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A magical trip to Iceland on the WOW air inaugural (WW/FI/AS Y)

A magical trip to Iceland on the WOW air inaugural (WW/FI/AS Y)

Old Jun 24, 16, 2:14 pm
  #1  
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A magical trip to Iceland on the WOW air inaugural (WW/FI/AS Y)

I've never been on an inaugural flight.

So ever since WOW air announced their long-haul expansion plans, I'd been waiting to jump on it. January 13th was the day, and within ten minutes of the flight going on sale, I had two of the first few tickets sold, both at the intro $99 fare. Then I just had to put the rest of the trip together.

Table of contents:
  1. Booking
  2. SFO Airport
  3. The Centurion, SFO
  4. WOW air, San Francisco (SFO) to Keflavķk (KEF)
  5. Blue Lagoon Luxury Experience
  6. Centerhotel Thingholt, Reykjavķk
  7. Day trips in Iceland
  8. KEF Airport
  9. Saga Business Lounge, KEF
  10. Icelandair Economy Comfort, Keflavķk (KEF) to Seattle-Tacoma (SEA)
  11. The Centurion Studio, SEA
  12. Alaska Economy, Seattle-Tacoma (SEA) to San Francisco (SFO)

Last edited by puls; Jun 24, 16 at 2:30 pm
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Old Jun 24, 16, 2:15 pm
  #2  
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Booking

The $99 fare comes with absolutely nothing extra, so I went for XXL legroom seats (row 1!) and a checked bag for the two of us to share. Our grand total came to $352, or $176 per person one way. I had to decline eight whole pages of upsells on the way, though.

For the return, WOW didn't have any super promo fares, so I booked Icelandair so we could get a comparison experience. It was much more expensive, but really only relatively speaking to what we paid for the first leg: $460 per person one way, connecting to Alaska in Seattle.

A week before the trip, Icelandair sent me an email soliciting a bid for an upgrade. The range was something like $150 to $300 for Economy Comfort or $300 to $600 for Saga Business; I threw caution to the wind and put in a bid one step over the minimum. I got an email right before we left San Francisco that our bid was accepted.

Grand total for the flights was about $1575, split across two people, or less than I spent on fuel surcharges on last year's trip.

For hotels, I wanted to do the Club Carlson thing and stay at the Radisson Blu 1919 that gets so much love here, but the price for our dates skyrocketed before I could book it. I ended up calling the Citi Prestige concierge and asking for some recommendations; the fourth night free took some of the sting out of how much everything costs in Iceland.

I also did way more research than was necessary in to tour operators; I think at the end of the day, no two tours are the same while at the same time every tour is the same. Seems like many operators do the same tours, and the price mostly depends on the size of the group. I ended up booking with the top-rated companies on TripAdvisor, which is probably the exact same thing everyone else does.
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Old Jun 24, 16, 2:16 pm
  #3  
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SFO

We arrived at SFO about two and a half hours before our flight, not sure whether to expect epic lines (like our Turkish flight last year and like what you might get when you're paying next to nothing) or a well-managed situation with some energy around the inaugural nature of the flight.



What we found was definitely the latter; all ten-plus of the allotted check-in desks were staffed and two more ushers were super friendly in showing people around and handing out bag tags.



The queue was maybe ten minutes, and we chatted up the couple in front of us on their way to France. Looks like there were about half a dozen employees in from the home base in Iceland for this inaugural flight.



After our careful weighing of every single item we brought, the contract agent who checked us in took a brief glance at our carry-ons and decided they were clearly small enough. Oh well.



But so far so good: WOW seems like their target is to be a low-cost carrier but not be jerks about it. I didn't see anybody crying at the neighboring check-in desks, or anybody getting charged a surprise fee out of nowhere, or anything like that.

One surprise on our boarding passes was the gate assignment: G92, right in the middle of the otherwise Star Alliance-only portion of the international terminal. This quickly scuttled our plan to brave the Air France/KLM lounge, the only priority pass lounge in the airport, but all was not lost...

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Old Jun 24, 16, 2:17 pm
  #4  
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The Centurion, SFO

After balking at the security zoo at International G, we went down to terminal 3 where the line was only 15 or 20 minutes, and we emerged in front of the Centurion lounge.




There was a pretty long line to get in, presaging a positively packed-to-the-gills lounge. But credit where credit is due: even when at 95% of capacity, this lounge is still super pleasant. It was as clean as could be, it's still in tip-top shape, the bartender was working as efficiently as he could, the buffet was well stocked.







Wifi speed was fantastic, even with a full load of people using it.

Right around T-60, our plane got towed into the gate; that bright magenta sure sticks out against the ANA, Air India, and United planes next to it.



The buffet options were limited but very nice: chocolate mousse, a salad bar, some bread and pesto, soup, creamed corn, pasta, and fried chicken. All delicious.





