Qatar Airways’ (Unrealistic?) Growth Plans: 220 Destinations By 2022

I love flying with Qatar Airways. They have a phenomenal onboard product, and flying with them is my favorite way to earn American AAdvantage miles, given their participation in oneworld.

I’m also amused by Qatar Airways. Their CEO, Akbar Al Baker, is one of the most outspoken guys in the airline industry. He says some pretty ridiculous stuff, and he’s also the biggest optimist I’ve ever met. In other words, take what he says with a grain of salt when it comes to Qatar Airways’ future, since he constantly over promises. That’s not to say that he isn’t a bright guy and doesn’t run a great airline, but he simply consistently stretches the truth, or even outright lies.

Anyway, Qatar Airways has set an interesting growth goal, in spite of the challenges they face due to the Gulf blockade. Qatar Airways wants to fly to 250 destinations by 2022. Specifically, they want to fly to at least 220 destinations with passenger planes, while the remaining destinations would be served by cargo planes only. It’s logical they’d set a goal for 2022, given that Qatar is hosting the World Cup then.

For reference, the airline currently flies to just over 160 destinations, so they’d need to add about 60 new destinations over the next four years, or about 15 destinations per year. That’s a lot of destinations for an airline to add.

How realistic is adding 15 destinations per year?

Perhaps an airlines’ past record of adding new routes is an accurate indicator of their future performance. I’ve never seen an airline that “announces” new routes without following through on them quite to the degree that Qatar Airways does.

For example, in late 2016, Qatar Airways announced that they’d add service to the following destinations:

  • Canberra, Australia
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Las Vegas, United States
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Santiago, Chile
  • Medan, Indonesia
  • Tabuk, Saudi Arabia
  • Yanbu, Saudi Arabia

Now, in fairness, this was before the Gulf blockade happened, though how many of those destinations have they added? Two — just Canberra and Dublin. Las Vegas, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, and Medan never happened, and the Saudi Arabia destinations didn’t happen due to the blockade.

Then in March of this year, Qatar Airways announced that they’d add service to the following destinations:

  • Cardiff, United Kingdom
  • London Gatwick, United Kingdom
  • Tallinn, Estonia
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Malaga, Spain
  • Thessaloniki, Greece
  • Valletta, Malta
  • Antalya, Turkey
  • Da Nang, Vietnam
  • Davao, Philippines
  • Langkawi, Malaysia
  • Cebu, Philippines
  • Luxembourg
  • Bodrum, Turkey

They have indeed scheduled new year-round service to Cardiff, London Gatwick, and Thessaloniki, through the end of the schedule. They’ve also scheduled seasonal service to Malaga, Antalya, and Bodrum, but it remains to be seen if those flights will be renewed beyond then.

Now, in fairness, they said they’d launch these routes in 2018-2019, though you’d think they would want to start selling seats on the routes sooner rather than later. Personally I’d be shocked if more than half of these routes are actually added by the end of 2019.

The reason I even bring up these supposed new routes is because the airline has a history of announcing new routes and not following through on them, so I see no reason this announcement would be any different.

Comparing Qatar Airways’ destinations to other airlines

Qatar Airways already has a huge global route network, with 160+ destinations. They actually fly to more destinations than Emirates, which flies to “only” 150+ destinations. However, that makes sense, because Emirates only operates widebodies, so it’s not feasible for them to operate to many of the smaller airports that Qatar Airways can serve. Emirates certainly operates a lot more frequencies in the markets they do fly to, but they don’t fly as many places.

Perhaps the gold standard when it comes to the number of destinations served is Turkish Airlines. They fly to more countries than any airline in the world, and they have a fleet with a mix of narrowbody and widebody aircraft, which maximizes the number of places they can fly. They fly to 230 international destinations in 119 countries, so it seems like Qatar Airways is hoping to serve as many destinations as them within a few years.

