This Norwegian Air fare just isn’t fair

By | March 8th, 2016

Ken Johnson contacted us about something that seemed simply unfair. After visiting the Norwegian Air website and purchasing two round-trip premium economy tickets from Oakland to London for his upcoming Norwegian cruise, he experienced a bit of buyer’s remorse.

He still wants to travel. But he found a better fare — on Norwegian Air’s website.

No, not that Norwegian Air website. The other one — for Norwegian people living in Norway.

Why would anyone visit the airline’s “home country” website after already purchasing his tickets on the U.S. site?

He read about the different pricing phenomenon on a blog, which explained that airlines display different fares for the same routes in their home country. Not just different fares — better fares.

Out of curiosity, he visited the Norwegian Air site in Norway, which is identical to the U.S. site, but in Norwegian language. “It was not difficult to navigate through,” he explained, “so I entered the same parameters of our current reservation and I was shocked at the difference in price.”

Turns out Norwegian Air wants $1,300 less from passengers living in Norway for the exact same itinerary.

Given that he had already purchased the more expensive tickets, he asked Norwegian Air whether it would refund the difference. He contacted the airline’s customer service department through the site’s online chat module.

Matilda: Hi, my name is Matilda. How may I help you?

Johnson: Hello. I type slow

Matilda: Hi Kenneth! No problem

Johnson: We reserved our flight on Norwegian Air US website

Johnson: Our booking is [record locator redacted].

Johnson: I happened to run across Norway online site and checked prices. I was surprised our same flight was approximately $1297.00 USD cheaper if I would have booked it on that site.

Johnson: Is there any hope for Norwegian Air to refund some of the difference in cost?

Matilda: Your ticket is booked on our website. Did you find something cheaper on another site you mean?

Johnson: Yes I found it cheaper on your Norway web site

Johnson: I booked our on the U.S. web site

Matilda: Our prices are affected by supply and demand. Norwegian has several price ranges, and when one price range is sold out, the next will be offered. In most cases it will be best to make a reservation as early as possible. Rebooking or cancellation of seats may cause the price to decrease. Special promotions or adjustments of price ranges will also affect the price of the ticket.

Matilda: The type of ticket you have bought is not refundable.

Johnson: So I guess I am out of luck to have Norwegian Air refund any price difference

Matilda: No, any possible price difference is not refundable.

Johnson: Thank you anyway.

While the significant price difference between the two sites for the same service seems rather unfair, there is nothing illegal about it. Unfortunately for Johnson, there is no reason to expect a refund, or even a credit for a future flight.

Like all air carriers flying to, from, and within the United States, Norwegian Air observes the Department of Transportation rule allowing cancellation of ticket purchases within the first 24 hours. After that, any refund of a non-refundable ticket is at the discretion of the airline.

In recent years, airline pricing has seemed to homogenize across sites, with most all of them, including the airline itself, offering a “best price guarantee.” That reality makes this pill a bitter one to swallow, knowing the best price was actually available through the same seller, just in a different country.

In this case, I suspect Johnson doesn’t have true buyer’s remorse. He probably did get the best price he could expect to find in the United States. And without a doubt, his disappointment over the ticket price will be overshadowed by the some of the most spectacular natural scenery in the world — the fjords of Norway.

Should airlines be allowed to price their products differently by country?

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  • jim6555

    Not ALL airlines adhere to the policy of being able to cancel a ticket without penalty within 24 hours of purchase. American Airlines has adopted an option where a reservation will be held for up to 24 hours without payment being made. Once purchased, an AA ticket is not refundable (except for full-fare coach).

  • Michael__K

    The irony is that price discrimination by nationality is prohibited within Europe. [Norway is not a member of the EU, but they are a party to the European Economic Agreement (EEA), which prohibits discrimination in pricing based on nationality with narrow exceptions (such as for user fees collected in lieu of local taxes).]

    If the OP was a national of any European country (even if they are also a US citizen) then this would be actionable.

  • Alan Gore

    There’s nothing wrong with price discrimination by country, so long as people can shop around for a better deal. If this passenger had seen the Norwegian price before booking the US price, could he have reserved it that way?

    One factor that makes prescription drugs such a ripoff is that Americans not only pay for highest prices in the world for each medication, but that it is specifically illegal for us to shop around. The same drugs, not knockoffs but the same domestic brands from the same companies, are available for a lot less just across either border. Be happy that for most things you buy, from textbooks to airline flights, you can take advantage of any price differential by country that is in your favor.

  • LostInMidwest

    Not the same thing, but flying U.S. airlines across Atlantic is pretty much the same or worse. What I mean by that is that the price of (for example) Detroit-Amsterdam-Venice DTW-AMS-VCE will be almost double the price of VCE-AMS-DTW return ticket for exactly the same days, on the same AMERICAN airline with same flight numbers.

    So, if your own airlines fleece you, why wouldn’t Norwegian Air? You know why? Because you let them.

  • Tanya

    There is a possibility that he would not be able to book the ticket anyhow. Many times, you have to have a local address to utilize a European website (I am sure there is a hack out there) that matches your credit card. There could also be other reasons the fare is different that we know nothing about, it may not be as arbitrary as it seems. Or it could be.


    Not unusual at all. I have seen this for years and often have family in Europe book such flights for me using their cards to save money. The rule seems to be if you live in the States you automatically pay more for a ticket.

