Are Norse Atlantic’s low-cost fares to New York really cheaper than British Airways and Virgin Atlantic?

Jun 7, 2022

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It’s one of the busiest long-haul routes in the world, and last week Norse Atlantic announced entry into the London-New York market with a sweetener: low cost fares. 

The upstart Norway-based low-cost, long-haul operator said daily flights between Gatwick (LGW) and JFK International (JFK) will launch on 12 August.

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The flight departs London at around 1 p.m. and arrives in New York at around 4 p.m., all times local. The return flight from New York departs at 6 p.m. and lands at 6:30 a.m. the next day.

Introductory fares, the airline said, start at £255 ($322) round trip.

“We are very pleased to now be able to welcome customers looking to book great value flights between London Gatwick and New York JFK,” fanfared Norse Atlantic CEO Bjorn Tore Larsen. “Customers now have an affordable option allowing them to book a last-minute trip or a holiday of a lifetime with an airline that offers choice and flexibility.”

Related: Norse Atlantic Airways announces low-cost transatlantic flights to New York

It sounds like a deal almost too good to be true, especially in a post-pandemic world where airfares are soaring amid huge pent-up demand for travel. 

But is it actually the best transatlantic option? Or, once you’ve piled on the additional costs to flying “budget” and factored in the inevitable comfort sacrifice, it is actually cheaper on one of the world’s most lucrative airline routes?

In a bid to find out, we compared the Norwegian parvenu with two legacy British carriers that have ruled the clouds over the Atlantic for decades: British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. 

The ground rules

In the interests of consistency, we chose two long weekends in New York with each carrier: one during the peak season, and one on a randomly assigned off-peak date.

The dates we chose were: 

  • Thursday 25 August to Monday 29 August (the August bank holiday)
  • Thursday 20 October to Monday 24 October (the weekend before Halloween)*

*Norse currently only offers flights up to the end of October.

As for parity of experience, we ensured all flights fulfilled the following criteria: 

  • A full sized cabin bag
  • One checked bag (20 kgs)
  • Standard seat selection
  • Meal included

Our goal, in other words, was to find cheap fares without sacrificing essential services, assuming that a trip to New York would require more luggage than, say, a swift jaunt across the English Channel. 

Norse Atlantic Airways

Route: London Gatwick (LGW) to John F. Kennedy International (JFK)

Booking a flight is straightforward enough. As there is only one flight a day, it leaves you with no real choice as to when to depart.

We found a round-trip flight advertised at £216 on Norse’s booking calendar. But that, crucially, is only for the carrier’s “Economy Light” option, which includes zero amenities apart from one carry-on bag.

We found a round-trip flight advertised at £216 on Norse’s booking calendar. But that, crucially, is only for the carrier’s “Economy Light” option (Image via flynorse.com)
The return flight, the Monday night red-eye, cost £169 in Economy Classic (Image via flynorse.com)

The next option is “Economy Classic”, which allows a carry-on bag, a 10kg overhead locker bag, a 23kg checked-in bag, and a meal. That was advertised at £289. “Economy Plus”, the next up, was the same as “Classic” but included priority boarding and free changeability, and cost £434.

The return flight, the Monday night red-eye, cost £169 in Economy Classic.

“Economy Classic” allows a carry-on bag, a 10kg overhead locker bag, a 23kg checked-in bag, and a meal (Image via flynorse.com)

Economy Classic it was.

The airline offers the chance to add more luggage allowance for extra cost. A second checked bag costs £57, while a heavy checked bag will set you back an extra £137.

Related: Entering the US could get quicker with new facial recognition screening process at airports

Next is seat selection, where you can either choose your own seat for between £23 and £29 in the standard section of the cabin, or let the airline randomly assign you one for free. 

You can either choose your own seat for between £23 and £29 in the standard section of the cabin, or let the airline randomly assign you one for free (Image via flynorse.com)

Then there was the food. When it comes to meals, Norse will give you a free main meal on this flight, but if you want a second “light meal” closer to landing, you’ll have to pay an additional £17. For a London to New York flight. We decided we could wait for a pretzel at JFK airport than pay £17 for a snack.

