8

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Let’s talk about how to use American Airlines miles for awards to the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent. American Airlines has the best award space to the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent by far and some of its nicest partners fly these routes.

Etihad First Suite on 787
Etihad First Suite on 787. I have mine Booked for May.

What You’re Reading

This is the eighth post in one comprehensive guide that tells you everything you need to know about American Airlines miles. Now is the time to write this guide because now is a special time to earn American Airlines miles.

Getting both cards and meeting their minimum spending requirement would earn you 62,000 American Airlines miles, but you can do even better.

This guide will explain the rules, quirks, tricks, and options for redeeming those 156,000 American Airlines miles all in one place. It might just put my Award Booking Service out of business when it comes to redeeming American Airlines miles.

If you find this guide to redeeming the most valuable miles in the world to be useful and want to apply for the credit cards that earn them, please use my links. The commission is what allows me to dedicate the time to writing this series.

“Redeeming American Airlines Miles” Series Index

Middle East and Indian Subcontinent

The Middle East and Indian Subcontinent is one very large region on the American Airlines award chart. It contains:

  • Afghanistan
  • Bahrain
  • Bangladesh
  • Egypt
  • India
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Israel
  • Jordan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kuwait
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Lebanon
  • Maldives
  • Nepal
  • Oman
  • Pakistan
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Syria
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • the United Arab Emirates
  • Uzbekistan

The Partners for Middle East and Indian Subcontinent Awards

As I noted in the post on American Airlines award routing rules, awards to the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent must fly directly from North America to the Middle East/Indian Subcontinent or can transit Europe. They cannot transit East Asia even though trips from the West Coast to India might be as convenient or more convenient via Asia.

American Airlines partners with direct flights to the Middle East or India from North America:

  • Etihad Airways (Abu Dhabi)
  • Qatar Airways (Doha)
  • Jet Airways (Mumbai)

Other American Airlines partners with hubs in the region:

  • Gulf Air (Bahrain)
  • Royal Jordanian (Amman)

Plus any partner that flies between the United States and Europe or Europe and the Middle East can be potentially useful, so don’t forget about:

  • American Airlines
  • US Airways
  • Airberlin
  • Qantas (London to Dubai)
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • British Airways

Award space on American Airlines, US Airways, airberlin, British Airways, Finnair, and Qantas is searchable on aa.com. Here’s how to search aa.com.

Awards space on Iberia, Royal Jordanian, and Qatar is searchable on ba.com. Here’s how to search ba.com.

Award space on Gulf Air is searchable on Expert Flyer. Here’s how to search Expert Flyer.

Award space on Etihad is searchable on etihad.com. Here’s how to search etihad.com.

Award space on Jet Airways is searchable by calling American Airlines at 800-882-8880.

Pricing

From North America to the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent, American Airlines charges:

  • 45,000 miles one way in economy
  • 67,500 miles one way in Business Class
  • 90,000 miles one way in First Class

Compared to competitors, American charges fair prices. Compared to the rest of American’s outstandingly cheap award chart, these prices are unfortunately more expensive than I’d like. Ultimately though I have paid 90,000 miles for one way in Etihad First Class from Egypt to Washington DC.

American is not the leader to the Middle East and India because of its pricing as much as its partners. American partners with two of the big three Middle Eastern carriers, and the third, Emirates, only partners with Alaska Airlines among American airlines. Add in the other Middle Eastern and Indian partners, and American really has a lock on the region.

Booking the Awards

To book 99% of Middle East and Indian Subcontinent awards, you need to call American Airlines at 800-882-8880 to book. You will have to pay a $35 phone fee per passenger. I recommend searching award space on aa.com, ba.com, Expert Flyer, and etihad.com before calling and feeding the agent the date, cabin, and flight number of each flight with award space instead of relying on the agent’s searching skill.

Routes

There are too many routes to cover all of them, so I’ll restrict myself just to the direct Etihad and Qatar flights from the United States the Middle East.

Etihad flies from six American cities to Abu Dhabi and from there throughout the region including 11 cities in India and five in Pakistan.

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 6.57.44 PM

Etihad flights feature First, Business, and economy class.

