Bangkok is a popular destination for Scandinavians, especially during the long winter months.
So the region’s low-cost carrier Norwegian had high hopes of being the cheapest kid on the block with its new non-stop services linking Oslo and Stockholm to the Thai capital.
To that end, Norwegian has invested in eight B787 Dreamliners which are configured for economy and “business” class seating (see online news, November 2012).
But recent months have seen the Gulf carriers – in this case, Emirates and Qatar Airways – expand into the Scandinavian market. And the Gulf airlines need Scandinavian travellers to fill the large number of flights they operate beyond Dubai to south-east Asia.
From October, Emirates alone will serve Bangkok six times a day (see online news, July 10).
Research conducted by Business Traveller shows that in the month of September (when the B787s will have entered service) the Gulf carriers have eroded the price advantage that Norwegian expected to have against its European rivals and Thai Airways, its Asian rival.
It is true that Norwegian’s prices are rock-bottom, but the only amenity they include is IFE (in-flight entertainment).
Include the ancillary fees for meals, seat selection and luggage (£107 for a round-trip ticket) and Norwegian passengers may be making no saving at all compared to what a Gulf airline might charge.
Using fares sourced from opodo.co.uk and norwegian.com for flights routed Stockholm to Bangkok on Monday September 9, returning on Friday September 20, Business Traveller discovered that a return economy class ticket with Norwegian costs £503 (including ancillary fees).
By comparison, flights on the same date cost even less via the Gulf – £452 with Emirates via Dubai and £487 with Qatar Airways.
Another route, this time from Oslo with dates more suitable for business travel, demonstrates that Norwegian can narrow the gap. For flights routed Oslo to Bangkok on Saturday September 7, returning on Friday September 13, the prices are £509.90 (including ancillary fees) with Norwegian, £540 with Finnair and £578 with Qatar. Emirates does not serve Oslo.
But as we run into the peak winter season, Norwegian’s prices rise.
Business Traveller checked flights scheduled for Monday November 25 from Stockholm, returning from Bangkok on Tuesday December 10. Norwegian wanted £819.60 (including ancillary fees). By comparison, almost every other rival undercut this price including Emirates at £435 and Qatar at £487.
It is true that Norwegian flies non-stop to Bangkok whereas the Gulf airlines operate via Dubai and Doha.
But on the other hand, Norwegian does not fly non-stop every day – on some days services route via Stockholm or Oslo – and at the budget end of the market there is little brand loyalty. And, yes, the B787 is a brand new plane but there’s no escaping that tight 3-3-3 seating in the economy cabin.
Where Norwegian will score is with its premium cabin, a sort of cross between premium economy and business class. Here the amenities are all included with a typical price upwards of £1,030 for a return ticket.
Heightened competition for Norwegian is now coming from Thai Airways as we recently reported (see online news, July 3).
Thai has now upgraded its Bangkok flights from Copenhagen and Stockholm to newish B777-300ERs. The latest news from Thai is that Oslo-Bangkok will also be getting the B777-300ER from the end of October.
The best rates from Thai are obtainable from conventional travel agents rather than online booking sites. And, unique to the Scandinavian market, Thai offers a premium economy product.