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Historically, those of us who are in a position to book premium cabin flights for travel between Europe and Asia have had a very easy path to oneworld Sapphire Elite status courtesy of one of the world’s best airlines – Qatar Airways. Now, however, it’s starting to look like that path may have been shut down.
Earning oneworld Sapphire Elite status with ease
The key to earning easy and relatively cheap oneworld Sapphire Elite status has, in the past, been a combination of the following:
- The way that the British Airways Executive Club calculates how many Tier Points (status credits) a trip will earn.
- The fact that Qatar Airways has offered easy-to-find amazing Business Class fares from various European cities to destinations in Southeast Asia, China, South Korea, and Japan.
- The fact that all Qatar Airways bookings for travel between Europe and Asia include a stopover in Doha.
The way this has worked is simple:
British Airways awards Tier Points based on the distance of any sectors flown and because every Qatar Airways booking for travel between Europe and Asia involves two long sectors in each direction (because of the stopovers in Doha), all such trips booked into Qatar Airways Business Class earn a massive 280 Tier Points in each direction when credited to the British Airways Executive Club.
That’s 560 Tier Points for a single roundtrip booking and with British Airways Silver status (equivalent to oneworld Sapphire Elite status) requiring just 600 Tier Points (and 4 sectors purchased through British Airways), this has long been one of the cheapest and most economical ways of getting most of the way to oneworld Sapphire Elite status.
What has changed?
The way British Airways calculates the number of Tier Points to award hasn’t changed and the number of Tier Points that the British Airways Executive Club hands out for Qatar Airways bookings hasn’t changed, but the amazing Qatar Airways fares appear to have dried up.
I’ve been holding off writing this post for quite a few months because I wanted to see if the absence of great Qatar Airways fares between Europe and Asia was down to the Covid restrictions that have been in place (in destinations like Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan) or if something else is going on.
Well, most counties in Asia are now making it considerably easier for passengers to visit by lifting a lot (in some cases, all) of the travel restrictions that were put in place to stem the spread of Covid-19 but there’s no sign of the amazing Qatar Airways Business Class fares that were were used to seeing pre-pandemic.
In the past, I’ve found great deals for travel to various cities in Asia from places like Rome, Pisa, and Budapest but the best and easiest to find deals have always come from northern Europe. Specifically, it has been the Business Class fares that Qatar Airways has offered from Oslo, Stockholm, and Helsinki to Singapore and Bangkok that have been the key to locking in cheap oneworld Sapphire Elite status.
It’s these fares that haven’t made an appearance in a worryingly long time and where once you were “overpaying” if you paid more than $1,800 for a Stockholm – Bangkok Qatar Airways Business Class roundtrip fare (booked a few months in advance), the best roundtrip Qatar Airways Business Class fares are now often somewhere between $2,700 and $3,200.
Here, for example, are some of the Qatar Airways Business Class fares that are currently being offered for travel between Stockholm and Singapore:
And here are some of the Qatar Airways Business Class fares that are currently being offered for travel between Stockholm and Bangkok:
Historically, these are two of the routes on which Qatar Airways offered its best deals and while by the standards of some airlines these prices look pretty normal, by Qatar Airways standards, these prices are hugely inflated (I once booked a Stockholm – Singapore Business Class fare for under $1,300).
What’s going on?
It would be easy to say that the disappearance of the great Qatar Airways fares is probably down to a combination of factors that have hit the travel world one after the other – Covid-19 followed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine – but that answer isn’t particularly satisfactory.
By the nature of its ownership and geographical location, Qatar Airways is far less sensitive to the price of oil than most other airlines and yet while it is now charging fares of over $2,800 for travel between Northern Europe and Southeast Asia, we see Finnair charging over $1,000 less.
If anything, you could argue that with Finnair flights to Southeast Asia being seriously affected by the need to avoid Russian and Ukranian airspace, Finnair should be the airline charging more.
What I think may be happening is that Qatar Airways has now reached a point where it doesn’t need to offer the amazing fares that it once offered and that the days of easily being able to find a great Qatar Airways Business Class fare between Europe and Asia may be over.
For Qatar Airways, the pandemic appears to have created far fewer issues than it created for most of the rest of the airline industry – as evidenced by the $1.54bn profit the airline announced last week – so it’s very possible that it no longer feels the need to draw in customers with super-low fares.
Hopefully, I’ll be proven to be completely wrong about this and once oil prices start to go down, inflation is under control, and Putin is suitably neutered, we’ll go back to the good old days of easy-to-find incredible fares…but I’m not optimistic.
We may still see some great Europe – Asia Business Class fares appear now and then when Qatar Airways decides to run regional sales, but anyone who has become accustomed to earning relatively cheap oneworld status courtesy of the Business Class fares that Qatar Airways once offered, should probably start coming up with an alternate strategy.