I find award space to be excellent on Etihad. This is my go-to airline when I am looking for award space for MileValue Award Booking Service clients to the Middle East and India. With flexibility, you can find two seats in any cabin.

Qatar flies from seven American cities to Doha and from there throughout the region including 12 Indian cities.Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 7.00.44 PM

Qatar’s flights to the United States do not feature First Class, just Business and economy.

In my experience, Qatar award space is not as strong as Etihad award space.

I realize I haven’t said much useful about the award space to the Middle East, but it is difficult to sum up space on dozens of routes across several airlines and cabins. Better to just tell you which airlines to start with and where to search that award space.

Bottom Line

American Airlines has amazing partners to the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent, topped by Etihad and Qatar.

Awards are pricier than most places on the American Airlines award chart at 45,000/67,500/90,000 miles one way in economy/Business/First. Awards must fly directly from North America to the region or connect in Europe. They cannot go via East Asia.

Right now the personal and business American Airlines cards are each offering 30,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months.

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I’ve got 2.5 weeks between high school and law school reunions this spring. It looked like the perfect time to check out Egypt and Dubai for the first time and more of Thailand (only been to Phuket so far), while also flying some of the world’s nicest First and Business Class products.

I, like a lot of people, have a big American Airlines miles balance because of how easy they are to get at the moment with the personal and business cards each offering 50,000 bonus miles after $3,000 spending in the first three months. I thought I would use some American Airlines miles to fly some of its nicest partners for part of the trip.

I had already booked myself from the United States to Dubai to Bangkok on two flights in Emirates First Class on its A380. Read that Anatomy of an Award.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 10.24.04 AM

Picking the Route

Now I needed to get from Bangkok to Egypt. From doing a bit of research, I knew that in Egypt I wanted to see sites around Luxor and Cairo.

To avoid backtracking, that means flying into one and out of the other.

I expected to fly to Egypt on Qatar Airways and back to the United States on Etihad Airways, so I went to Wikipedia to check whether they both served Luxor and Cairo. I really can’t oversell how valuable Wikipedia airport pages are for planning a trip.

It turns out both Etihad and Qatar fly to Cairo, but only Qatar flies to Luxor.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 4.48.47 PM
Luxor airlines and destinations from Wikipedia

That means I would fly from Bangkok to Luxor and fly back to the United States from Cairo. Great! The order didn’t matter to me. I just wanted to save the time and money of having to fly two intra-Egpyt flights, and with a few extra minutes of planning I did. Also see: the trick I used to save 47% on my flight from Luxor to Cairo.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 10.24.29 AM
The Plan

Picking the Airline to Fly

I already mentioned that I’d be flying Qatar from Bangkok to Egypt. Why?

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 5.08.12 PM

Qatar flies its brand new A380 between Doha and London and Doha and Bangkok. Even though Qatar hasn’t released First Class award space on the plane yet, Business Class looks spectacular.

Each fully flat bed has direct aisle access, laid out with only four seats per row for a very spacious seat.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 5.09.03 PM Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 5.08.48 PM

Just behind Business Class is The Lounge, which looks like a much snazzier version of the onboard bars a few other airlines feature.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 5.09.15 PM

Between Asia 2 (Thailand) and Indian Subcontinent / Middle East, American Airlines charges only 30,000 miles one way in Business Class and 40,000 miles in First Class, both of which are outrageously good deals!

In the off chance that Qatar opens up First Class award space in the next three months, I set free oneworld award space alerts with the Wandering Aramean’s search tools.

Searching Award Space

As I explained in Where to Search Award Space for All American Airlines Partners, Qatar award space is searchable on ba.com. Here’s how to search ba.com.

I was specifically looking for award space on flight QR833, the daily flight served by the A380.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 9.38.35 PM

There is ample award space on the A380 in Business Class if you are flexible with your travel date, which I was. Unfortunately, the A380 flight is not the best timed flight with the once-daily flight to Luxor.

