We Americans have gotten used to low-cost carriers flying domestically.
You got your JetBlue, your Spirit, your Frontier. Southwest is now America’s third-largest airline by passengers flown.
What’s a bit more mysterious are those international low-cost carriers. Maybe some of you younger folks flew Ryanair while studying abroad in Europe.
But some of their names sounded fake. Or at least like an EA Sports Create-An-Airline.
Zoom Airlines. InterJet. Wizz Air.
(C’mon. Wizz Air? What’s your slogan? “We’re number one!”)
So in walks something called ‘WOW air.’ The Icelandic airline now connects airports in the U.S. and Canada (including Pittsburgh) to 21 airports in and around Europe, with all flights starting or ending at its hub in Reykjavík.
Last time around, I told you about finding a $149 fare from Pittsburgh to Paris on Memorial Day.
I’m here to tell you, yes, you can fly to Europe for less than the cost of an electric toothbrush. I did it.
But it’s essential to know the caveats. Let me take you through my low-cost journey from my workplace to Roland-Garros.
5:10 p.m. ET — Leave work in Downtown Pittsburgh
I told need-to-know co-workers that I was catching a flight.
Did I tell them it was a flight to Paris? Mais, non.
5:35 p.m. ET — Arrive at Pittsburgh International Airport
I’ll remind you: it was Memorial Day. I don’t usually to get from Downtown to the airport in rush-hour traffic that quickly.
Okay, this is when you must understand: WOW air is essentially Spirit Transatlantic.
The cheapest tickets (149 dollars!) do not include any of the following:
• Any carry-on bags in the overhead bin
• Any checked bags
• Picking your seat
• The ability to change your flight without a fee
• Those blankets and pillows most airlines hand out on overseas flight
• Any entertainment system
Those last two are not jokes. I had to break out my credit card to get a bottle of water on board. A credit card for water? That hurts coming from a place called “Iceland.”
6 p.m. ET — Buy a blanket from the airport shop, pop a melatonin pill
My thought: If I don’t sleep well on this flight, my life is going to be a French Hell tomorrow.
It’s like regular Hell, only more arrogant.
7 p.m. ET — Take off from Pittsburgh International Airport
I will admit at this point: My flight was really $156. I paid the extra $7 to guarantee myself a window seat. The height of luxury!
Getting to lean on the window for the six-hour flight did help me catch a nap over the North Atlantic. But when I label WOW as Spirit Transatlantic, that applies to legroom.
WOW’s seat pitch is 29-30 inches, or a pinch more than you’ll get on Spirit. I didn’t feel terribly crunched, but be warned.
5:35 a.m. GMT — Land at Keflavík International Airport
One of first concerns about how my 48-hour plan would work was my transfer. My flight was late and I was near the back of the plane.
It turns out I didn’t need to worry. The folks at customs operated with trademark Icelandic efficiency (is that a stereotype of Iceland?), and the Keflavík Airport is smartly designed to get its many transferring passengers to the gate in a Reykjavík Minute.
6:30 a.m. GMT — Take off from Keflavík International Airport
10:45 a.m. CET (that’s Central European Standard Time, sonnnnnn) — Land at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport
Okay, this is where I ran into one of two snags in my 48-hour plan. I was hoping to catch Le Bus Direct as soon as I landed, which would have provided an almost-direct trip to the Hyatt Regency.
While the site promised a bus every 30 minutes, I must have entered a time warp, as I waited at least 40 minutes for mine to arrive. I reckon I forgot to pack my patience.
12:30 p.m. CET — Arrive at Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile
And they had a room ready for me! I was able to sneak in a quick nap beyond the confines of 29-to-30-inch legroom.
(One note about this: Rooms at the Hyatt Regency were going for more than $300 per night. I booked mine on a Points + Cash deal of $95 and 7,500 Hyatt points, which was a better deal than the going rate. Hyatt has since closed this “loophole,” and made Points + Cash rates about equal to the nightly cash rate. Just a reminder: if something’s a good deal, take advantage while you can!)
Around 2 p.m. CET – Arrive by Uber at Roland-Garros for the French Open
Ahhhhhh, now this is why I made the trip.
I spent my afternoon watching top-level competitors at the greatest tennis venue in the world that doesn’t rhyme with “Fimbledon,” and I did it all while other folks were plugging away on a Tuesday workday.
Maybe you think tickets cost me a ton? Not at the French Open. My grounds pass for the day was only about $40.
And I still got myself a front-row seat.
Included for my viewing pleasure: an up-and-down match from the mercurial Jack Sock that went the distance. I was cheering for the American, but the Frenchmen drinking wine behind me were rooting loudly for his challenger, the Estonian Jürgen Zopp.
(So loudly that Zopp’s girlfriend, also sitting behind me, told the dudes to cool it. Security eventually noticed their not-so-surreptitious bags of wine, and that was the end of their day at Roland-Garros.)
And the weather worked out splendidly. Clouds cleared for most of the afternoon, and the rainy skies only came back into view when play was wrapping up for the day.
The folks at Roland-Garros called it a day, and so did I. A good day, at that.
Next time on The (Value) Traveller: The five things I learned from my low-cost Transatlantic experience, and what you need to know before you book your own cheap Eurotrip.