The catch is that Qatar Airways is blocked out of many of the markets that could potentially lead to that growth, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

Bottom line

Qatar Airways is in a difficult spot at the moment. They’re losing money, and the current Gulf blockade not only limits the destinations they can serve, but also increases their flight time on many routes. On one hand I commend them for continuing to move forward (which is only possible thanks to their government having faith in the airline and willing to invest a lot of money), though at the same time I’ll go on record now as saying that there’s no way they’ll serve 220 destinations by 2022.

Generally history is the best indicator of what will happen in the future, and while the airline has grown quickly, they’ve almost always over promises their new routes. I’d guess they’ll get to somewhere between 190 and 200 destinations by 2022.

What do you think — is Qatar Airways’ goal of adding about 60 destinations in four years realistic?

Comments

  1. Perhaps the year mentioned (2022) is by no coincidence the year when Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup.

  2. Lucky, you mention that QR have only launched services to Canberra, Gatwick and Thessaloniki out of their new announced routes this year. QR actually have also launched flights to Malaga, Antalya, and Bodrum as well and they are operating now. Malaga is operated by 787 and the other two Turkish routes by the regional A320s

  3. @ Pursh — Interesting. I looked up availability on all of these routes for next April (which you’d think would be the best indicator, about 10 months out), but all of the routes don’t show in the schedule then. Any clue why they’re operating them now but they didn’t schedule them for next year? Very strange…

  4. Track record, and a lack of planes/orders makes this unlikely I think. I also feel a lot of destinations they can go to only have demand that can met by 737max/321neo planes but may be too far to use these. Las Vegas would be an example, I find it hard to belive you can consistenly fill a 330/787 with traffic from there to the small number of ME countries they can fly to as well African Countries. NA,SA,EU and Eastern Asian countries are all more effeciently covered by other airlines.

  5. @ lucky – Those three routes are operating on a seasonal basis until end of September. Another example is Mykonos which QR just launched in 30 May this year and will operate until mid-October. We’ll see if these routes will do well enough to be renewed for next summer

  6. they’ll probably find a bunch of weasel ways like serving London Luton and London Stansted or even freaking London Southend and calling it “3 new destinations”

  7. It would be really interesting to know how many unique destinations do FlyDubai and Emirates fly combined?

  8. I think their strategy is to add basically any destination the can economically operate with available aircraft. That’s why quite a few minor destinations have been added in SE-Europe, Central Asia, East Africa and the Indian Subcontinent. All of them can be served with their A320 – which were initially purchased to serve the Middle East, but now are on idle due to the blockade.

    But they still do their strategic job, they bring pax to Doha in order to fly them to the world. It probably doesn’t matter too much whether they attract the traffic in Greece or Egypt …

  9. If they could get close to 200 it would be impressive. I can see them adding several short haul routes to utilise their single aisle jets

    Though I have my doubts I hope they get close as love flying them and if they open up routes to countries I want to visit then I’ll be getting lots of avios and tier points with them

  10. Can I use AA miles for award tickets for Qatar flights from the US to Asia? Which regions, and how many miles would I need? I guess I would need to call AA to do that. Thank you.

  11. @ Daniel B. — For Asia 1 and Asia 2 it would require two separate awards, so you’d have to book a US to Middle East award, and then a Middle East to Asia award. However, you can use miles to “Asia” in the sense that you can go to India, the Middle East, etc., on a single award.

  12. There are reports that they will be starting a new domestic airline in India – see https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/qatar-air-to-apply-soon-to-start-airline-in-india/articleshow/64008400.cms and similar reports. Is that true? Are those destinations being counted separately or within the 250, although they do seem to have a lot of destinations in India already?

    There are also destinations like Vic Falls they have previously announced but aren’t flying. Naples is another obvious addition. I don’t think 250 is necessarily out of reach.

  13. The recent elections in Turkey have given President Erdogan a mass of power that is comparable to a dictator. For two years already nothing happens in Turkey that is against his will. There is also no freedom of press any more and a big number of people that are against the regime are arrested. That all doesn’t sound like Turkey being the top-level tourist attraction it used to be, does it?