Qatar has a flight out of Bangkok that lines up perfectly with the Luxor flight…

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 9.37.45 PMScreen Shot 2015-01-18 at 9.37.36 PM

…but the A380 flight requires a 7:45 layover in Doha.Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 9.38.09 PM Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 9.38.01 PM

I’m choosing to look at that as a positive because Qatar’s Al Mourjan Business Class lounge in Doha is regarded as one of the nicest in the world and is open 24 hours.

After I’m done feasting in one or more of the dining areas that feature buffets and a la carte options, I can find the game room or “cocoon into one of the private work stations.” Surely I’ll take a nap too.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 5.33.23 PM Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 5.33.39 PM

Booking the Award Space

The only way to book award space on Qatar Airways with American Airlines miles is by calling American Airlines at 800-882-8880.

I fed the agent the date, flight number, and cabin of each segment. She pieced it together, and it cost 30,000 miles (as expected) and something very small in taxes.
Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 10.25.07 AM

I haven’t broken it down by trip, but these flights plus my return from Cairo to the United States only totaled $72 in taxes.

The reason I booked them together should be apparent to anyone who read the Complete Guide to Taxes, Fees, and Fuel Surcharges on American Airlines Awards. American Airlines charges a $35 phone fee to book awards, but usually just one per passenger per call. By combining two award bookings into one call and one record locator, I just paid the $35 once.

Trivia: I highlighted the 4 h 5 m flight time above from Doha to Luxor because it is wrong. In May, they will be in the same time zone, and the flight is 3 h 5 m. Apparently Egypt has daylight savings time for about two months, then goes back to standard time for Ramadan, then has two more months of daylight savings time.

Getting the Miles

American Airlines miles are super easy to get.

Right now the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with other awesome benefits like a 10% rebate on miles used for award bookings.

The business version, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, also comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. This card comes with 2x miles on select business purchases and a 5% miles bonus on renewal. One person can have both cards.

We also know that The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® will no longer be offered to new applicants as soon as the US Airways and American Airlines frequent flyer programs integrate, some time before 2015. That means that the chance to earn 50,000 bonus miles after first purchase on this card will disappear soon. Check out all the places you can go with just the sign up bonus.

All US Airways miles not redeemed on the US Airways chart by the time of integration will become American Airlines miles, and American Airlines has committed to not devaluing its award chart at the time of combination. The two types of miles are roughly equal in value. Getting all three cards now and meeting their spending requirements means you will have at least 156,000 American Airlines miles by June.

Bottom Line

American Airlines miles are ideal between Asia and the Middle East because American has several partners that fly the routes with excellent products and award space like Qatar Business Class on its A380.

Plus American Airlines charges the ultra-low price of only 30,000 miles one way in Business and 40,000 one way in First between the two regions. Check out five other under-priced awards on the American Airlines chart.

The American Airlines personal and business cards are each offering 50,000 bonus miles after $3,000 spending in the first three months.

Planning on Wikipedia, searching on ba.com was easy, and booking by phone were all easy, and I saved myself $35 by booking this award at the same time as my Etihad First Class award back to the United States.

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 8.29.19 PM

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Your miles are as valuable as you are creative. For instance, you can combine two luxurious A380 First Classes onto one American Airlines award.

British Airways flies an A380 daily between Los Angeles and London. Qantas flies an A380 daily from London to Dubai (it continues to Sydney.)

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 8.25.13 PM
from gcmap.com

Although American Airlines has strict rules on transiting one region to get to another, it is ALLOWED to transit Europe on your way to the Middle East/Indian Subcontinent region.

Combined the award costs 90,000 American Airlines miles one way.

The drawback is really high taxes and fees, but even here I see a silver lining.

The Products

First Class on the Qantas A380 taunted me with its near emptiness when I flew from Melbourne to Los Angeles in Business Class last year.

Qantas A380 Seat

I saw the British Airways First Class Suites on the A380 up close last year on a trip from Frankfurt to London as British Airways used the short hops to get the crew familiar with the plane.

