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This post was mostly written before today’s story that Qatar is joining oneworld, but it has been edited to reflect the good news.

Would they or wouldn’t they? The rumors have been swirling for several weeks about Qatar Airways joining the oneworld alliance. Today Qatar announced that it was joining oneworld, becoming the first major Middle Eastern carrier to join a global airline alliance. (No hate mail from Royal Jordanian please.) No time table was announced, but don’t expect the tie up to be complete before 2013/2014.

In the past 24 hours Qatar Airways has posted changes to the award and upgrade redemption charts of its frequent flyer program, Privilege Club. These changes will take effect November 1st.

What does Qatar bring to oneworld?

The Centre for Aviation has a concise chart that shows the new destinations in Africa, India, and the Middle East that Qatar brings to oneworld:

That’s very nice for oneworld. Why should I care?

I think that it is worthwhile to analyze the frequent flyer program of a potential new member of a major airline alliance for opportunities to travel less expensively or gain elite status and benefits more easily. While we currently only have a partial picture of how Qatar’s frequent flyer program will interface with those of other oneworld carriers, there is certainly enough information available to start analysis.

What is Qatar’s frequent flyer program?

Qatar’s frequent flyer program is called Privilege Club. Enrollment is limited to those 18 or older–so no individual accounts for the kids! Family members under the age of 18 can be added to your account and will earn 50%, 75%, or 100% of miles flown, depending on your elite status. Qmiles are the mileage currency of the program.

Earning Qmiles on Qatar Airways

Qmiles can be earned by flying on Qatar or its partner airlines and are valid 5 years from the time they are earned. According to the airline’s website, the number of Qmiles awarded is “calculated based upon the actual miles flown multiplied by a factor according to the booking class.” Here is the earning chart for flights on Qatar:

As you can see from the chart, the earning rates for several classes of travel–everything except first class and full-fare business class–will decrease as of November 1st.

Earning Qmiles on partner airlines

The inclusion of a section on earning mileage on partner airlines may seem illogical, as the presumption of this post is that Qatar is likely to join the oneworld alliance, and their current partner airlines will soon be irrelevant.  But I think it is helpful to highlight the trend of somewhat more generous mileage accrual for first and business class travel on partner airlines.

Just take a look at this–it is the current Qmiles earning chart of US Airways and the old, now defunct earning chart for United:


US Airways only allows Dividend miles accrual of 150% for paid first and business class fares, and United allows MileagePlus miles accrual of 250% for paid first class fares. But as you can see from the charts above, Qatar allowed members to accrue 300% of flown miles–Qmiles–on their partner airlines for premium fare classes.

If this trend of more generous mileage accrual for premium fares continues, those most likely to benefit from crediting their flights to Qatar’s Privilege Club are those who fly paid first and business class regularly.

This analysis doesn’t factor in the value to you of earning status through crediting paid fares. Your status goals may make your crediting decision for you. If you don’t know what the difference between redeemable miles and status miles are, see Choosing Where to Credit Miles Earned from Flying.

Transferring SPG Points

SPG Starpoints transfer to Qatar at a 1:1 ratio with a 5,000 miles bonus on 20,000 point increments, meaning that 20k Starpoints = 25k Qmiles.

Redeeming Qmiles on Qatar Airways

If award tickets are booked online more than 48 hours of travel, there is no award ticketing fee, no matter what your status with the airline. Under any other conditions, there is an impressively long list of ways that you can be charged for redeeming miles for an award ticket that can be found here.

Though the length is long, the fees are very reasonable. Date changes, destination changes, and even cancellations made more than 24 hour out cost only $25. And the close-in ticketing fees start at 7 days out instead of the American-standard 21 days out.

The Qmile redemption chart for Qatar flights is region-based–in an earlier post, I described the different types of frequent flyer miles. This chart shows the number of Qmiles needed for roundtrip travel between the airline’s hub, Doha, and 13 defined regions:

For multi-leg itineraries, each segment is priced separately then combined. For example, a roundtrip economy class award ticket from London to Male, Maldives is 60,000 Qmiles–35,000 Qmiles for the London-Doha segment and 25,000 Qmiles for the Doha-Male segment–and $443.35 in taxes, fees, and surcharges, so surcharges are a major drawback of Qatar’s program.

In comparison, a direct flight from London to Male on British Airways costs 50,000 Avios in economy–or 40,000 AAdvantage miles–and $553.68 in taxes and fees. So, you pay more miles but would save $110.00 in taxes and fees by booking the award on Qatar.

Are there any sweet spots for redemptions on Qatar?

Some of the awards for travel to countries that can be hard to get to on an award tickets are attractive. From Doha, you can get to Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro, Goa, and Kathmandu for 25,000 Qmiles roundtrip in economy class.

