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Airfare battle heats up with $149 flights from US to Europe

LEVEL and Wow Air are both offering rock-bottom fares from the US to Europe this summer.

At a time when major airlines are hiking up airfare for the summer rush, several low-cost carriers are offering rock-bottom prices for long haul flights.  

On Monday, Icelandic discount carrier Wow Air announced that a new route from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Reykjavik will open on July 13. This is the 10th destination in North America for the airline, which already operates in nine US cities including Newark, Los Angeles and Miami. One-way tickets for the new route debuted at $99, and for an additional $149, travelers can connect to one of 23 other cities like London, Paris or Amsterdam.

Wow has been building its presence as a low-cost carrier with competitive base rates since 2011, but the field is widening fast.

On March 17, Level Airlines burst onto the scene, promoting one-way tickets from the US to Europe for an impressive $149. While flights won’t start until June, tickets can be purchased now from Barcelona to Los Angeles (June 1), San Francisco (June 2), Punta Cana (June 10) and Buenos Aires (June 17). After announcing these rock-bottom prices, Level’s website had issues processing requests, and managed to sell 52,000 tickets in just 24 hours.

Level was launched by the International Airlines Group (IAG), which is the parent company of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, and Vueling. For them, offering a low-cost option provides more options to the growing number of consumers willing to fly on a no-frills airline.

“Long-haul, low-cost is a segment of the market that will experience significant growth and that we can operate profitably,” IAG said in an email to Yahoo Finance. “Level complements our current portfolio of airlines and further diversifies our existing customer base.”

Travelers may have to pay for hot meals when flying on a low-cost carrier. (Getty)

Being a part of the IAG network is one of the reasons Level is able to offer such competitive fares. For now, travelers can only book flights out of Barcelona, which is the home base for Vueling. This allows Level flights to feed into Vueling’s extensive network that currently includes more than 100 destinations around the world. While the new airline does have two new Airbus A330 aircraft, initial flights will be operated by Iberia’s flight and cabin crew.

Level ticket costs include space in the overhead compartment, but customers have to pay additional fees to check a bag. Airlines typically provide a blanket, pillow, drinks and a hot meal on long-haul flights, but travelers will have to pay for these add-ons when flying on Level.

Also churning out cheap tickets is Norwegian Air, which last month announced that it will offer one-way transatlantic tickets for $64. The new routes take travelers from small regional airports in the Northeast, to small regional airports in cities like Dublin and the UK, requiring some logistical maneuvering to get to your final destination. Still, the tickets are cheap, and will be available from July through October.

Major US carriers like United, Delta and American Airlines haven’t announced plans to launch their own low-cost carriers, but they have introduced lower-fare options for cost-conscious travelers. All three airlines offer a basic economy option, which allows fliers to take advantage of cheaper fares if they follow certain restrictions, like forgoing seat selection and not putting a bag in the overhead bin. That said, Delta did start a no-frills airline in 1996 called Delta Express, and shut it down in 2003.

Brittany is a reporter at Yahoo Finance.

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