Earlier this year low-cost airline Norwegian launched a new route from the UK to New York, with one-way tickets selling for just £69. But what sacrifices do you have to make to get a price that low? We sent MSE Megan to find out…
Editor: Fancy testing a flight to New York for us?
Editor: There’s just one catch…
Actually, it turned out to be quite a few catches. The flight departed from Belfast – as I live in the South East of England, I had to fly there from London first. The flight arrived at Stewart International Airport, 65 miles north of Manhattan. It was hand luggage only. And I had to make my own entertainment for much of the flight and five-hour layover (of which more below).
But still, I jumped at the chance – who wouldn’t want to go to the Big Apple? So I booked one of Norwegian’s headline-grabbing £69 promotional fares (a bit touch-and-go as they went so quickly – see my previous blog).
The £69 one-way flight was a promotional fare to launch the route, and sadly you can’t find tickets for that price any more. But we have seen them for £99 since launch, and Norwegian says you can currently find one-way flights for £129 from Belfast to New York.
Getting to Belfast
Fast forward a few months and I was ready for my trip. As I had to get to Belfast from where I live first, I started at the crack of dawn – so I headed to Gatwick at 5am to catch my £21 Ryanair flight.
When I got to Belfast, I had five hours to kill, by far the worst bit of the trip. I arrived in Belfast so early that the check-in desk wasn’t even open, so I had to hang around for half an hour before I could even go through security.
Once airside I used an airport lounge pass I got free with my Amex Gold card, so I can’t really moan. But as I was sat there waiting, albeit on a comfy chair, I was very aware of how long there still was to go.
A no-frills long-haul experience
When I finally boarded my Norwegian flight, I was braced for the typical budget airline experience – so it was a pleasant surprise to find I had quite a lot of legroom and the seat was relatively comfy. In fact, as luck would have it (and despite the low fares) I had the entire row of seats to myself.
Unsurprisingly, there was no TV screen in the back of the seat in front of me, just a tiny screen about halfway up the plane which seemed to alternate between cartoons and adverts – so it really wasn’t the end of the world that I couldn’t plug my headphones in to listen. I spent a fair bit of time reading, the rest of it sleeping.
Even though it was a transatlantic flight, there were no pillows, eye masks or blankets, although you could buy them on board (the cynic in me wonders if that was why the plane was on the chilly side). I was prepared, though, and had brought my own.
What might be a dealbreaker for some is that you have to pay for all your food and drinks, which was a first for me when flying long-haul. Again, though, I’d known this in advance so had come prepared – I just bought a £3.99 meal deal at the airport with the largest bottle of water I could find.
Welcome to Stewart International Airport
The flight passed relatively quickly, but the journey wasn’t over yet. Instead of JFK or Newark Airport, I landed at Stewart International in Orange County, New York, about 90 minutes’ bus ride from Times Square.
The upside to using a smaller, out-of-the-way airport was that I was through immigration in 15 minutes. But the bus journey – which I’d booked ahead, a straightforward process – made an already long day that much longer.
While the driving time was only about 20 to 30 minutes longer than taking the AirTrain and subway from JFK, we had to wait 45 minutes for the bus to fill with passengers before we even set off.
The journey itself was fine, with the bus stopping a few blocks away from Times Square. I decided to stretch my legs for the final 20-minute walk to my hotel, and finally got to bed at 3am UK time – almost 22 hours after I’d set off.
How much did it cost in total?
Totting it all up, I reckon the journey from Gatwick to my New York hotel cost me £115 all-in. Here’s how it broke down:
- Ryanair flight from Gatwick to Belfast – £21.41
- Food in Belfast – £4.50
- Norwegian flight from Belfast to Stewart International – £69
- Meal deal for the plane – £3.99
- Bus from Stewart International to New York City – £15.58 [$20]
So… would I do it again?
Personally, if I was doing it again I’d probably rather pay a bit more for a direct flight from London – the extra flight to Belfast and stopover made it an exhausting journey. But if I was starting out in Belfast or Edinburgh (where Norwegian also flies to New York from) it would be a very different story.
Yes, the flight was budget, with none of the trimmings you’d expect on a long-haul trip. Yet with one-way transatlantic flights typically costing over £400, you can’t really argue with £69 – or even £115 all-in – to fly more than 3,000 miles to one of the best cities in the world.
Update: Many of you were asking how I got back. At the time of booking I couldn’t find a £69 flight coming home for the right date (though there were some £69 return leg flights out there), so instead paid £250 to fly straight from JFK to Gatwick with Norwegian.