British Airways A380 First Class Suite

Just Los Angeles to London

Los Angeles to London one way has $480 in taxes and fees, including $452 in fuel surcharges. (American Airlines only collects fuel surcharges on British Airways and Iberia flights.) That totally stinks, but it is tempting for a 10.5 hour flight in First Class on an A380 for only 62,500 miles.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 2.24.38 PM

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 2.24.50 PM

Just Los Angeles to Dubai

Departing London in a premium cabin has massive taxes. London to Dubai has $288 in taxes. That’s why if you only want to go one way for 40,000 American Airlines miles in an awesome First Class between the Middle East and Europe, I recommend flying west into London to avoid those departure taxes.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 2.24.56 PM

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 2.25.01 PM

The Silver Lining

Combine these two flights onto one awards, and you save big on miles and taxes. Instead of 62,500 + 40,000 miles (both of which are a steal), the one way First Class award is 90,000 miles.

Instead of $480 + $288 ($768) in taxes and fees, you pay $530 total. The big savings is because the less-than-24-hour layover in London means you are not considered to originate in the UK, which triggers the nasty taxes we saw from London to Dubai.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 2.25.07 PM Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 2.25.13 PM

That’s 17.5 hours in luxury for 90,000 miles and $530. Delta miles can’t even be used for International First Class. United would charge at least 140,000 miles for the same award. When you look at it that way, it starts to get tempting.

Other Options

Scrap the British Airways First Class and save $452. You could fly American Airlines First Class instead, but the product isn’t as nice and award space is harder to find.

From London, you can fly Etihad First Class on its A380 to Abu Dhabi (and beyond) or Qatar Business Class on its A380 to Doha and beyond. I haven’t seen Qatar release First Class award space on the route.

You can continue to anywhere in the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, or Maldives for no extra miles if the airline that connects you from the United States to Europe publishes a fare from your starting city to your final destination. That’s a big “if.” (See Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards for more info on this rule and how to figure out if you comply.)

You can start anywhere in North America and connect to Los Angeles on American Airlines, US Airways, or Alaska Airlines flights, subject to the same “published fare rule.”

I’m Talking Myself Into This Award

I need to get from the United States to Europe in April. I might fly an award like this and spend a few days somewhere in the Middle East/Indian Subcontinent region before returning to Europe. I could sample three A380 First Class products on such a trip–two as outlined in this post and Etihad First Class on the A380 on the return, stay tuned tomorrow–see a region I’ve never seen, and have a few interesting reviews for this blog.

Ninety thousand American Airlines miles is a lot, and $530 is more than I’ve ever laid out for an award, but it’s so tempting.

Getting the Miles

American Airlines miles are super easy to get.

Right now the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with other awesome benefits like a 10% rebate on miles used for award bookings.

The business version, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, also comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. This card comes with 2x miles on select business purchases and a 5% miles bonus on renewal. One person can have both cards.

Getting both cards now and meeting both spending requirements means you will have at least 106,000 American Airlines miles in early 2015.

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Qatar Airways has begun flying its A380s from Doha to London and will begin service to Paris and Bangkok soon.

There are a lot of luxury options between the Middle East and Europe, so I want to focus on the route between Doha and Bangkok that begins December 1.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 3.40.15 PM
from gcmap.com

Award space is wide open on the Qatar A380 between Doha and Bangkok for two people in Business Class. Best of all, the award costs only 30,000 American Airlines miles one way!

Business Class passengers have fully their own fully flat beds and access to an onboard lounge that looks like it’s the nicest in the sky.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 3.52.00 PM
Onboard bar for First and Business Class passengers
  • How is Qatar First Class on the A380?
  • How is Qatar Business Class on the A380?
  • What is the award space picture on the plane?
  • How can you book the award space?
  • How can you make Doha to Bangkok part of a larger trip?

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US Airways miles can get you to the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent on Qatar Airways flights in Business Class. Qatar Airways flies to seven American cities with ample Business Class award space to Doha and beyond.

I’ve talked a lot about using US Airways miles lately with good reason: The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® is currently offering 40,000 bonus miles after first purchase and you can currently transfer 20,000 Starpoints to 30,000 US Airways miles for all of July.

These mile earning opportunities create ample opportunity to get great deals on any one of the many airlines within the oneworld alliance on US Airways’ famously cheap award chart.

