I’m not some fussy elitist who thinks he’s above budget travel (I’ve happily flown Norwegian a number of times), but I’m becoming less and less interested in the almost daily hyperventilation over WOW Air’s latest screaming deal. $15 flights to Iceland! $5 flights to Iceland! Free flights to Iceland but you have to bring your own ice! We get it, WOW Air is really cheap because their business model relies on dinging you with ancillary fees, and they cram enough people in their planes that the odds are in their favor.
Here’s why I stopped paying attention: as anyone who flies primarily on points and miles will tell you, travel isn’t free. Flying on award tickets may be close to free if you forget about all the annual fees and opportunity costs, but travel in general isn’t free. Most of those WOW Air fares require you to stay a week at a time, so it then becomes necessary to cost out a week-long trip, and even on a budget, that still will eat up some money… Especially if you’re flying to Scandinavia, where everything is expensive. Just boarding my dog for a week would cost almost $300, and if we stayed at a dirt cheap AirBNB, let’s say that would cost $40 per night for six nights. We’d take BART to the airport to save money, but that’s still around $50 round-trip for the both of us. Add in $50 per day each to eat, and we’re over $1000 already, regardless of how cheap WOW Air is to fly.
The bottom line is that we’d end up spending around $1500 at a minimum for a week long trip to Iceland, flying, sleeping, and eating as cheaply as possible. In the winter, when there are 3 hours of daylight every day. Fun? I don’t really get the masochistic approach to travel, where you impress people by telling them all the exotic locations you’ve been to and all the tribulations you put yourself through to get there. “I just got back from Thailand, and it was amazing, except that I had to sleep in the train station for three nights, take seven connecting flights back over a three-day period, and ride in the cargo hold of an old Soviet plane for one of the flights.” Congrats?
I like the new trend of ULCC long haul flights, since there are some people who wouldn’t otherwise have the means to see the world, and this gives them the opportunity. I mean, for fuck’s sake it’s cheaper to fly from San Francisco to Iceland than it is to fly from San Francisco to Denver. That’s pretty crazy. However, most of the people who get excited about these deals do have the means to travel, they just get blinded by how good of a deal you can get (my sample set for this observation is two of my coworkers who constantly ruminate over whether they should go to Iceland for no reason other than that flights are so cheap).
Instead of spending $1500 and trying to minimize every expense during a trip, I’d rather save that money and take a longer, more comfortable trip using points and miles where it makes sense. Maybe that’s reflective of where I am in my life – AKA not young and poor enough that that’s the only way I can travel. Still, the daily parade of insane deals (which should get even louder now that Norwegian received approval to fly under its Irish subsidiary) is the same to me as when the LA-Z-Boy store near my house has 90% off sales. Sure it’s a great deal, but how many LA-Z-Boys do you need?