Qatar Airways Adds Annoying New “Redemption Booking Fee”

Filed Under: Awards, Qatar

Update: Qatar Airways has eliminated this fee as of June 2020.

I frequently commend the Gulf carriers for their superior onboard products, excellent service, and attractive fares. However, I’ve also long said that they leave so much on the table with their subpar loyalty programs. It makes no sense to me.

Qatar Airways Qsuites business class

If there’s one region in the world that would benefit from world class loyalty programs, it’s the Gulf:

  • Much of their traffic is low yield, given how cheap their fares are
  • While lots of people generally like flying with the Gulf carriers, many people aren’t loyal to one specific Gulf carrier, because there’s not really an incentive to be; they might fly Qatar Airways on one trip, and Etihad Airways on another trip
  • Generally speaking Gulf carriers have quite a few empty premium cabin seats (at least in some markets) and are sometimes overbooked in economy, which seems like an opportunity; rather than operationally upgrading people, why not create a better formalized upgrade program?

As far as the loyalty programs of the “big three” Gulf carriers go, I generally think Etihad Guest is the best, followed by Emirates Skywards, followed by Qatar Airways Privilege Club. I don’t consider Etihad Guest to be a good program, which should give you a sense of how I feel about the other two programs.

I just don’t think Privilege Club gets it. The program was bad to begin with, but recently got even worse:

  • In February they eliminated lounge access for those upgrading, while they continue to award lounge access for those on award tickets; given Privilege Club’s outrageously high upgrade costs (often more than an outright award ticket through American AAdvantage), this just seems punitive
  • In March they moved their loyalty program completely online — they don’t have a contact center through which they provide any sort of loyalty program support anymore

Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Lounge Doha

Now the program is back with its latest negative change. As of May 27, 2018, Qatar Airways Privileges Club is introducing a new redemption booking fee. Specifically, they’re charging $25, $50, or $75, per award sector in economy, business, or first, respectively.

On principle this fee irks me more than just about anything else a loyalty program could do:

  • Do I like carrier imposed surcharges (aka fuel surcharges)? Absolutely not, I hate them, but at least they’re tied to the cost of something also charged on revenue bookings
  • Do I like ticketing fees for booking by phone, or for booking a partner redemption? Absolutely not, but I get the concept of it

Qatar Airways A320

But here they’re charging a fee for the privilege of redeeming miles on their own flights through their own website. That’s just plain absurd, and is a pathetic way for them to try and increase revenue. The whole point of miles is that they’re supposed to feel like a reward, and when you charge a fee just because you can (and one that doesn’t reflect a cost incurred, and doesn’t reflect something that would be charged on a revenue ticket), that’s pretty low.

I know Qatar Airways is in a bad financial situation, but it almost seems like they’re taking an Etihad-esque approach, and trying to cut their way out of losses. A loyalty program should be used to increase customer engagement with a little bit of investment, rather than a way to nickel-and-dime people with fees.

Qatar Airways has also announced that they’re revising their Qpoints earning structure as of that date, though the details haven’t yet been revealed. This is their equivalent of elite qualifying miles, and you can expect these changes to follow the general industry trend — they’ll award more points on more expensive tickets, and fewer points on cheaper tickets.

Bottom line

Personally I’m not impacted by this, because I don’t collect miles with Qatar Airways Privilege Club, and don’t recommend others do either. However, I can’t really wrap my head around what they’re thinking here. Qatar Airways already has the worst loyalty program of the “big three” Gulf carriers, and in my opinion it only keeps getting worse.

  1. Limited award availability as well, zero business class out of ORD while EK/EY are wide open. What is the point of having a program if your members can’t redeem on it?

  2. You mentioned having a formalized upgrade program for flights that tend to be overbooked most of the time. From what I hear, EY and EK normally sends an email to economy passengers a day or two before departure with a great upgrade offer (i.e. $600-$900) to fly business class on that segment. I think this is the tactic they’re using to avoid op-ups to their elite flyers flying economy and get some $$$ at the same time.

  3. If you read flyertalk you can see how unhappy there frequent fliers are. I think the charges are palatable if the availability, options, ability to call, partners and redemption amounts were reasonable (they are not).

    Who is in charge of loyalty at QR, it can’t be Baker? Seems like they need to be reassigned.