To the Middle East and India, the oneworld partner on which you want to redeem your US Airways miles is Qatar Airways for its ample award availability and great product in business class.

Qatar Airways joined oneworld in October last year.

Qatar Airways currently has tons of availability in business class from US airports to its hub in Doha as well as many other destinations in the Middle East and India.Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 2.30.40 PM

  • How can you use US Airways miles to book Qatar Airways flights to the Middle East and India?
  • Where is the United States does Qatar Airways fly?
  • Where can you search for Qatar Airways availability?
  • How can you book Qatar awards?
  • How many miles will you need and how can you get them?

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You can now route through the Middle East on Qatar Airways on your way from the United States to Africa with American Airlines miles.

Screen shot 2014-06-12 at 2.57.52 PM

American Airlines has a unique routing rule that you cannot transit a third region on an award between two other regions. Under this rule, flying from the United States to the Middle East to Africa would require two awards, one from the United States to the Middle East and one from the Middle East to Africa. Two awards meant spending more miles for a single trip.

There have always been exceptions to this rule, like being able to transit Europe on the way between the United States and Africa or being able to transit North Asia on the way from the United States to Southeast Asia.

Now transiting the Middle East from the United States to Africa has been added to the acceptable exceptions list, which is great news, because it saves 90% on the out-of-pocket costs of booking an American Airlines award to Africa.

  • What are the new routing rules for American Airlines awards to Africa?
  • How can you find award space to Africa with American Airlines miles?
  • How can you limit the out-of-pocket cost of your award ticket?
  • Which carriers are included in the new routing rules?

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Qatar Airways has fantastic Business Class award space on its Dreamliner and on its routes from the US to Doha and beyond in 2014. These routes are a high-value way to use Avios or American Airlines miles on a recent addition to the oneworld alliance.

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 10.30.20 PM
Your Bed in Business Class on a Qatar 787

Where do Qatar’s Dreamliners fly? Where does Qatar fly in the US? How many American Airlines miles or British Airways Avios do you need to fly Qatar?

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Qatar Airways awards are now searchable and bookable at ba.com and bookable by calling American Airlines. This is huge news because Qatar has an excellent route network from the US to the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, and Maldives.

As announced on the oneworld site, Qatar Airways will join the oneworld alliance on October 30th. This is great news for those with large American Airlines AAdvantage or British Airways Avios balances. Doha-based Qatar Airways has a robust Middle Eastern route network and opens up connections to many places with presently poor oneworld coverage.

Qatar Route Map of Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, and East Africa

The best news of all is that Qatar award space is now bookable using the British Airways search tool. For more information on searching the British Airways website, make sure to check out Scott’s post Free First Class Next Month: Searching BA.com to Find oneworld Award Availability.

How can you search for Qatar award space? How can you book it with your American Airlines miles? How many miles do you need? What regions will Qatar help you reach?

11

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This post was mostly written before today’s story that Qatar is joining oneworld, but it has been edited to reflect the good news.

Would they or wouldn’t they? The rumors have been swirling for several weeks about Qatar Airways joining the oneworld alliance. Today Qatar announced that it was joining oneworld, becoming the first major Middle Eastern carrier to join a global airline alliance. (No hate mail from Royal Jordanian please.) No time table was announced, but don’t expect the tie up to be complete before 2013/2014.

In the past 24 hours Qatar Airways has posted changes to the award and upgrade redemption charts of its frequent flyer program, Privilege Club. These changes will take effect November 1st.

What does Qatar bring to oneworld?

The Centre for Aviation has a concise chart that shows the new destinations in Africa, India, and the Middle East that Qatar brings to oneworld:

That’s very nice for oneworld. Why should I care?

I think that it is worthwhile to analyze the frequent flyer program of a potential new member of a major airline alliance for opportunities to travel less expensively or gain elite status and benefits more easily. While we currently only have a partial picture of how Qatar’s frequent flyer program will interface with those of other oneworld carriers, there is certainly enough information available to start analysis.

What is Qatar’s frequent flyer program?

Qatar’s frequent flyer program is called Privilege Club. Enrollment is limited to those 18 or older–so no individual accounts for the kids! Family members under the age of 18 can be added to your account and will earn 50%, 75%, or 100% of miles flown, depending on your elite status. Qmiles are the mileage currency of the program.

