredible deals to be had! That said, Norwegian shares a business model with an infamous counterpart in the United States: Spirit. The former has been praised as an innovative disruptor in the long haul transit market, whereas the latter is reviled for its many layers of (perceived) awfulness… even though they both run pretty similar operations. Don’t be deceived by Norwegian’s cheery Scandinavian/Ikea-esque branding; crafty bargain hunters must pay careful attention when they’re booking flights. Otherwise they risk getting trapped in a fee-laden hell all in the name of getting a “cheap” fare… and that’s definitely not higher flyer!
When you land on it, Norwegian’s website is a welcoming sight; you’re immediately treated to a cleanly-designed page overlaid on top of bright, highly-saturated images from some of the airline’s destinations.
Not only is Norwegian’s homepage aesthetically pleasing, it’s also quite easy to use. You’re immediately prompted to enter your originating and destination airports, and potentially when you’re looking to travel. If you’re not sure of the dates and/or you’re willing to be flexible in the name of a lower price, you can opt to view a low-fare calendar.
Once you’ve settled on your dates, you’ll be taken to a page in which you choose your fare type. Just as Spirit Airlines offers the “Thrills Combo” as a means to bundle popular add-ons at a lower total cost, Norwegian Air does the same. The only difference is that Norwegian has five different bundles compared to Spirit’s two. Its most basic option is the “LowFare” — which, for the sake of comparison, is more inclusive than Spirit’s “Bare Fare” — followed by the “LowFare+” and then the “Flex.” There are two premium economy fare types too: “Premium” and “PremiumFlex.”
None of those labels are particularly insightful (although the “Flex” monikers do indeed suggest that these fares are refundable/permit free changes), but thankfully pressing the bright red “Compare fare types” button reveals a handy guide that compares all five side-by-side.
To summarize: you start, on this particular route and date, at $119
with a free carry on bag (UPDATE, 1/24/2020: Norwegian makes you pay for a carry on. They’re cheap though; costing $12) with a guaranteed seat somewhere on the plane and nothing else (Spirit also does not give you a carry on). You either have to pay individually for everything else that you want or choose one of the more expensive “bundled” fares. The best course of action depends on what your specific travel needs are. Generally speaking, if you know you want what’s included with each bundle, you should probably get the appropriate one; it’ll be a markedly better value, but you’ll want to crunch the numbers to be sure.
For example, when you upgrade to the “LowFare+,” you get a carry on and checked bag (worth $72), the opportunity to select a seat (but only on short/medium haul flights AND NOT on long hauls, worth $45), and the “privilege” of a real meal service (also worth $45, but more on this later). On this particular route and date, the premium is $75 — $194 as opposed to $119 — but the value-added is $127 ($72 for the bags plus $45 for the meal. You don’t get free seat assignments in this fare class on this particular route. A seat assignment would bring your all-in cost to, at the minimum, $239).
If you want significantly more legroom and a wider, more comfortable seat with greater recline, consider moving up to Norwegian’s premium economy product. It typically costs a few hundred dollars more than the “LowFare+” — at least when you book in advance — and includes all that “LowFare+” does, plus an extra checked bag, premium security, priority boarding, and fast track immigration where available. The cheapest premium economy fare costs $480 on this route/date combination.
Then lastly there are the “Flex” and “PremiumFlex” fares. Both offer all of the features — two checked bags, free seat selection, food service, an expedited airport experience, among other things — and are also changeable and refundable. These are unsurprisingly the two most expensive fare classes, coming in at $600 and $720, respectively. In all honesty, if you’re going to be spending the $600, you’re better off paying the extra $120 for what will be a markedly better experience in Premium Economy. “PremiumFlex” also grants passengers lounge access where available, for what it’s worth.
For my purposes, the “LowFare” was sufficient. I value seat selection ($45) and priority boarding ($8) to the point where I’ll pay for it, but it made more sense for me to just buy the base fare and then pay the extra $53. Norwegian still made an attempt to upsell me though…
Once you’ve made sense of all the fares, you’ll be prompted to log in to your account if you have one, create one if you want one, or continue as a guest if you don’t care. Please don’t do that last one though. You lose nothing by signing up!
Regardless of whether or not you log in to your account, Norwegian will invite you to join its reward program and accrue “CashPoints.” These can be redeemed for a whole host of things — see Daniel’s two posts on One Mile At A Time for more information — and again there’s no harm done in signing up for “free” points! #FlyHigher, after all!