When it comes to meals, Norse will give you a free main meal on this flight, but if you want a second “light meal” closer to landing, you’ll have to pay an additional £17 (Image via flynorse.com)

In all, it came to £500.63 return in August, while the same trip to New York in Mid-October was £100 less, at £400.87.

Image via flynorse.com
Image via flynorse.com

Peak flight cost: £500.63

Off-peak flight cost: £400.87

British Airways

Route: London Heathrow (LHR) to John F. Kennedy International (JFK)

The cheapest British Airways flight from London to New York on 24 August left Heathrow at 2:35 p.m. and arrived at JFK at 5:30 p.m. It cost £358 for “Economy Standard”. That includes a handbag/laptop bag, a cabin bag and a 23kg checked bag, as well as a meal.

Related: Unlock huge discounts on lounge access with a free Dragonpass – here’s how

The cheapest “Economy Standard” return on the Monday night red-eye cost £341.

In all it came to £698.26.

In all, the August trip with British Airways came to £698.26 (Image via BA.com)
In all, the off-peak British Airways trip came to £539.26. (Image via ba.com)

The cheapest British Airways flight from London to New York on 20 October left Heathrow at 4:15 p.m. and arrived at JFK at 7:15 p.m. That cost £358 for “Economy Standard”, while the cheapest red-eye home on 24 October cost £182. In all, the off-peak British Airways trip came to £539.26.

Peak flight cost: £698.26.

Off-peak flight cost: £539.26

Virgin Atlantic

Route: London Heathrow (LHR) to John F. Kennedy International (JFK)

Virgin Atlantic will no longer be using Gatwick as a transatlantic launchpad, CEO Shai Weiss said in March.

So to fly to New York with Virgin you have no choice but to fly from Heathrow.

Virgin doesn’t tell you the price of each individual flight. Rather, it tells you the lump sum for both legs (Image via virginatlantic.com)
Image via virginatlantic.com

There are various cabin options in Virgin’s economy portfolio. The second, “Economy Classic”, is the one for us as it offers one 23kg checked bag, a meal and free seat selection, whereas “Economy Light” is £100 cheaper but does not include a checked bag.

Related: How to upgrade your next Virgin Atlantic flight with Virgin Points

Virgin doesn’t tell you the price of each individual flight. Rather, it tells you the lump sum for both legs.

So a trip with Virgin Atlantic on the August bank holiday weekend came to £666.26, while the October trip came to £539.26.

Peak flight cost: £666.26

Off-peak flight cost: £539.26

How do the airlines compare?

Airline

London-NYC peak return

London-NYC off-peak return

Mean value

Norse Atlantic £500.63 £400.87 £450.75
British Airways £698.26 £539.26 £618.76
Virgin Atlantic £666.26 £539.26 £602.76

Bottom Line

For anyone planning a hop across the pond this year, a trip to New York with Norse in peak season currently costs almost £200 less than with BA and £166 less than with Virgin on our sample dates. Similarly, the same off-season sojourn in October is a full £139 less than both legacy carriers.

But for what you save in cash you might find yourself sacrificing in comfort given the legacy carriers’ emphasis on customer service throughout the travelling experience. And if you want to choose an aisle seat, or one by a window, it’ll cost up to £59 extra. Remember, you won’t earn points or miles or status/tier points on Norse as they do not have a loyalty programme as yet. If you are trying to earn status in Executive Club or Flying Club you may well wish to pay slightly more to get you closer to your next status level.

Plus, as Norse doesn’t launch until August, we are yet to find out how comfortable its seats are, how good its food is or how entertaining its inflight entertainment is.

On top of that, unlike British Airways and Virgin, Norse’s offering is limited to one flight a day, meaning less options for anyone needing to get home quickly should anything go wrong.

But, the truth is, Norse doesn’t try to be more than it is: a budget airline that will get you across the Atlantic for less money than anyone else whether you want to pay for the bells and whistles or not.

Featured image courtesy of Norse Atlantic Airways.

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