Are The Days Of “Cheap” Oneworld Status Over?

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It used to be possible to earn oneworld status reasonably cheaply back in the days when American Airlines didn’t have a minimum spend criteria. With American Airlines Economy Class flights all earning 1 elite qualifying mile per mile flown a few super-cheap Economy Class fares could get you a long way towards mid-tier or even top-tier status for a pretty reasonable outlay – those were the good old days.

More recently the cheapest way of earning oneworld status (without any crazy routings) has been though booking cheap Europe to Asia Qatar Airways Business Class flights and crediting them to the British Airways Executive Club.

a seat on a plane
Qatar Airways A330 Business Class

A single Business Class trip between, for example, Helsinki and Bangkok will earn 560 Tier Points in the British Airways Executive Club and that’s over 93% of the way to mid-tier oneworld status (BA Silver) and over 37% of the way to top-tier oneworld status (BA Gold).

When such Business Class fares could be picked up for under $1,500 it made oneworld status both easy to reach and, relatively speaking, cheap.

What made things even better was that these cheap Business Class fares weren’t all that hard to find – 18 months ago it seemed like we were seeing great Qatar Airways Business Class fares appear on a near-weekly basis – but something seems to have changed.

I’m in the process of earning top-tier oneworld status courtesy of cheap Qatar Airways Business Class fares (so I keep a very close eye on what Business Class fares the airline is releasing) and I haven’t seen a good batch of fares for months.

The last time I wrote about good Qatar Airways fares was back in February when the airline was charging ~ $1,600 for roundtrip Business Class fares but, since then, I don’t recall seeing any fares worth writing about.

Yes, there may have been one or two fares here and there which I haven’t spotted but spotting good Qatar Airways Business Class fares was never an issue in the past – they came along more frequently than subway trains at rush hour and they were hard to miss.

a row of seats in a plane
Qatar Airways A380 Business Class

So what’s going on?

Well, as I’m not the CEO of Qatar Airways and as I don’t work in the airline’s revenue management department I don’t actually know (I wish I did) but I’m reasonably sure it doesn’t have much to do with higher loads.

I’ve flown with Qatar Airways a few times already this year and I haven’t noticed any major difference in the number of passengers in the Business Class cabins. There were quite a few empty Business Class seats on my flights between Helsinki and Doha and on my flights between Doha and Bangkok earlier in the year and a friend recently flew Business Class between Doha and Stockholm and said that the cabin was almost empty.

This leaves me wondering if Qatar Airways is experimenting with fares and possibly trying to make its Business Class a little more exclusive.

When the airline introduced its Qsuite Business Class product an interesting imbalance in the aviation world was created – the airline on which it was easiest to find amazing Business Class fares was also suddenly the airline with the world’s best Business Class product.

That’s a little odd.

a woman sitting in a chair in a plane
Qatar Airways Qsuite Business Class

This may not have been a big thing when the Qsuites were first introduced as they were available on only a handful of aircraft but, now that the number of Qsuite equipped aircraft is growing at a rapid pace and the number of routes offering the product is into double figures, Qatar Airways may be having a rethink.

Airlines don’t introduce products like the Qsuite just to make passengers happy – they introduce them to give themselves a competitive advantage and to give themselves a chance to charge a premium too and we may now be seeing the effect the Qsuites are having on Qatar Airways pricing.

Qatar Airway’s primary competition on Europe – Asia routes are all the airlines that can offer non-stop services to Asia from the cities out of which Qatar Airways operates because Qatar Airways has to route its passengers through Doha.

Because of this Qatar Airways has had to be very competitive on price especially when it comes to the premium cabins which are often populated by individuals who value convenience over cost (I suspect most people traveling on Business would choose an average Business Class product on a non-stop service over a very good Business Class product which takes them out of their way).

a seat with a pillow and a computer on the back of it
Qatar Airways 787 Business Class

But what if the less direct routing provided a fantastic Business Class product? Would passenger behaviour remain the same or would that alter the thinking?

It’s possible that this is what Qatar Airways is playing around with right now.

Most Europe – Asia roundtrip Qatar Airways Business Class fares I’m seeing right now cost between $2,000 and $2,500 and, although that’s between $700 and $1,200 more than we’re used to seeing in most of the great sales, that’s still not expensive for a Business Class trip to Asia.

Given the choice of a $2,500 non-stop flight in an average Business Cabin or a $2,500 one-stop flight in a fantastic Business Class cabin what will people choose?

You could argue that if this was what Qatar Airways was doing we’d only see price increases on routes which currently off the Qsuite product but I’m not sure that’s necessarily true.

Firstly, there are a lot of Europe – Asia routings on which Qatar Airways will only offer the Qsuite Business Class product on the Doha – Asia sectors but I suspect that’s still enough for the airline to hike prices on the full routing (Europe – Doha – Asia roundtrip).

Secondly, and as I suggested earlier, this could be an attempt by Qatar Airways to make its Business Class cabins more exclusive.

a woman reading a book to a woman lying in a bed

You may be amazed at what some people will pay for goods and services if they think it isn’t something that accessible to a lot of people so perhaps Qatar Airways is trying to tap into this snobbery.

Perhaps the airline is seeing what will happen if it says that there’s a premium to pay if you want to fly on the airline which offers the world’s best Business Class cabin…..even if you’re not actually getting that cabin on your trip.

Clearly these are all just ideas and hypotheses and they could all be blown out of the water in the next few weeks if Qatar Airways comes out with another batch of super-cheap Business Class fares…but I’m starting to think that may not happen.

There’s a reasonable chance that we may have seen the end of the days when a Qatar Airways Business Class fare between Europe and Bangkok could be considered “expensive” if it cost over $1,600 and the days when you could fly between Europe and South Korea in a great deal of comfort for under $1,450.

a man in a red robe and hat standing in a archway

If that’s the case a lot of us will soon be seriously rethinking our future travel plans.

My strategy to earn oneworld top-tier elite status is firmly linked to super-cheap Qatar Airways Business Class fares and, as I have no intention of paying regular Business Class fares just to earn status, I may have to sit down and decide just how important top-tier elite status is to me – that will be an interesting bit of analysis to do 🙂


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