Earning Qmiles on Qatar Airways

Qmiles can be earned by flying on Qatar or its partner airlines and are valid 5 years from the time they are earned. According to the airline’s website, the number of Qmiles awarded is “calculated based upon the actual miles flown multiplied by a factor according to the booking class.” Here is the earning chart for flights on Qatar:

As you can see from the chart, the earning rates for several classes of travel–everything except first class and full-fare business class–will decrease as of November 1st.

Earning Qmiles on partner airlines

The inclusion of a section on earning mileage on partner airlines may seem illogical, as the presumption of this post is that Qatar is likely to join the oneworld alliance, and their current partner airlines will soon be irrelevant.  But I think it is helpful to highlight the trend of somewhat more generous mileage accrual for first and business class travel on partner airlines.

Just take a look at this–it is the current Qmiles earning chart of US Airways and the old, now defunct earning chart for United:

               

US Airways only allows Dividend miles accrual of 150% for paid first and business class fares, and United allows MileagePlus miles accrual of 250% for paid first class fares. But as you can see from the charts above, Qatar allowed members to accrue 300% of flown miles–Qmiles–on their partner airlines for premium fare classes.

If this trend of more generous mileage accrual for premium fares continues, those most likely to benefit from crediting their flights to Qatar’s Privilege Club are those who fly paid first and business class regularly.

This analysis doesn’t factor in the value to you of earning status through crediting paid fares. Your status goals may make your crediting decision for you. If you don’t know what the difference between redeemable miles and status miles are, see Choosing Where to Credit Miles Earned from Flying.

Transferring SPG Points

SPG Starpoints transfer to Qatar at a 1:1 ratio with a 5,000 miles bonus on 20,000 point increments, meaning that 20k Starpoints = 25k Qmiles.

Redeeming Qmiles on Qatar Airways

If award tickets are booked online more than 48 hours of travel, there is no award ticketing fee, no matter what your status with the airline. Under any other conditions, there is an impressively long list of ways that you can be charged for redeeming miles for an award ticket that can be found here.

Though the length is long, the fees are very reasonable. Date changes, destination changes, and even cancellations made more than 24 hour out cost only $25. And the close-in ticketing fees start at 7 days out instead of the American-standard 21 days out.

The Qmile redemption chart for Qatar flights is region-based–in an earlier post, I described the different types of frequent flyer miles. This chart shows the number of Qmiles needed for roundtrip travel between the airline’s hub, Doha, and 13 defined regions:

For multi-leg itineraries, each segment is priced separately then combined. For example, a roundtrip economy class award ticket from London to Male, Maldives is 60,000 Qmiles–35,000 Qmiles for the London-Doha segment and 25,000 Qmiles for the Doha-Male segment–and $443.35 in taxes, fees, and surcharges, so surcharges are a major drawback of Qatar’s program.

In comparison, a direct flight from London to Male on British Airways costs 50,000 Avios in economy–or 40,000 AAdvantage miles–and $553.68 in taxes and fees. So, you pay more miles but would save $110.00 in taxes and fees by booking the award on Qatar.

Are there any sweet spots for redemptions on Qatar?

Some of the awards for travel to countries that can be hard to get to on an award tickets are attractive. From Doha, you can get to Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro, Goa, and Kathmandu for 25,000 Qmiles roundtrip in economy class.

Redeeming Qmiles on fifth-freedom flights

The Points to Point B blog has an excellent explanation of fifth-freedom flights–with a trip report of a Qatar Airways Bangkok-Hanoi flight–and describes the fifth freedom as “the ability for a carrier of Country A to carry passengers on an international route solely between Country B and Country C when on a multi-leg flight that involves Country A.” Here is an award redemption chart of roundtrip prices for Qatar’s fifth-freedom flights:

For 12,500 Qmiles oneway between Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires you can experience Qatar’s international business class cabin, or just use 7,500 Qmiles for a oneway economy ticket. Alternatively, you can do some short haul country-hopping in southeast Asia for 5,000 Qmiles per oneway trip in economy.

