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The whole point of airline alliances is that they encourage people to stay loyal to a group of airlines because those airlines all offer them reciprocal miles/points earnings and reciprocal benefits. As soon as any part of that reciprocity stops, the shine is taken off an alliance, and that’s why airlines should take action when cracks start to appear.
Recently, Qatar Airways has gone down the path of unbundling its Business Class fares, and not only has this led to non-elites now having to pay for Business Class seat selection (a ridiculous policy that British Airways also follows), but it has also led to oneworld elites being denied access to the better Qatar Airways Business Class lounges in Doha and the airline’s Business Class lounges in cities such as London and Paris.
It’s important to note that this policy doesn’t only apply to low- and mid-tier elites who purchase the airline’s cheaper Business Class fares, it applies to all oneworld elites including top-tier elites (BA Gold, AA Executive Platinum, etc…).
Qatar Airways is certainly within its rights to block access to its lounges (the oneworld alliance would have put a stop to this practice had that not been the case) but this move has seen the airline going further than any other oneworld airline.
It’s not unusual for oneworld airlines to deny access to some of their lounges to all but a select few who buy the more expensive tickets, but historically this has been limited to First Class lounges like the British Airways Concorde rooms and Qatar Airways’ own Al Safwa First Class lounge, or to areas of First Class lounges like American’s Flagship Dining room.
To the best of my recollection, no major oneworld airline (other than Qatar Airways) has ever prevented top-tier elites from enjoying the better Business Class lounges that they offer.
Preventing top-tier oneworld elites from accessing the Al Mourjan and QR Business Class lounges in Doha goes a step too far, so as the oneworld alliance can’t do anything about this, it would be nice to see some of the other oneworld airlines restore a little parity.
British Airways, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and JAL could remove First Class lounge access from all Qatar Airways Platinum elites who aren’t flying First Class, and all Qatar Airways Gold and Platinum Flyers who haven’t paid for the more expensive Business Class fares could be relegated to the smaller Business Class lounges that the airlines offer (e.g. British Airways Galleries North Lounge at T5).
In terms of the number of people visiting the various lounges this wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference (I doubt that the number of Qatar Airways elites is a significant figure), but if Qatar Airways wants to circumvent the oneworld convention that sees elite flyers being given access to all oneworld airline Business Class lounges, I don’t see why the other oneworld airlines shouldn’t fight back.
Why should a Qatar Airways Platinum Elite who’s flying on a deeply discounted Economy Class fare have access to the Qantas First Class lounges in Sydney and LAX or Cathay Pacific’s “The Pier” in Hong Kong, when oneworld Emerald elites passing through Doha on a Business Class fare are relegated to a 3rd rate lounge?
I have no idea if this kind of “retaliation” would prompt Qatar Airways to rethink its recent policy change (probably not), but it would certainly make things fairer.
Leaving what’s fair and what isn’t fair aside, the fact is that what Qatar Airways has done is actually quite dangerous for the future of oneworld elite status. If one oneworld airline gets away with unbundling Business Class fares and limiting Business Class lounge access to specific fare types, there’s not much to stop the other airlines from following suit. Given time, this type of move could easily spread and who knows where that could lead to? In just a few years’ time, we could be looking back on the last decade with nostalgia and a longing for the better times we enjoyed (the pandemic aside!). I would really rather that didn’t happen.