The coffee machines were in various states of repair, but I skipped them. After all, we're on vacation, right?



The sparkling water tap was key. We must have filled four bottles to last us the flight.



At T-40, we went down to the gate.

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Old Jun 24, 16, 2:19 pm
  #5  
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WOW air 162, San Francisco International (SFO) to Keflavķk International (KEF)
June 10th, 2016
12:50 pm–4:10 am (+1)
Airbus A330-300 EC-MIO
Seats 1H/K (non-existent class)

The gate was pretty crowded, but still had plenty of space for everybody to line up, even well before boarding. A thousand document checks later and they started welcoming people on board.





There were no further bag weigh-ins or anything.

Once we finally made it to the plane, we were greeted with a big surprise: this wet-leased plane had no A/C/H/K seats in row 1, so our assigned seats didn't exist. We mentioned this to a flight attendant, who was profusely apologetic and handed our boarding passes over to the Air Europa purser to find us new seats.



After boarding finished, the purser returned and sat us in 11H/K, the last row of the forward cabin. Seems like the layout of this plane has lots of legroom throughout so losing our extra-legroom seats didn't sting that much.



Seats had neither IFE nor recline, but they did have power and 33 or maybe 34 inches of pitch. Not bad. Granted, this wet-lease was not WOW's own configuration, but why would Air Europa purchase such cheap non-reclining slimline seats and then put so few of them on the plane?



The ceiling had witticisms at each call button, but no air vents.



The plane pushed almost half an hour late, and with a 7h30 flight time against an 8h20 block time, an on-time arrival wasn't looking assured. But who really wants to land at 4 am local time, anyway?



Traffic on taxi was all United all the time coming from the G gates.



That AeroMexico 737 looks mega small compared to the Cathay Pacific 777 in front of it.




After a very slow, very long taxi, the plane finally rocketed into the sky at 2 pm, 70 minutes past scheduled departure. An immediate right turn yielded a view of the Oakland hills.




The seatbelt sign went off ten minutes later, and we plugged in for the flight. The EmPower universal plug immediately deactivated itself as soon as I plugged my US cord in, but worked fine with the Euro plug. Strange.



The crew announced the imminent start of the "bar service" with more deviations from the expected product; the food menu (pictured below) didn't match what was available, and they were accepting most major currencies as well as credit cards.

Other than the safety card, a 76-page glossy shopping magazine was the extent of the seat back literature. The first 58 pages were duty-free shopping, and the menu was most of the last 18 interspersed with ads.
















For lunch, we went with the off-menu turkey and cheddar on a pretzel roll along with two cans of Gull beer, for a total damage of 3800 ISK, or about $31 US. Tasty.




After that, six whole hours of not much to report. The seats were comfortable, the crew was super responsive to the call button to sell more merchandise, and the duty free cart had mostly cigarettes and cute hats on display.



There were something like four lavatories for all 270 passengers on the plane and one of them was right behind us, so there was a nonstop line, but we weren't trying to sleep or anything, thanks to the early hour of the flight.



Eventually, the descent started and we saw a lot of clouds, and the first sign of land was only a minute or so before touching down. Taxi to the gate was brief, and the line for passport control was non-existent. We got our bags and found our transfer tickets waiting for us.

The review

I have no regrets at all about booking WOW air. They seem to set expectations well, and I heard no complaints about the amounts people were spending on inflight services. My only worry in future bookings would be about product consistency, both soft and hard: if they can't even deliver what they've sold, what then?
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Old Jun 24, 16, 2:20 pm
  #6  
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Blue Lagoon Luxury Experience

As far as I could tell, the one thing we had to do on arrival in Iceland was visit the Blue Lagoon, and I don’t see any reviews of it here, so I’ll add mine.

The Blue Lagoon has four levels of ticket packages—standard, comfort, premium, and luxury—and since we had foregone the first class flights this time around, I couldn’t say no to the luxury package. For a €115 premium over the next-highest package, it includes access to the “exclusive lounge”, which sounded interesting enough to be worth checking out.

Our bus from KEF arrived at the parking lot of the lagoon just before opening, and we were immediately presented with the baggage storage room, where an attendant stored our bag and gave us a token to pay for inside.




We then headed down the very dramatic path through the lava field towards the entrance.





The line quickly splits by which package you’ve pre-booked, and we went to the front of the luxury package line, where we were introduced to our “concierge”. After a quick ticket check, she led us down a long hallway. We got access to our private changing/shower room and a quick tour of the lounge itself, which is small but very comfortable.









It has its own access to the lagoon, which is also cool.



There’s also a deck overlooking the lagoon, but at least when we were there it was too cold out to spend much time out of the water.



After a few very nice hours in the lagoon, we cleaned ourselves up, checked out of the “exclusive lounge”, and headed over to the on-site restaurant, LAVA, where we had a reservation as part of the package.

