Qatar Airways Implements Unprecedented Downgrades To Upgrades

Qatar Airways has just made a really pathetic change to their lounge access policy. For tickets issued as of February 5, 2018, Qatar Airways tickets upgraded with Qmiles or Qpoints will receive the baggage and lounge access entitlements based on the original ticket purchased, and not the upgraded class.

I first saw this mentioned in this FlyerTalk thread, though in the meantime have confirmed this with a Qatar Airways source. In other words:

  • Those upgrading from economy to business class will no longer receive access to the Al Mourjan Lounge in Doha
  • Those upgrading from business to first class (or from economy to first class on shorthaul flights within the Gulf) will no longer receive access to the Al Safwa Lounge in Doha


Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Lounge

The same policy will apply at outstations. This is Qatar Airways’ second cut to lounge access in a few months — as of November 6, 2017, Qatar Airways stopped granting lounge access to passengers who upgraded using miles on the day of departure. I found that to be an unfortunate policy change, though that impacted a small percentage of people. Now that they expanded this to those upgrading in advance, this impacts a lot more people.

No longer granting lounge access to all upgraded passengers is a radical move for an airline to make, and a huge cut to the frequent flyer program. While we’ve seen some airlines restrict certain services to those who upgraded (like chauffeur service), virtually every airline grants upgraded passengers access to the full lounge experience. There are two (minor) exceptions:

  • Alaska grants paid and award first class passengers lounge access, while they don’t grant upgraded passengers lounge access; however, that policy is incredibly generous to begin with, as they’re the only US airline to grant paid first class passengers lounge access on all routes
  • Air Canada restricts access to their Signature Suite in Toronto to paid business class passengers, though they still grant upgraded and award passengers access to the standard Maple Leaf Lounge, as before


Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto

Qatar Airways passengers booked on award tickets are still eligible for lounge access (at least as of now). So if you redeem 40,000 American AAdvantage miles for a business class award ticket from Doha to Tokyo you get lounge access, while if you pay for an economy ticket and redeem 42,500 Qatar Privileges Club miles to upgrade, you don’t.

This policy change on the part of Qatar Airways is customer unfriendly and incredibly shortsighted. The airline should be doing more than ever before to encourage customers to be loyal to them (given the blockade, and challenges that has brought), rather than adding arbitrary restrictions to tickets.

I can appreciate that the Al Mourjan Lounge sometimes has crowding issues, though the Al Safwa Lounge is quieter than ever before. That’s because the lounge is only open to those traveling in first class on their A380s, as well as those traveling in first class on flights within the Gulf. Since Qatar can’t fly to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, I’d estimate that the number of people with access to that lounge has probably been cut in half. Now they’re restricting it even further, as anyone upgrading on a short flight within the Gulf won’t get lounge access either. Are they planning on just shutting the lounge down?


Qatar Airways Al Safwa Lounge Doha

What a disappointing move…

Comments

  1. As an OWE, I am never impressed by QR’s paid J lounge. It looks stunning and offers lots of options, while the food and drinks in general are okay at the best compared with others…

  2. These lounges are hardly anything to write home about. I’ve been in both and I can’t for the life of me work out why Al Safwa is a first class lounge. The shower room wasn’t cleaned in between use and the buffet looked repulsive. I was told there was Al A Carte dining but I couldn’t find it.

    The Al Morjan lounge is such a strange lay out. I’ve always been to full from the onboard catering to eat there. Having only two bars (one of which is upstairs) in such a vast space is mind boggling.

    The only thing passengers without lounge access here will miss is peace and tranquillity in my experience.

  3. As a Platinum member with QR “shitty” Frequent flyer program, I have long stopped flying with them on long-haul. The only benefit is the emerald status which I use to fly with Finnair, BA, Japan Airlines and of course Cathay. These Airlines offer excellent lounges unlike the shitty Emerald lounge you find in Doha Airport.

  4. Are these changes related to the complete lack of J award availability on QR?

    I used to be able to find 4 J seats on almost any segment. Now I’m hard pressed to find 1 or 2.

