Qatar Airways has been tinkering with its Privilege Club frequent flyer program lately and broadly speaking that has been bad news for members with additional fees even for online bookings (now the only way to redeem Qmiles).
While mentioning that “changes” would be introduced from 27th May, Qatar kept quiet about the redemption cost side and instead lauded improvements in the number of points that would be earned for full-fare premium class tickets.
Once the website came back online in the early hours yesterday it was obvious why they made no song and dance about redemption rates – the increases were nothing short of eye-watering.
If two of you were looking at flying as a couple in business class from Frankfurt to Singapore via Doha via the website on Saturday the cost was 150,000 miles. By Sunday morning it was 251,000 miles – a 67% increase.
It’s the equivalent of Singapore Airlines increasing their business class saver award cost between Europe and Singapore from 85,000 miles to 142,000 miles with zero notice.
Economy is not immune either, as Rob at Head for Points noted in his article an economy class redemption from London to Bangkok has increased from 37,500 miles to 62,750 miles (Source: Flyertalk). That’s a 70% increase, overnight. As a comparison the same trip using British Airways Avios would cost 19,500 points on off-peak dates or 30,000 points on peak dates.
One Mile at a Time also highlighted some example redemption rate changes in his article, such as:
- A one-way economy award ticket from the US to Doha (35,000 miles > 50,750 miles, 45% increase)
- A one-way business class award ticket from the US to Doha (70,000 miles > 101,500 miles, 45% increase)
- A one-way business class award ticket from Frankfurt to Doha to Kuala Lumpur (75,000 miles > 125,500 miles, 67% increase)
- A one-way business class award ticket from Bangkok to Doha to New York (95,000 miles > 169,000 miles, 78% increase)
Is it unprecedented?
Short of your airline going bust the worst thing that can happen to your stash of frequent flyer miles is usually a devaluation. Some pretty harsh ones have been seen over the years but in almost all cases members were given advance notice giving them time to spend their miles at the prevailing rates before the changes took effect.
The shocking thing about this devaluation has been the immediate imposition on members with no prior hint of the scale of the increase, or indeed any increase at all. Granted Alaska Mileage Plan did the same thing with their Emirates partner redemption chart in 2016, though that was likely driven by Emirates and represented a relatively small portion of the redemption options available. Other than that we’re struggling to think of examples.
You only have to look at the recent ‘revaluation’ of the Asia Miles scheme, which we covered last week, to see how it’s done properly when you actually consider your customers.
Asia Miles gave a month’s notice to book at current rates (not generous but a world apart from nothing at all, especially as you can book 1 year in advance). They also set up a dedicated microsite explaining the changes, including a calculator showing you the ‘before and after’ earning and redemption rates that will apply if you choose to spend your miles after the cut-off.
Almost as though they value their loyal customers?
The way Qatar have gone about this on the other hand with no warning and no notice is nothing short of unscrupulous. There’s no way now to even easily check what the redemption cost was before the devaluation, the website just shows the current (i.e. new) rates.
Why do airlines devalue?
Issued frequent flyer miles are a liability on the airline’s balance sheet. Devaluing those miles therefore removes a large liability, and boy do Qatar Airways need to shore up their balance sheet lately.
They are expected to announce a huge loss due to the impact of a blockade by neighbouring Gulf states which started in June 2017 and there are even murmurings of a Government bailout being required.
None of this bodes well for the carrier, or the continued rollout of the fantastic looking QSuites business class product.
The only saving grace is that Qatar has left their partner awards redemption chart unchanged, for now.
It means you can continue to use your Qmiles to book award seats on oneworld and partner airlines at the same rates. Potentially this is now one of the few valuable parts left in the scheme. It won’t help of course if you were accruing Qmiles for the purpose of redeeming on a Qatar Airways flight.
This disparity makes long-haul redemptions on oneworld airlines significantly better value than similar awards on Qatar Airways itself, a situation we don’t see lasting long so expect this table to be ‘enhanced’ soon.
If you are stuck with a large quantity of Qmiles take a look at a partner or oneworld redemption as you may still find value here (e.g. Cathay Pacific from Europe to Asia in business).
As a last resort, according to those discussing the issue on the FlyerTalk forum you can still transfer Qmiles to Club Accor hotel loyalty points at a 4,500 Qmiles to 1,000 Accor Points rate. It sounds like that’s what many are doing, just to ‘get out’.
Qatar Airways never had the best frequent flyer scheme out there and recent changes with the introduction of booking fees and exclusion of lounge access for those travelling on award tickets in business class were making it look worse by the day.
This significant no-notice devaluation though is the icing on the cake – if Standard & Poor’s rated frequent flyer miles like they rate credit worthiness Qatar Privilege Club Qmiles would now surely have ‘junk’ status.
For those holding on to a significant quantity of Qatar miles, we really feel for you. Remember the partner award table has not (yet) been devalued and so this is the obvious way to go with any remaining miles you have. If your collection was to experience one of Qatar’s great business class products like QSuites then sorry but that’s probably now well out of reach.
People aren’t going to stop flying Qatar because of this change, simply because they have some of the finest on-ground and in-flight products in the industry, especially in business class. For those booking cash tickets though – it’s time to find an alternative frequent flyer program to credit the miles you’re earning on Qatar flights to.
We personally credit to British Airways Avios whenever we fly Qatar, as Avios points provide good value intra-Asia redemptions with airlines like Cathay, Qantas and JAL. Asia Miles, JAL Mileage Bank and American Airlines AAdvantage are other options for crediting points when flying Qatar.
(Cover Photo: Qatar Airways)