WOW Air pushing cheap fares from BWI to Europe for launch of new routes

Baltimore to London for $99. No kidding.

There's a deal out there to fly from Baltimore to London for $99. No kidding.

Icelandic airline WOW Air is pushing some major deals as part of the low-cost carrier's introduction of new routes starting next summer between BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and a couple of European cities via WOW's home base of Reykjavik.

And Baltimore bookings are apparently underway.

"The reception has been very positive and enthusiastic," said Jonathan Dean, a BWI spokesman, of the announcement of the new routes last month. "The fares are outstanding."

"When you're entering markets that are fairly mature, you've got to get attention somehow, and low fares are a way to do it," said George Hamlin, an aviation consultant based in Fairfax, Va.

As of Monday, the airline's website was advertising a $99 one-way flight from BWI to London, via Reykjavik, for Oct. 19. The only snag was that there was only one return flight listed after that date — for Oct. 22 — and it was already unavailable.

"This flight is fully booked," the airline's website said. "Please try another date."

Try to get to London with the airline on June 4, at the front end of the deal, and you'll get another "fully booked" message. And London to BWI a week later, on June 10? A less-cool $385, but still about $1,000 less than other options offered by online sites such as Kayak or Priceline.

Cut out London and stick to Reykjavik, though, and the deals remain.

There was a $146.90 one-way flight to Reykjavik for June 4, and a return flight on June 10 for $143.10, for a round-trip airfare of an even $290. (The fares do not include fees for airports and checked bags.)

"Visit the land of fire and ice!" says WOW's website pitching the BWI-to-Reykjavik route. "From the first moment you land in Iceland you'll experience the raw nature, as even the short drive from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik is through an otherworldly black lava field."

The seasonal service begins in June and goes through October, with flights four days a week.

Airlines often announce new routes at low introductory prices to drum up excitement and fill flights quickly, so don't expect the prices to stick around at the figures they are now.

Hamlin, president of Hamlin Transportation Consulting, said the deals are likely to go fast and are unlikely to return after WOW's first season on the route.

"These are initial teaser fares," he said. "You could see this recur, but the chances of that are pretty small once they've established themselves in the market."

Still, the airline said it intends to keep prices competitive out of BWI, and Hamlin said the new routes are "a real plus for BWI" and a good thing for regional fliers because they introduce competition for the existing Iceland Air service out of Washington Dulles International.

Iceland Air previously flew out of BWI but stopped in 2007.

Skúli Morgensen, WOW's founder, owner and CEO, said in a statement last month that "WOW air recognizes BWI's dominance in Washington/Baltimore for low-cost domestic flights, and it makes great business sense to add low-cost transatlantic flights to the mix."

While the airline operates in 20 European destinations, its BWI flights will only connect to London and Copenhagen, Denmark. It is entering the North American market for the first time in March, when it will begin flights to Reykjavik from Boston Logan International Airport.

On Monday, Morgensen said that the airline is now looking to make the Boston-Reykjavik connection a daily route, after similar $99 tickets for five times-a-week flights starting in March were snapped up.

"At that price, frankly, it sold out overnight," Morgensen said Monday while at a travel conference in London.

He said the quick sales had given the airline confidence to try to boost services further.

"We've been working hard to find additional capacity because clearly we see that there is a huge opportunity to do what we're doing."

Morgensen founded WOW in 2011.

The airline will use Airbus A321 Extended Range aircraft between BWI and Reykjavik, and its existing Airbus A320 between Reykjavik and European cities.

Officials in Maryland and at BWI have welcomed the new WOW service as part of the airport's expanding international offerings. Over the past summer, Southwest Airlines introduced flights to the Carribbean from BWI.

"There is a growing demand for low-fare international air service," Paul J. Wiedefeld, the CEO of BWI, said in a statement. "We believe BWI Marshall is the perfect market for WOW air to offer this exciting, budget-friendly transatlantic service."

Budget airlines have historically found it tough to make money on long-haul flights, where longer flying times mean fewer options to cut costs, and transatlantic travel has been a tough nut to crack, given high competition. But Morgensen said he believes the low-cost model could attract 30 percent of the transatlantic market in five to 10 years, up from about 1 percent now.

Rene Steinhaus, a consultant at AT Kearney, said filling planes is crucial in making low-cost long-haul profitable.

"There's not many ways to save costs on long-haul. For me, the decisive factor is how full you can get your planes," said Steinhaus, adding that carriers entering the space would need to ensure planes are 95 percent or even completely full.

Hamlin compared new low-fare transatlantic carriers entering the market to when Southwest entered the domestic market with low fares, and said established transatlantic carriers won't take the pressure without responding — perhaps with lower fares of their own.

"The incumbents are not going to see this and go easily or lightly," he said, "because this is their bread and butter."

Reuters contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

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