  5. Technically, when you upgrade on Air Canada using eUpgrade credits, you are not entitled to lounge access. However, in practice, most lounge agents will still let you in.

    https://www.aircanada.com/ca/en/aco/home/altitude/eupgrades/terms-and-conditions.html

    “Although you will be seated in either Premium Economy or Business Class when your upgrade is confirmed, your booking will remain subject to the fare rules and restrictions of the booking class and fare option you originally purchased. These rules include, but are not limited to, mileage accumulation, change and cancellation fees, access to airport lounges and baggage allowance”

  6. Sort of related: I used points last year to book an Emirates business class award ticket but ticketed with their partner Malaysia (before the devaluation last May). At JFK I didn’t get lounge access because it was under construction, so they gave me a $40 voucher. In Dubai, they didn’t give me lounge access because it was ticketed through Malaysia. I thought that was strange and called customer service, who confirmed that award tickets don’t get lounge access if booked through a partner.

  7. Ben,
    This is no different that Emirates policy. THey are copying what they do. I have upgraded (paid) several times on EK. When you are buying it clearly states you can’t access the lounge. So it’s not different.

  8. Finally we will see Qatar Airways stops granting lounge access to passengers who flies Business or First with their tickets from redeeming miles~

  9. I’m booked in business on an award ticket for July. Very glad I still have access to the business class lounge in Doha (for now).

  10. Question: I know a lot of you have traveled on Middle Eastern carriers in business before, so I hope I can get some insight.

    I want to fly between HK and BKK in business class. Is it better to fly Emirates A385 or Royal Jordanian 787-9. What would the difference be in terms of service, soft products, and amenities? Which lounges do they use in BKK? I know Emirates has its own lounge in HK, but what about Royal Jordanian? Which of these airlines have better lounges? Thank you.

  11. Related – If you book a Business class award ticket on Emirates using Alaska miles, do you get lounge access in Dubai?

    Thanks!

  12. Hmm, interesting, didn’t know about EK policy and agree it seems QR will be following EK. I’ll have to rethink my South Asia preferred carriers again. Perhaps will dabble back into the Euro carriers.

  13. I upgraded using cash from Hong Kong to Doha and back again. Wasn’t allowed lounge access in Hong Kong. The flight back had technical problems and an eight hour delay, had no issue accessing the lounge in Doha despite the rule. Don’t think it was due to the long delay more boarding pass was just glanced at and says business. The cash upgrade was around £300 which seems like a good deal but yeah it feels a bit cheap to put these restrictions on lounge access.

  14. @Stanley do Emirates. For that short of a flight, the seat doesn’t matter. Their service is way more polished and you’ll have the biz bar in flight.
    On the ground, Emirates also better. Only time RJ would be better is on long flight when you want aisle access and nobody stepping over you guaranteed… which still might not justify not flying Emirates.

  15. qatar airways are not the best any more , they cut a lot they invest in others stuff. Eformula 1 , tennis etc etc lost money evrywhere

  16. I don’t like them at all. The food arrangements are not great, like a pale pink copy of Qantas F lounges. I can imagine that they are fine for families traveling but not much fun for couples/singles. Al Safwa is like a mausoleum; the last time I was there it had no more than 20 guests total.
    They must cost mega £€¥$ to run and I would have thought it would make sense to increase traffic rather than restrict it, if only from a marketing perspective. I’ve never seen the J lounge crowded either, over at least 20-25 visits.

  17. I was trying to decide for a trip later this year to either book a round trip in economy from DOH-LHR and use 30k QA privilege miles to upgrade, or just use 42.5k AA miles to book an award flight.
    So basically, if I pay for an economy ticket and use the 30k miles to upgrade I don’t get access but if I use my AA miles for an award flight I do get access?

  18. This is all incredibly amusing and seems to lend some credibility to the US3 arguments about subsidies. Now that the oil economy is putting the hurt on the gulf states they’re less interested in funding these money losing airlines. And now the airlines are having to cut back to reign in spending and losses. Even more amusing is the fact that the 1% or less of travelers that these policy changes will affect are crying about it. These changes merely show that the airline is working to keep costs manageable and to restrict where it makes sense.

    I’m no US3 apologist, either. But it looks like they’re getting the evidence they’ve always lacked in their fight.

