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Abroad on a budget: to Iceland and beyond

by Diandra D’Alessio October 13, 2015
Abroad on a budget: to Iceland and beyond

New, icy, low-cost airline cleared for landing in Montreal but will it be worth the extra fees?

For seven months now, I’ve been working part-time for the international duty-free at Trudeau Airport. I’ve got to admit, it’s pretty fun for a student job. I get to meet people from all over the world, hand them shopping baskets and—to the delight of many tourists—alcohol samples (ask me about the Sortilège).

Graphic by Charlotte Bracho.

Graphic by Charlotte Bracho.

Along with the tourists, I also get to keep track of the faraway destinations they’ll head off to, thanks to departure listings displayed in store. There seem to be more flights to Paris than anywhere else, but one can also get direct flights to cities like London, Amsterdam, Casablanca, and now even to Beijing most days of the week.

While many of my friends were lucky enough to travel this summer (including my sisters on separate trips to Europe), I was finishing up my MA and decided to enjoy at least a bit of summer here in Montreal. I was happy to hear that my sisters had trips of a lifetime, but they both agreed that their flights left much to be desired. One went with Air Transat, the other with no-frills Air Canada Rouge, and paid full price for cramped seats and limited amenities.

I’d like to travel to Europe soon but I also wouldn’t want to risk splurging on a so-so flight. So when I heard that WOW Air, a budget airline based in Iceland, would launch one-way flights from Montreal to Reykjavik and other European cities for as little as $99 or $149 starting May 2016, you could imagine my excitement.

Then I went to WOW Air’s website. I was disappointed to find the much touted $99 or even $149 one-way fares absent from the listings, but prices for flights in 2016 are still very affordable. For example, if I were to have a direct, round-trip flight from Montreal to Reykjavík, leaving on May 20 and returning on May 27, it would cost $478.77. Economy class on Icelandair would cost $200 more, and that’s if I left one day earlier and returned one day later. Same dates would cost over $900, and I’d have to connect via Toronto.

WOW Air is certainly not the first budget airline to reach Canada (JetsGo went bust in 2005) and Queen’s University marketing professor Ken Wong told the CBC that WOW Air’s cheap, no-frills nature could render it a niche service. It’s cheap for a reason though. You’ll have to pay extra for everything except your cramped seat and the shirt on your back, like $82 for a seat with more legroom and steep checked bag fees.

Ultimately, although only time will tell if WOW Air takes off in Montreal (pun intended), I remain optimistic. Budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet are hugely popular in Europe, and by saving money on a flight without the bells and whistles, one could spend more on the vacation itself. And as a side note, I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights and chill (or warm up?) in the Blue Lagoon. With WOW Air cleared for landing, I’ll be one step closer.

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