    So I am duly expecting Turkish Airlines to cease operation to many of their current destinations within a few years. And I think what Al Baker means by his goal is that they will gain many spots TK will lose!

  14. Last year and some of Q1 2018 I was a loyal platinum who earned over 1500 Qpoints (remember platinum is only 600) flying QR from Europe to doha and many times to the Far East (almost all biz). While their in flight service is great (maybe the very best) their ground support and customer service is horrible. Also they completely screwed over the entire QR privledge club program by literally cutting the value in half with no notice and at the same time making it very difficult to redeem, by pushing all redemptions online and having a 2-3 day response time on most. Luckily I had purchased some points tickets before the deval. While the may have some good seats (only a350/787/new qsuites and the 380s I cannot keep see myself ever flying them again. To treat your best members this way means they mean nothing to you.

    So I took my last 225k miles and booked a one way JAL from LHR to HND I’m first class. BTW I booked my girlfriend the same using AA miles and it cost 90K miles. I know it’s a pretty bad redemption but why should I wait for the next devaluation the value already dropped 50-60% overnight this year. Also btw try to find the saver or low level points tickets and even 3-6-9-12 months out there are almost no options on any half busy route. What amazes me is that if I check on expert flyer I can literally see an empty biz class without a single sold ticket but not one saver points ticket available….

    Btw in the last 6 months I have yet to see a plane even half full on non India flight. How long will that last..

    If you ever have a problem and need to switch your flight or god forbid you miss a flight don’t expect any real help their call center is so I empowered it is rediculous.

    Lucky! I know your a QR fanboy and I was too for a long time. But for once I hope the travel community stands up against these things….. please help us as people listen to you and Al Baker might not realize he is in the process of loosing every possible loyalist. By the actions I guess he doesn’t care!!

  15. It is actually confusing why QR does not plan on flying to Taiwan. EK flies daily using a380 with an average load of 80% year round. And TK daily using 773ER with 90% load year round. Especially that Qatar is recruiting in Taiwan like thrice a year

  16. Can’t wait for BNE to be added as they are currently giving away flights from SYD to DUB. Great for the POMs in AU

  17. @Ben O
    I don’t know which other routes you fly when you say “I have yet to see a plane even half full on non India flight”, but let me tell you that for example, out of Jakarta (where they have 3 daily flights on 788), at least the one I always use, leaving after midnight, is always full.
    On my last flight there was not a single empty seat in both classes.
    A couple of weeks actually I flew JKT-DOH-LHR and then MAD-DOH-JKT and all the flights were full in Business and I took a quick look on Economy and it was the same.
    So I do not agree with your comment saying that the non India flights are going half full.
    FYI, I have been also a Platinum for years and have already got the points to renew next year so I have secured status until March 2020. And I do not plan to change them.
    Agree with you that currently they have reduced a lot award space on saver fares, you are right.
    But on my experience and regarding Customer Service to Platinum members, it has been great all the time, I cannot complain at all.
    So, just my thoughts. Thanks

  18. @Ben O- Just a minor data point but I fly ORD-NBO a couple of times a year, usually on either TK or QR and the QR flights are consistently full in J.

    I do agree with you about the lack of ground services during IRROPs, though. I’ve mostly had to figure stuff out on my own when that happens. And award availability has dried up also when I try using partner miles for QR flights (usually AA or BA).

  19. @Ricardo

    I agree. 220 destinations by 2022 is likely, but it remains to be seen how many will be kept post-WC 2022. And I suspect beyond the WC, QR will start being forced to cut back like EY is doing.

  20. Emirates and Fly Dubai have 216 unique destination between them with this expected to reach 240 by 2022

  21. I’d like to see Qatar route to – from Cairns Australia, fantastic tropical destination with a big International airport that can cope with a lot more long haul aircraft. CX currently do HKG/CNS/BNE/HKG for instance, and are one of just a few full service airlines to fly direct to Cairns.

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