We shared the Icelandic menu and the seafood menu.

Bread with the butter on a piece of lava. Of course.



Sparkling wine, included as part of the package deal. (They asked if we wanted sweet or demi-sec or dry. As if!)



Torched Icelandic Arctic char, cucumber, horseradish, char roe, fennel.



Langoustine soup with garlic-marinated langoustine.



Rack of lamb, celeriac, grapes, hazelnuts, kirsch reduction.



Cod, sunchokes, almonds, grapes, brown butter sauce.



“Įstarpungar”, caramel chocolate mousse, vanilla ice cream, salted caramel



In hindsight, the whole thing was probably the best meal we had during our whole visit to Iceland. By this point, it was around 1 pm in Iceland and about 4 am back home in California, and we’d been up all night, so we were ready to hit the hotel and crash.

The review

For those of you on FlyerTalk who appreciate the first class lounges in life: you’d love the luxury experience at the Blue Lagoon. For those of you who think it’s a waste of money that would be better spent on other things: you’d feel the same way about this experience. We had a wonderfully relaxing time and I’d absolutely do this again.
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Old Jun 24, 16, 2:21 pm
  #7  
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Centerhotel Thingholt, Reykjavķk

An hour later, we arrived at our hotel. Kind of an attractive lobby.




Our room was ready and waiting for us, and we went straight up. It was tiny.





Maybe we just got the short end of the stick, but it wasn’t in great shape, either: the wallpaper was peeling, the window didn’t close all the way, the “air-conditioned guestroom” (according to the website) was swelteringly hot with only a single vent above the door not putting out any air at all and no thermostat to be seen anywhere. The bed was the least comfortable bed I’ve slept in in years, and that includes a couple hundred nights on the road in hotels around the world.

Breakfast was pretty good, but it was in a hole in the basement where it was far too dark to take any pictures. One day, there wasn’t even any electricity in the hotel, so everybody was eating by candlelight.

The review


This hotel was attractive enough, and the location was great, and the staff was as nice as could be, but the hard product was pretty atrocious, especially given their four star rating and the exorbitant price. I’d easily pony up the extra money for the Radisson Blu 1919 next time.
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Old Jun 24, 16, 2:21 pm
  #8  
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Iceland Day Trips

On our first day, we took a tour in this Super Jeep:



We saw the Urrišafoss waterfall, breathtaking views of the Žórsmörk volcanic valley, and the Seljalandsfoss waterfall:











On our second day, we saw the Golden Circle, which consists of the rift valley at Žingvellir, the geothermal Geysir area, and the Gullfoss and Faxi waterfalls:










On the third day, we went to the Langjókull ice cave, with stops along the way at the Hraunfossar waterfall and the Deildartunguhver hot spring:












As I mentioned above, all of the tour guides we had were outstanding, and none of the companies seemed to offer a whole lot in terms of different options from one another. I only hope I make it back some day in the future to experience more of the island, especially parts that aren’t accessible in a couple hours’ drive from Reykjavķk.
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Old Jun 24, 16, 2:22 pm
  #9  
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KEF

After a not-so-short 45-minute ride on the Flybus, we arrived at Keflavķk for our return flight.



The priority line for checking in was only a couple of people deep, and the regular line wasn’t much longer; I’d have to imagine it’s pretty variable throughout the day. We were about two hours and ten minutes ahead of the bank of a dozen flights to North America right at the same time, but no real crowds to speak of.



Security was quick, efficient, and friendly, and dropped us straight into the Schengen-side departures area.



WOW really seems to have upped their mindshare with their latest expansion. Their stuff is everywhere here.




We took a quick peek at the exit passport control line, saw nobody in it, and figured we had time to make a visit to the Saga Lounge.
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Old Jun 24, 16, 2:23 pm
  #10  
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Saga Business Lounge

The only lounge at KEF is the business lounge for Icelandair, which is also the contract lounge for a couple of their partners but otherwise inaccessible. We had access by virtue of being in Economy Comfort class.

The lounge itself is in a hole in the basement, accessed by an elevator or staircase next to a huge construction zone.




It was busy but by no means jammed when we were there. Lots of attractive, comfy seating.




Wifi was super fast; this speed test slowed down at the end and still ended up at a great result.



Food spread was great, with half a dozen hot options.



Drinks included wine and beer and sodas and coffee.




Across the lounge, a second bar had a selection of sweets along with another coffee machine and self-serve liquor.





While this was a pretty standard business class lounge, it was much nicer than we’d expected. High-quality food and drink, plenty of space, and an attentive enough staff to keep it clean made it worth the visit.

