|Update: So I went and booked SGN-PNH-SGN in Business Class for just over S$900. I called up Qatar Airways to change PNH to AKL, but was told that AKL was more than 5,000 miles from PNH. That shouldn’t be the case (since they’re using nautical miles), but they insisted the system wouldn’t let them do it. I next tried Sydney (definitely less than 5,000 miles, whether nautical or statute), but was also told no. I finally managed to get Perth, and now have SGN-DOH-PER-DOH-SGN. I’m going to try again with a different agent.
Update 2: Second agent told me that it’s not possible to change origin city (incorrect), but she could swap PER to SYD. It’s still not AKL, but DOH-SYD at least has QSuites. Anyway it seems to be a moot point now that fifth freedom flights are excluded from the T&Cs. Read about that here.
Qatar Airways has been running some interesting initiatives during Covid-19. In addition to giving away 100,000 tickets to healthcare professionals, they also recently updated their “Travel with Confidence” policy and it’s, well, almost too good to be true.
What is Qatar Airway’s “Travel with Confidence” policy?
If you book a ticket with Qatar Airways by 30 September 2020 with travel by 31 December 2020, you have the following options should your plans change.
- Hold on to your ticket for up to two years from the date of issuance (versus the usual one year)
- Make unlimited changes to your travel dates, free of charge. You can also change your origin to another city within the same country, or another destination within a 5,000 mile radius of the original destination
- Swap your ticket value for Qmiles at a rate of 100 Qmiles= US$1
- Exchange your ticket for a travel voucher with 10% additional value. Voucher is valid for two years
- Get a full refund to your original mode of payment if your flight is cancelled
Straight off the bat, you’ll see that (4) is basically arbitrage, giving you the option to earn an additional 10% from Qatar Airways instantly. If you’re thinking of booking a ticket, you might as well book a cheaper one first, then request a voucher for a bonus 10%.
I’m no fan of Qatar’s loyalty program, what with their unannounced devaluations and audacity to charge up to a US$300 “redemption booking fee” on top of the usual fuel surcharges, so I’d advise skipping (3).
But it’s (2) that gets me the most excited. At first, many thought this had to be a typo. Surely they meant 500 miles? Then some intrepid souls went to roll the dice and found that indeed, Qatar let you change your destination to anywhere within 5,000 miles for free.
That’s right, no differences in fares, taxes, fees, surcharges or rebooking penalties. Qatar Airways makes this very clear in their guidelines document meant for travel agents (thanks to OMAAT for the link)
And that creates a heck of an amazing opportunity.
How to find a great deal
The first thing you want to do is to look for the cheapest possible Qatar Airways Business Class fare that starts within a decent distance range of Singapore.
|☝️ As a general rule, it’s always cheaper to fly X->DOH->Y than X->DOH, as Qatar will naturally price connecting traffic cheaper than point-to-point.
Google Flights is invaluable for this, because it lets you search multiple origins and destinations at once.
Now, it’s common knowledge that we in Singapore get gouged for premium cabin fares. However, it’s possible to find cheaper fares out of other airports in Southeast Asia. So in Google Flights, I might try my luck for a trip to Rome, Milan or Venice, with possible starting points in Bangkok, Penang and Manila.
This leads me to a relatively cheap round-trip Business Class fare between MNL and FCO, priced at just S$2,049.
Once I book this, I have the option to change FCO to any Qatar Airways destination within 5,000 miles of FCO. 5,000 miles, let me tell you, is a heck of a long distance- the average jet flies at around 500 mph, so, that’s ~8+ hours of travel. In the case of Rome, this would put me in range of New York, Chicago, Jo’burg, and much more.
I could basically end up booking a MNL-DOH-ORD flight, which would normally cost S$4,111, for the same price as my MNL-DOH-FCO flight. For what it’s worth, I could also change MNL to CEB, since the policy lets me choose another starting point within the same country.
I could also book MNL-DOH-LHR, and not have to pay the extra APD that’s normally associated with flights out of London.
|☝️ To get the creative juices flowing, go to www.gcmap.com and type in 5000nm@ABC, where ABC is the airport you have in mind. This will generate a map like the one above with a 5000nm radius around your starting point. Unfortunately, it won’t actually list the airports, but you can get a broad picture of what’s possible (thanks Nalin, Ansley for the tip)
But that’s not the best deal. I read a pretty incredible account by Fairuz on Suitesmile of how he parlayed a S$944 Business Class SGN-PNH-SGN fare into a HAN-DOH-AKL-DOH-HAN with no additional charge. That is ridiculous.
And when you think about it, it fits all the rules:
- He changed the origin from SGN to HAN- both are within the same country (Vietnam)
- He changed the destination from PNH to AKL- within a 5,000 miles radius
- There were some concerns about whether this kind of backtracking would be allowed, but apparently it ticketed without problems for him. If backtracking became an issue, he could probably change PNH to somewhere Westbound
For ease of reference, here’s a 5,000 mile radius around PNH. It doesn’t quite cover all of Europe, but you can just about make it to Istanbul (4,979 miles), and all of Australia and New Zealand.
I’m going to be playing around with different permutations, but at the moment, I think it’s hard to beat SGN-PNH-SGN. It’s also possible to book CMB-DOH-MCT then swap it for CMB-DOH-FRA/CDG/LHR, but positioning to Sri Lanka is a bit harder than Vietnam.
Once you find something that works, try your best to book via Qatar Airways’ official website. You’re still entitled to the flexible booking policy if you book through through a third party OTA, but you’ll have to rebook through the OTA’s customer service, not Qatar Airways. This is likely to be tough, given how swamped they are dealing with multiple airline and hotel customers.
What’s the worst that can happen?
While I certainly wouldn’t go crazy booking speculative routes, I personally don’t have any issue with a sub-S$1,000 punt like Fairuz.
Let’s think about what could possibly go wrong:
(1) Travel restrictions to your origin (I assume you aren’t starting from SIN) or destination aren’t lifted by December 2020
If this happened, I’d take the 10% bonus credits option from Qatar.
(2) The flight is cancelled
Qatar makes it pretty clear there’ll be a full refund in that case.
(3) Qatar Airways goes under
I just can’t see this happening. There’s too much national pride, employment and political importance tied up in the airline. Never say never, but still…
You just need to accept that you will not be able to get a refund unless Qatar Airways is the one which cancels your flight. So keep that at the back of your mind, and don’t lock up cash you can’t afford to.
Qatar Airways’ extremely generous change policy creates the opportunity for some incredible fares, based on how creative you’re able to get with the routings. It almost seems too generous, so I’d advise you to book something sooner rather than later.
This is pretty much going to occupy me for the rest of the day, but if you spot any great routings, do give a shoutout below.