  • Tom McShane

    I suspect the part of Matilda was played by a smart robot.

  • Regina Litman

    I usually don’t vote for any option that includes “free market” in its wording, but I can see situations in which an international company desires to give its own residents better prices.

  • AJPeabody

    I will remember to investigate cross-border arbitrage for my next international trip.

  • Flatlander

    I wonder what it would take for the USA to to adopt the EU air travel regulations. Maybe they could become part of something like a “Pan European & American Air Transport Agreement”. Delta, AA, and all of the other US carriers would be SCREAMING if they had to give us the same rights to American citizens afforded to people in the EU.

  • Flatlander

    I’d be FURIOUS if I was the OP, but in the end the only thing Norwegian is “guilty” of is squeezing Americans for more profit which isn’t illegal in the EU or even the USA.

  • Laura616

    I fly Nowegian between Fort Lauderdale and Gatwick frequently. On one occasion I booked on the US site using a UK debit card and was charged a fee. When I queried it I was told I needed to use the UK site. I have not considered comparing the two sites and working out the best deal. Maybe I should.

  • KanExplore

    I usually consider the “free market” choices to be an unfair characterization, but this one seems valid enough so I voted for it. It’s really not so unusual for there to be different pricing for locals and visitors in many facets of the industry.

  • MarkKelling

    There are multiple reasons why the price is different. Maybe they were offering a special to residents of Norway. Maybe they don’t get a good exchange rate through their credit card processor when they get paid in dollars and then settle in Norwegian Kroner. Maybe they have to pay more taxes to the US government for the tickets sold through the US web site. Who knows? But there is no reason they have to sell the same ticket on multiple sites at the same price.

    No one ever guaranteed that life was fair or even reasonable.

  • Blamona

    Many airlines around the world do this. LAN in Peru, I could save half for an internal flight. Because I speak Spanish, the agent let me do it (after I had found it) I fly to TCI on American all the time from Miami. Persons living in TCI flying to Miami pay almost twice as much–and they’re not allowed to purchase thru US sight, even with a US credit Card. So we do it too–

  • Mel65

    Many things are priced differently in Europe or Canada or wherever… hell many things are priced differently state to state. I live in Ohio, but when I travel to Wisconsin, I make it a point to stop in Indiana for gas because it’s always quite a bit cheaper than Ohio, Illinoi or Wisconsin. Crying “not fair” because someone else got a better deal is a guaranteed path to resentment and constant irritation. Let it go… just let it go.

  • Éamon deValera

    It may be that at the time the Norwegian site was search the US site had them at that price too. I doubt he searched both simultaneously.

    It is not unusual for an airline to have different prices based upon the residence of the customer. It is preferred that the tickets be booked in / out – in the country in which you’re resident and from which you’re flying out. Sometimes it is compulsory according to airline rules.

    Even using different operating systems and browsers can yield different prices for the same thing. I tested this with hotels and rental cars. One browser/OS was almost always a few dollars more comparing apples to apples.

  • Realitoes

    Not really unfair, as Norway is a different market than the US. Income, cost of living and taxation (which affects their disposable income) is quite different in Norway and will have an affect on how consumers view prices for certain products. What we as American’s consider a deal, could very well be considered by Norwegians as too expensive – and vice versa.

  • Lindabator

    They have visit USA fares, which make the cost lower, as they do NOT travel over here as often as we travel over there. So to get them to come over here, spend time (and money locally), they have lower airfares. We get the same thing in some cases to certain areas – like this last month the airfare to T&C was lower than local fares were – but flying here from there was at least double the cost.

  • pauletteb

    I believe there have been articles here about cruise lines doing the same thing, including special rates solely for Florida residents or from some other state.

  • pauletteb

    AA does have “choice” rates that allow you to change your flight without a change fee. In most cases the first “choice” fare class is only about $25 more than the totally nonrefundable ticket.

  • Jason J Olson

    However, is the use of the term “nationality” analogous to country of purchase and/or currency used. This doesn’t seem to be a case of US Citizen versus Canadian versus German, but rather location of purchase and possibly currency used. Would a $2000 EUR television sold in Italy be required to be $1550 GBP in England?

  • Jason J Olson

    Regardless of where the lower price was found, why have we abandoned our understanding of ‘non-refundable, non-changeable’ tickets. If he purchased a refundable ticket, he would have options. Although in this case, he still might be stuck, some ticketing rules are set that such transactions (as booking on the Norwegian site) could be not permitted, and he may find an additional bill waiting for him after the trip for violating those rules.

  • Michael__K

    The key language from the agreement is “any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.”

    As the EU consumer website explains, this means:

    As EU national you cannot be charged a higher price when buying products or services because of your nationality or country of residence.

    Some price differences can however be justified, if they are based on objective criteria other than nationality.

    In your example of a TV model sold in Italy and in England, a price discrepancy is expected and permissible assuming this reflects discrepancies in supply chain, logistical, real estate costs, etc.

    With respect to airline tickets purchases online, the issue has already been adjudicated by the European Commission and the airlines were ordered to cease and desist their price discrimination practices, at least for EU nationals:

  • John McDonald

    maybe the stupid 24 hour refund rule in USA, means they charge more in USA. Be very careful what you wish for !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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