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Back in June 2019, Emirates dropped the bombshell that it would start to offer a ‘Basic’ Business Class fare that stripped out a number of benefits that we have all come to expect from a Business Class ticket and, earlier this year Finnair announced that it planned to introduce a ‘Business Light’ fare on select routes. To most readers, those announcements weren’t especially bad news, but they were a clear indication of a direction the airline industry is taking. Today’s news, however, could be more serious.
Qatar Airways Unbundled Business Class
Executive Traveller has reported that Qatar Airways has sent out an email to travel agents to inform them that it will be overhauling its fare structure and introducing a new unbundled (basic) Business Class fare which will come at a cheaper price point but which will not offer some standard Business Class benefits like lounge access or advanced seat selection.
We know that the new Business Class fare will take over the “R” fare code that Qatar Airways has been using for its cheapest Business Class fares for the past few years, but we don’t yet appear to have any information on what all the changes will look like.
I don’t keep a particularly close eye on what Qatar Airways calls its various fares (so someone please correct me if I’m wrong), but it looks like this change is already starting to show up on the Qatar Airways website. This is the wording that appears on the airline’s Al Mourjan lounge page:
Qatar Airways and oneworld First Class and Business Class (Elite, Comfort) passengers can access this lounge at no additional cost, while Business Class (Classic) and Economy Class passengers throughout the network can purchase lounge access online, at the check-in counters, preferred travel agents, or Qatar Airways’ sales offices.
Not only do I not recall seeing Qatar Airways calling its Business Class fares “Elite”, “Comfort”, and “Classic”, I also don’t recall ever seeing the airline charging Business Class passengers (on any booking) for entry to the Al Mourjan Business Class lounge. To me, this looks new, and the fact that I cannot find a route on which Qatar Airways is selling Elite, Comfort, and Classic fares suggests to me that this is a change that is still in the process of being rolled out.
The Bad News
Historically, Qatar Airways has offered some truly stunning Business Class fares for travel between Europe and Asia but a large number of these fares have booked into the “R” Business Class fare code (the code which is now going to be used for the “unbundled” fare). This makes it likely that although these great fares will stay around, anyone booking them will be getting less for their money.
Based on what appears to be updated wording on the Al Mourjan Lounge page (see earlier), it looks as if oneworld elite status and a Business Class fare will no longer be good enough to get a flyer into the Al Mourjan Business Class lounge in Doha – the wording on the page clearly mentions “oneworld First Class and Business Class (Elite, Comfort) passengers” as having complimentary access while “Business Class (Classic)” passengers will have to pay to get in (I suspect that oneworld elites will retain access to the lesser Oryx Lounge).
The wording regarding entry to the Qatar Airways lounge at London Heathrow specifically mentions that access to the lounge is offered to “Qatar Airways and oneworld First and Business Class (Elite, Comfort) passengers only” but, for the time being, the wording regarding access to the lounges in Paris, Singapore and Beirut doesn’t distinguish between Business Class fares.
For reference, entry to the Al Mourjan lounge currently costs QAR450/$125/£95.
While the loss of lounge access is certainly going to be a blow (assuming this is confirmed), the more important news that a lot of flyers will be waiting to hear is the news surrounding how this “unbundling” will affect the elite credits and miles/Avios that the cheaper Qatar Airways Business Class fares currently earn.
These are the earning rates that the AAdvantage program currently offers for the various Qatar Airways fare codes…
…and this is how many Avios British Airways awards for Qatar Airways flights that are credited to the Executive Club:
As you should be able to see, the “R” fares are, at the very least, considered to be on a par with the “I” fares (standard discounted Business Class) but the unbundling of the R fares must now open up the possibility that oneworld airlines (like AA and BA) will revise their Qatar Airways earnings charts downwards.
From a British Airways Executive Club point of view, the big question will center around whether unbundled R fares will now earn fewer Tier Points (that would be a disaster for a lot of flyers and would quickly thin out the number of elite flyers in the Executive Club), and from an American Airlines AAdvantage point of view, there now has to be a risk that the cheapest Qatar Airways Business Class fares may soon earn considerably fewer Elite Qualifying Miles and Elite Qualifying Dollars.
It will be interesting to see if Qatar Airways will charge oneworld elites seat selection fees if they book the unbundled Business Class fares. I’m quietly optimistic that it won’t and that oneworld Emerald and Sapphire elites will continue to be able to choose seats for free at the time of booking even when booking an unbundled Business Class fare (making a change to this would put Qatar Airways out of line with all other oneworld airlines) but anything is possible.
While the questions surrounding oneworld elite benefits on the new unbundled Business Class fares are still to be fully answered, there are a few things that I think we can take for granted. Going forward, R Fare Business Class bookings will almost certainly earn fewer Qmiles and Qpoints, they will not be upgradable (not an issue if Qatar Airways doesn’t bring back an aircraft with a First Class cabin), and will charge considerably higher change and cancellation fees than they do right now.
Overall, all of this is bad news for those of us who have made the most of the cheaper Qatar Airways fares in recent years. The airline will no doubt try to spin this change as one that will allow it to offer “cheaper” Business Class fares, but the truth is that fares won’t be going down at all and we’ll all be getting less for our money.
The loss of lounge access would be harsh but the real pain will be felt if airlines like American and British Airways cut earning rates on the unbundled Qatar Airways Business Class fares. Most readers would probably admit that they choose to fly with Qatar Airways because of the onboard product and the economical way in which the cheaper Business Class fares allow them to earn valuable elite status. If the airline takes one of those two reasons away, it may quickly become a considerably less enticing option for quite a few people.
Qatar Airways is set to announce the introduction of an unbundled Business Class fare which looks like it will be called the “Classic Business Class” fare. Details of what the fare will and will not provide are thin on the ground but initial indicators point to the fact that the unbundled fares will not grant passengers access to some (possibly all) Business Class lounges and that non-elites (and possibly elites) will no longer have access to free seat selection at the time of booking. Further updates will appear on Traveling For Miles as the news is released.