From here the booking process continues as you might expect. You input your information and, if you have it, your Known Traveller Number (Norwegian participates in TSA PreCheck, which is nice and convenient).
Once your personal details are logged in the system, keep scrolling and you’ll be given another opportunity to purchase a larger baggage allowance: either $12 for a carry on, $60 for a single checked bag, or $100 for two checked bags. If you have one of the more-premium fares, you’ll be able to skip this.
Unless you’re flying on a “Flex” ticket or in Premium Economy, everyone has to pay to reserve a seat on long haul flights. Unfortunately this isn’t cheap; seats start at a whopping $45. Those in the front of the plane cost $70 and exit rows are $90. These are pretty expensive, although the exit rows are priced comparatively to what full-service airlines charge (but then again, elite members with other carriers can select these same seats for free…).
Because they are so costly on average and many passengers are traveling on a budget, few seats are, generally-speaking, selected in advance. As a result, you’ll have plenty of choices if you book well in advance.
If you see lots of empty seats though, don’t be deceived. Despite what the image suggests, this doesn’t mean that you’ll be on an empty flight and can choose to sit wherever. You could very well go to check-in and see that all of the seats have been blocked like so and are unavailable for purchase.
So, as is the case with everything else so far, if there’s a seat that you know for sure you want, you should purchase it as soon as possible.
If you want to play the middle seat lottery, go for it. You have roughly a 33% chance of being assigned a middle seat, slightly less than a 22% chance of getting a window, and around 45% chance of an aisle. If you do take the chance, know that Norwegian will at least try to sit everyone in the traveling party together. Depending on the size of the group though, that might not be possible. You’ve been warned.
As you make your additions to your fare, you’ll notice off to the side that Norwegian tracks and itemizes each expense. This is very useful in making your booking all the more transparent.
Norwegian’s booking engine will next prompt you to preorder your meals on board. Word to the wise: do not, in any circumstance, pay to do this. If you’re in Premium Economy though, this is free so therefore you’re off the hook; proceed as you will.
The biggest issue is that the food available for advance purchase is allegedly not-good — it’s like any other mediocre meal that you would have in economy class — and it is stupidly expensive. If you think paying $45 for a seat is a rip-off, try paying the same amount for something that amounts to a TV dinner tray hastily warmed up in a microwave at 38,000 feet. No thanks. Also, in what universe does a kids meal cost the same as a grown up meal?
Remember too that, in addition to this, Norwegian offers buy on board food that is much cheaper and around the same quality. You can read more about this later on in the actual Norwegian Air review, but I had a couple of noodles, bacon chips (?), white wine, and a bottle of water. It was simple, but it was a satisfying and nice-tasting guilty pleasure…
…and at $17, it cost far less than the $45 that my neighbors paid for their mediocre looking mystery meat concoctions.
AND! If you want something more substantive and/or warm JUST LIKE the prepaid meals that are available during booking, you can buy that same food on board for far less.
After declining the meal service, you’ll go to the penultimate page, “Additional Products.” Here you can opt in to priority boarding and other expedited airport services (where available) at relatively inexpensive rates, and register your unusually-shaped luggage (think ski and golf equipment).
Lastly, you’ll be presented with a few other miscellaneous additions. Here’s where you can request wheelchair service (which thankfully Norwegian doesn’t make you pay for), a spot in the cargo hold for Fido, or opt in for trip insurance/”Cancellation Protection” coverage. Lastly, if you want Norwegian to make a donation to UNICEF on your behalf, you can add the cost of charity to your airfare. Not to be a scrouge, but don’t do this. You’re much better off donating yourself to the cause of your choice, but that’s a rant for a different time.
And finally, at long last, you’re presented with a screen asking you to present your billing information alongside an itemized receipt of all the expenses you incurred.
There’s a lot to be aware of when it comes to Norwegian Airlines, but hopefully this guide simplifies the booking process. You’re bound to be nickled-and-dimed, but if you’re willing to deal with those hassles, coming away with a good value is easy. The key to success is knowing exactly what it is you need in order to have a comfortable trip and, in that same vein, what you can do without. Otherwise you might find yourself paying more than you have to, and that wouldn’t be very higher flyer, would it? Good luck!
Not-so-Norwegian Mini Trip Report
- Introduction: Not-so-Norwegian Air
- How To: Navigate Norwegian Air’s fees
- Norwegian Air Economy Class Review, Boeing 787-9, BOS-LGW