10 tips for flying long-haul with budget carrier Norwegian

Feb 26, 2020

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We are big fans of Norwegian Air. Our team regularly travels between the two TPG offices in London and New York, and Norwegian, with its well-priced one-way fares, new planes and great service, has saved us many times when points have not been able to — especially last-minute at peak travel periods.

If you’ve never flown Norwegian before, or aren’t a regular traveller with the carrier, here are some tips to make your next flight with Norwegian as comfortable as possible.

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1. Set your expectations

Norwegian is first and foremost a low-cost carrier. It has lower operating costs than its full-service competitors like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic and so can offer very affordable fares on long-haul flights to popular destinations like New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX) and Buenos Aires (EZE).

But the onboard experience will be different in some ways to what you might be used to flying long-haul. You will be asked to pay for many things like luggage, food and drinks that you would receive complimentary on other airlines. You only need to pay for what you need though. Don’t need checked luggage? Don’t pay extra for it. Don’t need alcohol? Don’t pay for it.

If you’ve scored a very cheap fare deal, keep that in mind going onto the flight — you are flying with an excellent low-cost carrier, but it’s still budget, don’t forget.

Related: Great plane, bad sandwich: A review of Norwegian’s 787-8 in economy from New York to Stockholm

(Photo by Ryan Patterson)
(Photo by Ryan Patterson/The Points Guy)

2. Realise the benefits of one-way fares

If you’ve ever looked at a one-way economy cash fare between the U.K. and the U.S., you might be gobsmacked at just how expensive it can be.

Yes, these are one-way economy fares for one person from London to New York. (Image courtesy of Google Flights)

One-way fares on full-service airlines can easily be more than what the airline would charge for a round-trip fare. Why? Well, there are lots of different factors that go into the way airlines price fares, but to put it most simply, they don’t charge half price if you only want one half of a return fare.

But Norwegian does. Its headline fares are one-way (and are usually even cheaper flying one-way back from places like the U.S.). Here’s Norwegian’s one-way prices for the London to New York route the exact same day as the screenshot above.

(Image courtesy of Norwegian)

If you want to use your points on a full-service airline but only have enough points for a one-way redemption, Norwegian can provide you with a reasonably priced fare for the other direction.

3. You can’t check in online

While Norwegian offers online check-in for most of its short-haul flights around Europe, unfortunately, it doesn’t offer this service on long-haul flights. You’ll need to present yourself in person at Gatwick South Airport terminal at least one hour before check-in. The boarding gates also close 20 minutes before the flight departs, so don’t dawdle in duty free for too long.

4. Weigh your own cabin baggage

I’ve found Norwegian to be strict on hand luggage at Gatwick Airport. I have personally witnessed staff weigh and measure cabin bags, and if your bag is overweight, you will be charged extra or they will refuse to board you. This can result in unpleasant exchanges at the gate, especially as the last few passengers rush to pay these fees before the gate closes.

Norwegian now charges extra for full-size hand luggage on long-haul flights booked after 23 January 2020. You can only bring a full-size cabin bag if you have paid for a more expensive LowFare+ ticket, which provides you with the following:

  • One underseat bag (11.8 inches x 7.9 inches x 15 inches).
  • One overhead cabin bag (21 inches x 15.7 inches x 9 inches).

Note that these items can only have a combined maximum weight of 10 kgs. If you are doing a trip without checked luggage, you could reach 10 kgs very quickly. It’s a good idea to measure and weigh your cabin bags before you even get to the airport to avoid being stung at the gate.

Related: How to bid for a cheap upgrade on Norwegian

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

5. The drink and snack ordering system is awesome

As a low-cost carrier, there’s no food or drink included in the cheapest fares. You can pre-order complete meals (but see the warning below), or as you might expect, there’s an extensive buy onboard menu. Ever peered up or down the aisle waiting for the trolley to slowly limp its way towards you?

Not on Norwegian. There is a fantastic system where you can browse, choose and pay for the entire onboard menu from your entertainment screen and the order will be with you in minutes. No waiting for another trolley service, no pressing the call bell and then waiting while they listen to and then return with your order and no fumbling with money or receipts. You swipe your card at your seat and your order will magically arrive.

6. But, avoid pre-purchasing meals

If I have one real criticism of Norwegian (beyond its strictness at Gatwick with cabin bags), it is that its pre-purchased meals aren’t great. The portions are very small, and mine didn’t taste very nice. Consider instead taking your own food on board — The Grain Store at the airport has excellent food and you can get £15 off your purchase with a Priority Pass membership.

Don’t be ashamed boarding with a bag of food in your hands — it’s likely to be much better than the pre-ordered meal the person next to you might receive.

Related: 6 items you should always pack in your carry-on bag

A full pre-purchased meal on Norwegian 787. (Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

7. Norwegian has a free loyalty programme

One of the ways low-cost carriers traditionally reduce their operating costs is doing away with loyalty programmes, lounges and status benefits. Norwegian does have a loyalty programme called Norwegian Rewards and the programme’s currency is called CashPoints. You can earn CashPoints on all Norwegian flights at the following rates:

  • 2% CashPoints on all low fare tickets.
  • 10% CashPoints on all flex tickets.

You will earn a percentage of your fare back in the form of a cash balance you can use on later flights excluding fees, taxes and fuel surcharges, which, on a cheap fare, can be a significant portion of the total. So if you spend £1,200 on a return flex ticket to Los Angeles and £200 of this is fees and taxes, you would earn £100 worth of CashPoints back.

This is a great rate.

If you’ve already taken a flight but were not a Norwegian Rewards member at the time (or didn’t add your number to your booking), you can still do this up to 30 days after the date of your flight.

On top of the CashPoints you can use towards your next flight, there are some very interesting “rewards” if you’re a frequent Norwegian flyer. You can read our full guide to Norwegian Reward here.

Related: Watch as TPG U.K. reviews 5 different airlines on day flights from New York to London

8. The premium cabin is both good and bad

Norwegian has two cabins on its Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft — economy and Premium. Compared with full-service airlines’ premium economy, it’s both a better and worse product — the seat is awesome with more width, legroom and recline than you are ever likely to see on the likes of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

At the same time, the food is decidedly low cost in terms of both presentation and portion size. If you’re looking for an amazing seat, then definitely consider the Premium cabin. If you are looking for all the bells and whistles of the food, drinks and amenities of premium economy, then you may be disappointed.

Related: In a class of its own: Norwegian premium on the 787 from London to New York

Premium Economy. Image by Christian Kramer / The Points Guy
Premium economy. (Photo by Christian Kramer/The Points Guy)

9. There’s free seatback entertainment and basic Wi-Fi

The excellent seatback screen that allows you to order drinks and snacks at your leisure also provides free movies, TV and a moving map. There are hours of entertainment and it’s free for all passengers. There’s also basic complimentary Wi-Fi, which should provide enough for you to send a few messages, but if you’re looking to stream videos or open large files you’ll need to pay £11.50 for a three-hour premium Wi-Fi service.

10. You can keep your devices charged all through the flight

If you want to bring your own entertainment like some downloaded movies on a laptop or tablet or some Spotify tunes, there’s in-seat power. There are USB chargers at the seatback screen, as well as universal plug power points with two shared between every three seats.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

Norwegian is an excellent low-cost carrier. Flying with it long-haul across the Atlantic may feel a little different to what you are used to, but with its excellent low fares (especially one-way) I would encourage you to give it a try next time you are looking for a great deal.

Set your expectations accordingly, and have a great flight.

Featured photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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