Qmiles and cash awards

For award redemptions on Qatar airlines only–not partner airlines–tickets can be booked with 50% of the usual Qmiles required and cash. Here is an example of such a redemption, and the terrible value is fairly representative for travel for all other regions.

Shelling out almost $2,000 PLUS miles is never my idea of a good redemption.

Redeeming Qmiles on partner airlines

The Qmile redemption chart for partner awards is distance-based, similar to British Airways Avios:

There are some positive attributes of the Qmiles partner redemption program:

(1) Oneway redemptions are allowed.

(2) You can book a ticket with connections with multiple carriers without increasing the number of miles needed.

(3) You are allowed free add-on destinations in Gulf countries on an award ticket that originates and ends outside of the Gulf. According to Qatar’s website, the number of Qmiles needed for a London-Doha-Bahrain itinerary will be the same as for the shorter London-Doha trip. This benefit may interest the traveler who needs or wants to country hop around the gulf states–Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait–for business or leisure.

Here are some negatives:

(1) The award chart is expensive.  An easy comparison is British Airway’s Avios distance-based award chart. For example, a short, roughly 1,000 mile oneway trip like New York-Miami would cost 7,500 Avios but 15,000 QMiles. A long-haul flight like Los Angeles-Hong Kong, about 7,000 miles oneway, would cost 35,000 Avios but 50,000 QMiles.

(2) You can’t book partner awards on the website. To book a partner award, you have to complete a “partner award request form”:

This form is then electronically submitted to the member services center, and you receive this message:

(3) Surcharges can be hundreds of dollars or more per passenger. I would like to figure out which partners incur surcharges, but I don’t have that information.

Qatar’s “Easy Deals”

Every month, Qatar Airways publishes “easy deals” on its website. It offers reduced-mileage award redemptions on selected routes for travel during the 6 weeks after the fares are published. This month’s deals can be found here and include: business class oneway flights from Beijing or Seoul to Doha for 27,000 Qmiles and Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo for 6,500 Qmiles.

Elite status and Qpoints in Qatar’s Privilege Club

There are 4 tiers of membership in Privilege Club: Privilege Club, Burgundy, Silver, and Gold. Members of all levels can use their Qmiles to book award tickets for anyone else and use their miles to pay for excess baggage. This table summarizes some of the relevant differences between each tier. A more complete table can be found here.

Somewhat confusingly, Elite status is obtained and maintained by accruing Qpoints. Not Qmiles–Qpoints:

Qpoints are awarded after each flight and the number awarded depends on the class of service and the regions traveled. At this time Qpoints can only be earned on paid Qatar Airways operated flights. Here are some selected examples of Qpoints earnings per oneway segment by region and route:

It would take six round trip flights between Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires on discount economy tickets to get you to Silver status. Of course, unless that status is linked to elite oneworld status, the tiers and Qpoints are of little value to the non-Qatar flyer.

Recap

Qatar’s entry into the oneworld alliance happened today, though there is no firm joining date. The addition of the Skytrax “airline of the year” for 2011 and 2012 brings new destinations in Africa, India, and the Middle East to the oneworld alliance.

If you fly paid business and first class flights, Qatar has historically offered mileage accrual in its program that is more generous than most US carriers–300% for first and 250% for business class.  This could potentially allow you to generate more Qmiles for later award redemption.

Qatar’s award chart has very few good value award redemptions and comes up short when compared with other oneworld members like American Airlines and British Airways, with a few exceptions. Short, fifth-freedom flights in Southeast Asia and South America are a good value at 5,000-7,500 Qmiles oneway in economy class. The monthly “easy deals” promotion offers some opportunities for discounted award flights on selected routes. Additionally, access to cities that are difficult to reach on award tickets is greatly improved in oneworld, with direct flights from Doha to Kathmandu and Kilimanjaro from 12,500 Qmiles oneway.

For me, the absolute bottom line is that the surcharges make it unlikely I will look to earn and redeem Qmiles. But I will look to use my AAdvantage miles and Avios on Qatar, especially if American Airlines doesn’t add fuel surcharges to the award cost.

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