  4. Seems like Gulf carriers are more and more adopting more policies and fees that seem very ‘American’…

  5. I don’t know about QR but my understanding is that EK and EY both prioritize by status as part of the formula for selecting who gets operational upgrades. I’m not sure why they need to do more than that? Even the US Big 3, who are by far the most generous with giving away upgrades of any airlines globally, have operational upgrades from time to time (mainly on international routes); their existence does not imply that anything is necessarily wrong. If you don’t have to, and especially if a lot of your traffic is low-yield to begin with, it certainly doesn’t make sense to start giving away lots of additional upgrades, including on some flights that might not need op-ups, just because you have op-ups sometimes.

  6. @ Bgriff — Right, Qatar prioritizes by status. My point is that you could create more goodwill by actually letting people confirm upgrades, rather than just get an upgrade due to operational reasons. Even if you don’t think they “need” to offer a good loyalty program, let’s keep in mind that these programs are cash cows for more airlines. That’s not so much the case at the Gulf carriers.

  7. The lounge picture shows the sandwich restaurant of the Al Mourjan business lounge, not the Al Safwa First Class lounge. Not that important for the article, but hey…

    And yes, the Qatar Privilege club is not attractive at all but I still enjoy flying Qatar every time.

  8. Qatar’s cabin upgrade is a scam.

    1- No lounge access
    2- No increase of baggage allowance
    3- Miles and Points are based on the actual booking ticket. Not the upgrade class.

    Based on my experience, Sri Lankan Airlines and Malaysia Airlines are more generous when it comes to cabin upgrade.

  9. @Lucky and others – what‘s the best oneworld ffp in your view then, for someone who isn‘t based in the US? I‘m currently emerald through Finnair but not necessarily a die-hard loyalist so would appreciate your opinion

  10. I may have missed the answer to my question in your article or discussion, but does the redemption booking fee also apply when redeeming airline partners’ miles to fly on QR metal?

  11. The one very good point with QR Privilege Club was that from time to time they had massive miles multipliers for premium travel. That compared with very cheap business class fares made it a good program for me. I’ve once scored 90k+ miles on a €1400 ex-EU to Asia business class trip. Unfortunately both seem to be more rare now. Only 2x multipliers and fares are definitely less competitive than the last few years. From now on I’ll be looking at other options to fly to Asia.

  12. I am trying for 3 weeks to cancel 2 flight award with QR
    The famous “Enhanced member experience”, everything with online form.

    No availability most of the year for upgrade or award without the X2 (paying double miles), impossible to change a flight award date if you have a flight without paying double miles (so lucky to find a rare X1).

    This inflexibility and now the new hided taxes, it’s really too much.

    QR still have money for invest a lot on Air Italy, what Al Baker has been thinking ?

  13. @Muhi +1

    Indeed what is the best one world ff program for someone not based in a country with a ‘home one world airline’?

    Similar question for star alliance, in case there is no home airline?

  14. While Star Alliance and SAS is my main membership I have had Privilege Club as a secondary program and it is horrible. I recently spent a week trying to get an award redemption on a partner airline, unsuccessfully, something that could have been done in ten minutes over the phone. Adding the new “enhancements” made me take my points (only 40,000) and convert to Accor points. At least I’ll get €160 out of it while now it’s almost worthless. I also sent an email telling them to close my account. Now I need to look for a new Oneworld airline to become member in. Based in Asia and Scandinavia I am leaning towards Finnair. BA looks good to get Oneworld status but the 4 BA flights is problematic for me.

  15. If you guys want to laugh hard check this job posting on their career website.
    They are looking for a Vice President CRM and Loyalty. The offere title is “QR16868 – Vice President CRM and Loyalty | Qatar Airways | Doha”

    The loyalty program is currently run by some clueless summer interns. I have been a Platinum members for years but I prefer to travel with other Oneworld airlines such as Cathay or Japan Airlines

  16. So because all the flights go via DOHA it will always be an extra $200 per return trip 🙁

    This sucks and is very unpleasant to bring in with such little warning or lead time.

    I’ll use my points up then hope the airline does go bankrupt.

  17. In fact I might just transfer all my points over to Accor (~600,000) so it costs them real money (and me no supplement) instead of just a J or F seat which would have gone empty otherwise.

  18. For me, a timely article. I had just signed up with Qatar’s FF loyalty program a few months back but yet to purchase my tickets for end of year travels( 3 x Asia to Europe/US trips planned) . By reading your article, is become patently clear Qatar has been / is treating its Privilege Club program more as a ” Penalty Club” of sorts (seriously!), I now don’t see any point in being Qatar’s FF customer just so that I can inflict pain on myself when other airlines will at least make me feel “privileged” if I give them my business and loyalty (Qatar Airways obviously doesn’t understand what the word means). Thanks Lucky for the heads-up

  19. Qatar Airways Privilege Club has become the Air Kyoro of ffp programs..

    The customer service is abysmal, for example Qatar Airways will refuse to process any Privilege Club transaction on the phone, even for their Gold and Platinum members.