  19. No big deal. QR silver, gold, and Plat members (and whatever their equivalent in OneWorld) get some lounge access (not necessarily the same lounge). In DOH I personally prefer the alternative First Class lounge. It’s much quiter and the food is OK. I think it makes a difference in LHR/CDG where you have access to some contracted lounge instead of Qatar’s amazing ones.

  20. What a curious and odd decision.

    FWIW, SAS also restricts upgraded pax to their original baggage allowance. It’s never made sense to me, but it is what it is. Fortunately, though, all other perks of the upgraded cabin are available, including lounge access. …Except that SAS cut third party lounges/fast track security, so intra-Europe upgrades aren’t really worth it (unlike Euro Business, SAS Plus sells the middle seats).

  21. A discouraging decision – are times that bad? For my part, they can stick it! Loads of other options available without them doing me any big favours!

  22. @ Alan

    Brilliant analysis except … Qatar doesn’t have oil. It’s sitting on some of the world’s largest known reserves of natural gas. Different commodity, different economics.

    I’d have more sympathy for the US3 if they weren’t themselves subsidy junkies. They take hard cash to operate uneconomic routes, the Boeings they mostly favour are subsidised by tax “incentives” and cross-subsidy from defence spending, and they benefit from the extraordinary Chapter 11 system that lets them shed hundreds and hundreds of millions in liabilities as if those debts were nothing to do with them. And the US3 still can’t provide a consistent service experience worth a damn.

    I don’t have a problem with what Qatar have done. We work our arses off to game the points system and get something for (near-)nothing. The airlines should be expected to respond – not least to protect the core purpose of the system, which is intended to encourage higher-spending frequent flyers to give them as much business as possible.

    People who spend their time churning credit cards to gain maximum sign-up bonuses are not, from the airline’s perspective, particularly desirable customers. Get over it.

  23. This is absolutely crap.
    The value of my QMiles has plummeted even further than my stock portfolio this week 🙁

    The Al Safwa has always been eerily quiet whenever I’ve been in there so I think they should have taken a different approach here and made more flyers eligible for access there, taking a burden off the Al Mourjan.

    Can’t recall, do QR sell lounge access for cash now ? I think they do don’t they – or is that Etihad ?

    The lack of advance warning is also absolutely dire behaviour.

    Oh well, another frequent flyer perk destroyed.

  24. At AeroMexico, it is standing policy to deny upgraded passengers access to their lounges. I experienced it myself after having upgraded myself to Premier two days in advance for my MEX-AMS flight. “No señor, is promoción! No access for you.” Fortunately for me and my companion, we both hold SkyTeam Elite Plus status, but without that, we would not have had access.
    See https://aeromexico.com/en-us/flying-with-us/clase-premier-upgrade, at the bottom.

  25. Q_Miles and Q_Credits are used to upgrade – Q_Points cannot be redeemed; they determine your tier in Qatar Airways’ Privilege Club (and One World member airlines).

    I’m surprised at some of the comments. The selection of ‘refreshments’ in both lounges in Doha is excellent unless you have an addiction to JW Blue. I also found their buffets to be comprehensive; one side for Middle Eastern tastes the other more International.

    I miss QR and the Doha terminal. Hoping Riyadh and Doha settle their differences.

  26. Very bad move Qatar!

    Upgrading using Qmiles and QCredit without lounge access to your Privilege Club members will make you loose your passengers loyalty.

    Time to look for another One World carriers.

  27. @The nice Paul

    Brilliant analysis except … saying the U.S. carriers “benefit from the extraordinary Chapter 11 system” kinda skips that whole part of the bankruptcy where all of their owners are completely financially wiped out to zero.

  28. @ Rob

    Yes, it’s a bugger isn’t it? But Ch.11 enables the US airlines to shed squillions in debt and carry on as if nothing has happened. Isn’t that exactly what the US3 complains the ME3 are doing?

    The correct parallel maybe that the ME3 are spending profits from their natural resources which otherwise would go to – who? Ordinary citizens, or the few hyper-rich families that control the economies in those countries?

    So the US3 are subsidised by their poor creditors; the ME3 by proceeds from natural resources. I’m struggling to see any philosophical difference.

    I’m anyway intrigued that the US3 seem to boast of their current profitability. Well, yes, if you’ve managed to chuck away all the deadweight of your past accumulated debts, of course you can be profitable. I’m much more impressed by the EU3, none of which have benefitted from bankruptcy, all of which seem more genuinely profitable.

