Why Wow Air's £99 flights from London to New York are fake news

A story about £99 fares has gone viral – but Simon Calder has tried and failed to find them

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Thursday 09 November 2017 16:44 GMT

But the Icelandic airline, Wow Air, claimed this week: “We are offering flights from London to New York for less than the cost of taxes – essentially paying for our guests to fly.”

The carrier went on to assert that it will fly passengers from Stansted to New York for £99. And if you search online for “£99 London New York”, you will see that publications from The Sun to Hello! magazine have presented the story as though it were true.

To quote the celebrity gossip magazine: “Budget airline Wow Air is launching a new route from London’s Stansted airport to New York’s JFK International, and they’re offering some seriously cheap tickets to celebrate, at just £99 each way.”

As a piece of fake news, it is a classic. To start with, Wow Air isn’t launching a new route from Stansted to JFK. It will fly you from Essex to Keflavik airport in Iceland, where you must change planes to reach New York. And there are no £99 one-way fares. It’s not that they have all sold out; they were never there in the first place. When Wow Air launches services to New York JFK next summer, the lowest one-way fare I can find is £170.

On the airline’s website, you can read: “Stansted to JFK from £99.” But tantalisingly, when you click further it becomes clear that the “£99” deal is available only as part of a round-trip; that coming back will cost you substantially more; and that an unexpected “booking fee” is added to the transaction.

The cheapest round-trip ticket I can find is priced at £251. That is an excellent fare, but not quite as good as the £234 return deal on Primera Air, which is launching flights from Stansted to New York’s Newark airport next April. And without the need to change planes mid Atlantic.

Nevertheless, with a single make-believe press release, Wow Air has wowed the world. Demonstrating the principle that a fib can travel halfway around the globe while the truth is putting on its boots, even a New Zealand publication assured its readers that £99 fares were available.

Should we care that fake news has leapt from the “£350m” Brexiteers battle-bus claim to the realm of travel? I think we should. The coming year is going to be a marvellous time to fly the Atlantic, and Wow Air’s innovative, expanding route network is a component of that. But pretending that London-New York costs £99 one-way does no one any favours. Prospective sub-£100 travellers will be disappointed to find that they have been duped, and genuine claims by rival airlines may be undeservedly treated with suspicion.

When British Airways promotes £377 return flights from Gatwick to California, these fares are actually available on a range of dates through the winter. BA also has a tempting World Traveller Plus upgrade for just £135 on the overnight flight coming home from Oakland. Offering extras is just fine, but the basic fare must exist.

And that line about Wow Air flights costing less than the taxes, “essentially paying for our guests to fly”? Government fees from London to New York via Iceland total £105, which is certainly more than £99. As, regrettably, is the air fare.

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