Our boarding passes said we’d board at 4:10, so we went down to the gate.
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Old Jun 24, 16, 2:24 pm
  #11  
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Icelandair 681, Keflavķk International (KEF) to Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA)
June 15th, 2016
5:00 pm–5:45 pm
Boeing 757-200 TF-ISD “Snęfellsjökull”
Seats 10D/F (Economy Comfort class)

After exiting passport control through the gift shop, we walked through the international concourse.




With a bank of a dozen flights leaving all within twenty minutes of each other, the concourse was a massive swarm of people at every gate, all boarding at the same time.



Boarding started at least 20 minutes late, with the whole swarm moving towards the bus in unison.




I’ve seen more interesting tarmac drives than this.



Tarmac boarding to door 2L.




Legroom shot.



Almost no foot space at all, between the large IFE box and the fold-down screen for the exit row in front of me.



Brand new high-definition IFE, with just a touchscreen, power button, USB charger, and headphone jack. The right way to do it.



Nothing to see on taxi, and the views on takeoff ended abruptly when we left the country about ten seconds after taking off.



I started up a classic Nordic movie that I somehow hadn’t seen yet.



After about 45 minutes, the meal service started. There was a buy-on-board service for all of economy, with all of the prices dropped to zero for the three rows of Economy Comfort.

This beer is the best beer I’ve ever had onboard a plane.



Snacks.




A really cool feature of the plane is the LED mood lighting, installed in strips above the luggage bins and projecting a northern lights-esque motif on the ceiling of the plane.



Four hours later, another snack service.




Between the IFE and an iPad full of content, the flight passed in no time.



The descent took us over downtown Seattle, with amazing views of the city in the late afternoon.




We landed in SEA about half an hour late, made it through Global Entry in no time flat, and had to wait forever and a day for our bags. We went to the transfer desk for onward boarding passes.

The review

We had a great flight on Icelandair. I can’t decide if Economy Comfort was worth an extra $160+ per person, though I suppose that the extra space was quite substantial and the lounge access was quite nice to have, even if we spent less than an hour in the lounge.

This is a strange question of differential pricing and economics, I guess; $160 seems like a lot to have paid for the upgrade, but the original difference at booking was far more than that.

Come to think of it, one other side effect of upgrading was crediting 125% mileage to Alaska instead of the 50% we originally would have gotten; those extra 2700 miles per person are probably worth some decent part of the upgrade cost.
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Old Jun 24, 16, 2:25 pm
  #12  
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The Centurion Studio, SEA

The Centurion seemed to be the best place for us to spend the hour and a half or so we had until our next flight, and it was easy to find in the B concourse.



It’s small. Small enough that I could see the entire lounge from where I was sitting.




In lieu of a bar, servers were roaming with beverage choices. They had four or five nice beers and a couple of forgettable wine choices.

The food and drink spread was limited, but as tasty as you could want.






At T-40, we decided to head to the gate.
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Old Jun 24, 16, 2:25 pm
  #13  
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Alaska 300, Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA) to San Francisco International (SFO)
June 15th, 2016
8:45 pm–10:55 pm
Boeing 737-900ER N474AS
Seats 12A/B (Windowless class)

We walked down to the gate, where the plane was already waiting.




Boarding was called ten or twenty minutes late thanks to the inbound crew, but finished roughly on time because Alaska Airlines doesn’t suck. We boarded to find we were in a windowless row. We fell asleep for the whole flight.

Upon landing at SFO, we waited almost an hour for a gate. Amazing. We went to baggage claim, where I thought I’d finally have a chance to call out Alaska on their 20-minute baggage guarantee, but my bag appeared on the belt precisely 19 minutes after arrival, and another half hour later, we were home.

Thanks for reading!
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Old Jun 24, 16, 2:36 pm
  #14  
 
Join Date: Apr 2014
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Just flew WOW a few weeks ago to Iceland as well (got back 6/9), from Boston though. Actually pleasantly surprised overall relative to what I had heard and was expecting. Backpacks weren't weighed at all or even looked at and they barely looked at the weight on my checked bag. Flew WOW back from KEF as well and even there, they didn't weigh my backpacks. My checked bag weighed 21 kgs which was over the limit so they just told me to move one item to my backpack and cleared it - apparently 20.9 kg is acceptable to them.

Only downside is that we had about a 3.5 hour delay due to a flight controller strike and they didn't communicate it until we were on our way to the airport which was too late. It was madness at KEF due to all the delayed inbound and outbound flights, but not really WOW's fault.

I'd fly WOW again as well if it was convenient. I too tried to book the Radisson Blu 1919 but it was unavailable so I booked the Radisson Blu Saga which was pretty terrible. 70's decor and lots of construction. But each of the hotels we stayed in on the Ring road was worse - basically expensive hostels...but I suppose that's not why people go to Iceland.
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Old Jun 24, 16, 2:52 pm
  #15  
 
Join Date: Nov 2014
Posts: 546
Sweet.

Thanks for an excellent trip report!
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