  29. Interesting, I wonder how much they can really save with this. A lounge seems more like a fixed cost thing, I can’t imagine that there is really a lot to be saved if the number of visitors goes down by 10% or so. How much can a bit more food and drink really be?

  30. Qatar have made a lot of strange frequent flyer programme decisions in recent years, but this is probably the worst.

    Totally, utterly stupid – as a QRPC member this will encourage me to just book an outright redemption (which as QR Plat are totally refundable for free until 3 hours before the flight!) rather than paying QR cash for a less flexible cash fare and then upgrading with miles. QR now treats AA mileage redemptions better than QRPC members on an (often quite expensive) underlying upgradable cash fare. I might abandon QRPC altogether and move back to crediting QR flights to BAEC.

  31. This is a very interesting policy as I have visited both lounges multiple times and neither have ever been even close to being well occupied. The maximum I have ever seen are two dozen people which is minuscule when compared to the exorbitant sizes of both lounges.

  32. Alaska grants paid and award first class passengers lounge access, while they don’t grant upgraded passengers lounge access; however, that policy is incredibly generous to begin with, as they’re the only US airline to grant paid first class passengers lounge access on all routes

    incorrect…Hawaiian Air allows paid and upgraded passengers access where they have lounge locations

  33. Once again Qatar Airways keeps cutting benefits. Few years ago, Qatar Airways changed their point and Q credit system, and not for the benefits to their loyal customers, recently the cut away lounge access lounge access when you upgrade at the airport and their final cut is no lounge upgrade at all when upgrading by miles or q credits :-/
    Al Safwa lounge has always been very empty, especially after the boy-cut from other UAE countries. They might as well close it down before it becomes abandoned it self. I look fwd to my trip DOH-SYD on first later this month, it’s properly going to be my last on QR.

  34. @Lucky

    You might want to change from Qpoints to Qcredits, as the former are for qualifying, and latter for upgrading.

  35. This actually happened to me in December when traveling back from the Seychelles. We had purchased an upgrade so they weren’t going to let us into the business class lounge. It was our honeymoon so we begged and looked sad and amazingly they made an exception! But it appears this has been going on for a while.

  36. I sat at that 1st table on the left in the last pic. It was before the policy change and the lounge was already empty. I was the only guest in that section.

    One correction to the article. Etihad also does not give you a lounge if you bid on the upgrade. It is a restricted upgrade. But then if you have Gold status, then u can get into the lounge anyway. Or with Platinum, you have access to the First Class lounge irrespective of your ticket.

  37. I just booked Business Class flights to Indonesia with QR. There’s an option to pay extra to buy lounge access in Doha when you book, no matter what your ticket is.

  38. Could the fact that they are removing benefits from upgrade passengers but not award passengers be a side-effect of not offering a PE cabin as most other premium international carriers do?

    Also, I assume an upgraded passenger with OW sapphire or Emerald status would continue to receive lounge access (albeit at the “first class lounge” not the al-Safwa or al-Mourjan if I recall) so what percentage of passengers who are not already elite in the alliance are upgrading their flights? It would be infrequent fliers using credit card points and miles. The change still sucks, but it still likely impacts a minority of upgrading passengers.

  39. I upgraded at the airport in December and was told I could not use the Al Mourjan lounge.
    I proceeded to the “business class” lounge whereupon I was stopped by the lady at the foot of the escalators “Oh no Sir, you should go to the Al Mourjan lounge 🙂 .”
    I was about to explain it to her but thought better of that, so proceed I did. No issue gaining access.
    Skip forward to February and I’ve upgraded with cash through an offer sent to me by email.
    At check in it explained that I may not use the Al Mourjan but this time I ignored her and once again gained entry with no questions asked.

    Fortune favours the bold it seems.

  40. My ticket was issued and upgraded using Credit on 16 January before the changes, I have 40 Kg luggage allowance on my tickets. Do I still qualify for al murian lounge right? This change only applies for upgrades after 5th feb. I am flying in June.
    Really disappointed by QR, they are dropping every privilege one to one, I flew a lot with them because of the privilege club benefits, now I m flying much less.

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