    All requests regarding award tickets have to be made online by filling an antiquated form, then expect a very long delay (up to one month) before hearing back from Qatar Airways, despite theiradvertising of a 4 working days max delay (which is already bad).

  20. I have to defend QR Privilege Club a little bit, though we don’t know the details of the upcoming changes in qpoint earnings yet. I have a feeling that the changes won’t be that dramatic. I am based in EU, and flying at least 3 times in Asia per year and 1 time to the US per year. Usually economy. If I go to Asia, I always fly with QR. Previously I was in the AAdvantage program, but when AA moved to revenue based tier status, I also had to move. I considered the programs of BA, AY and QR, and for me, QR was the best choice. My reasons:
    – if I’m flying on QR, lounge access with Silver status (OW Ruby)
    – I can secure Gold status with that 4 longhaul trip
    – free one-way upgrade (EU-Asia or vice versa) when securing Gold status
    – I can collect way more miles: in 2017, I collected about 100K, while AY and BA would be around 25K only
    – better service on board
    – if flight is not full, you can ask the next seat to be blocked (if emtpy)

    Of course, the program has some disadvantages as well;
    – the Oneworld lounge at DOH is not really a good one and can be crowded
    – no service center, everything must be done online; for me it’s ok and working so far (ie, I always got answer to my award ticket and other requests within a day), but with milage retroclaim with Iberia they are really slow.

    Of course, these are only my experiences, and the comparison can be very different, if someone fly more often or on higher class. But for me, If I opted for Executive Club or Finnair Plus, I would have OW Ruby instead of OW Sapphire and I could collect way less miles. I just wanted to show that the situation is not black and white.

  21. I’ve accumulated about 25K miles with QR. PC Tried looking at redemptions and realised it was ridiculous. The one benefit of PC is that Silver members get lounge access.

    The thing is, if I input a Finnair or BA frequent flyer number the next time I fly, can I still use the Qatar-contracted lounge for its Silver members? That is, at airports other than Hamad (i.e. outside of Qatar).

  22. my tip would be aadvantage which is the one american uses.even the cheapest qatar airways flights in economy get points there which one can donate to a good cause.i am only in it due to qantas’s own program not helping me in that sense in how i have to pay them more to get my miles there.

  23. Sorry, folks, but I cannot get too upset at this. You are paying $75 or $150 for a ticket that would cost you out-of-pocket thousands of dollars? And the reality is that many of us reading this blog did not even earn those miles by being loyal to Qatar, but rather by booking from a partner or by transferring points from a credit currency. I would get more fired up at huge fuel surcharges that effectively render your award tickets far less valuable since you are paying a huge fee to fly for “free.” A Q-suite for $150? Sign me up! Sure beats the fuel surcharge I paid to get back to Atlanta non-stop on BA this summer.

  24. I was a loyal Qatar Airways Privilege Club Member until they made it almost
    impossible for me to redeem an award Business Class ticket without paying double the miles so I stopped being loyal to them, And now i search for the best deal that i can get no matter the airline.

  25. So, the new rates are out. As for the qpoints, the changes are minor:
    – for f, a, p, c, j and d classes you get higher rates, other classes remains the same, however
    – some routes falls into other categories; DOH/PEK and DOH-HKG i.e. used to be in par with DOH-HND/SHA, now they are in par with DOH-SGN/BKK. No category changes for DOH-EU (or at least I did not found any)
    – DOH-US is not one big category now, and generally earns more qpoints (and much more in business/first)

    As for award ticket, the rates went up on QR equipment. I’m not sure about availability yet. BUD-HND used to be 85000 on economy i.e, but I have never found award tickets for that rate. Now it is 145000 on paper, which should be closer to the real possibilities. Anyway, it was a better value to redeem on partner airlines, so this should not change that much.

    What really sucks is that award upgrade got more expensive. I recently checked BUD-HND, which was around 50-60000 from economy to business or 40 qcredits (one-way). Now it is 54000-107000 depending on booking class or 46 qcredits. The latter means that if you are gold and get 40 qcredits then you can upgrade only DOH-HND instead of BUD-HND (i.e.)

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