Redeeming Qmiles on fifth-freedom flights

The Points to Point B blog has an excellent explanation of fifth-freedom flights–with a trip report of a Qatar Airways Bangkok-Hanoi flight–and describes the fifth freedom as “the ability for a carrier of Country A to carry passengers on an international route solely between Country B and Country C when on a multi-leg flight that involves Country A.” Here is an award redemption chart of roundtrip prices for Qatar’s fifth-freedom flights:

For 12,500 Qmiles oneway between Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires you can experience Qatar’s international business class cabin, or just use 7,500 Qmiles for a oneway economy ticket. Alternatively, you can do some short haul country-hopping in southeast Asia for 5,000 Qmiles per oneway trip in economy.

Qmiles and cash awards

For award redemptions on Qatar airlines only–not partner airlines–tickets can be booked with 50% of the usual Qmiles required and cash. Here is an example of such a redemption, and the terrible value is fairly representative for travel for all other regions.

Shelling out almost $2,000 PLUS miles is never my idea of a good redemption.

Redeeming Qmiles on partner airlines

The Qmile redemption chart for partner awards is distance-based, similar to British Airways Avios:

There are some positive attributes of the Qmiles partner redemption program:

(1) Oneway redemptions are allowed.

(2) You can book a ticket with connections with multiple carriers without increasing the number of miles needed.

(3) You are allowed free add-on destinations in Gulf countries on an award ticket that originates and ends outside of the Gulf. According to Qatar’s website, the number of Qmiles needed for a London-Doha-Bahrain itinerary will be the same as for the shorter London-Doha trip. This benefit may interest the traveler who needs or wants to country hop around the gulf states–Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait–for business or leisure.

Here are some negatives:

(1) The award chart is expensive.  An easy comparison is British Airway’s Avios distance-based award chart. For example, a short, roughly 1,000 mile oneway trip like New York-Miami would cost 7,500 Avios but 15,000 QMiles. A long-haul flight like Los Angeles-Hong Kong, about 7,000 miles oneway, would cost 35,000 Avios but 50,000 QMiles.

(2) You can’t book partner awards on the website. To book a partner award, you have to complete a “partner award request form”:

This form is then electronically submitted to the member services center, and you receive this message:

(3) Surcharges can be hundreds of dollars or more per passenger. I would like to figure out which partners incur surcharges, but I don’t have that information.

Qatar’s “Easy Deals”

Every month, Qatar Airways publishes “easy deals” on its website. It offers reduced-mileage award redemptions on selected routes for travel during the 6 weeks after the fares are published. This month’s deals can be found here and include: business class oneway flights from Beijing or Seoul to Doha for 27,000 Qmiles and Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo for 6,500 Qmiles.

Elite status and Qpoints in Qatar’s Privilege Club

There are 4 tiers of membership in Privilege Club: Privilege Club, Burgundy, Silver, and Gold. Members of all levels can use their Qmiles to book award tickets for anyone else and use their miles to pay for excess baggage. This table summarizes some of the relevant differences between each tier. A more complete table can be found here.

Somewhat confusingly, Elite status is obtained and maintained by accruing Qpoints. Not Qmiles–Qpoints:

Qpoints are awarded after each flight and the number awarded depends on the class of service and the regions traveled. At this time Qpoints can only be earned on paid Qatar Airways operated flights. Here are some selected examples of Qpoints earnings per oneway segment by region and route:

It would take six round trip flights between Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires on discount economy tickets to get you to Silver status. Of course, unless that status is linked to elite oneworld status, the tiers and Qpoints are of little value to the non-Qatar flyer.


Qatar’s entry into the oneworld alliance happened today, though there is no firm joining date. The addition of the Skytrax “airline of the year” for 2011 and 2012 brings new destinations in Africa, India, and the Middle East to the oneworld alliance.

If you fly paid business and first class flights, Qatar has historically offered mileage accrual in its program that is more generous than most US carriers–300% for first and 250% for business class.  This could potentially allow you to generate more Qmiles for later award redemption.

Qatar’s award chart has very few good value award redemptions and comes up short when compared with other oneworld members like American Airlines and British Airways, with a few exceptions. Short, fifth-freedom flights in Southeast Asia and South America are a good value at 5,000-7,500 Qmiles oneway in economy class. The monthly “easy deals” promotion offers some opportunities for discounted award flights on selected routes. Additionally, access to cities that are difficult to reach on award tickets is greatly improved in oneworld, with direct flights from Doha to Kathmandu and Kilimanjaro from 12,500 Qmiles oneway.

For me, the absolute bottom line is that the surcharges make it unlikely I will look to earn and redeem Qmiles. But I will look to use my AAdvantage miles and Avios on Qatar, especially if American Airlines doesn’t add fuel surcharges to the award cost.

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