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During a recent round-the-world trip, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen had a chance to fly on Qatar Airways’ 787-8 in business class. Here’s how he used miles to book the ticket and his review of the experience.
Earlier this spring, while I was planning a summer round-the-world trip, I was looking for ways to get from Southeast Asia to the Middle East en route to Europe in July. I would be coming from Singapore or Thailand, and I wanted to get to Dubai to see some friends. Among the options I was considering were Singapore Airlines from Singapore; Thai Airways from Bangkok; or one of the Middle East 3 — Emirates, Etihad or Qatar Airways — from either Singapore or Bangkok to Dubai (via Doha on Qatar or just to Abu Dhabi on Etihad).
Redeeming Miles for Qatar’s 787
Singapore Air seemed like a good option because I have Ultimate Rewards points I’ve earned with my Chase Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus cards. I could transfer miles to my KrisFlyer account and redeem them for an award on the airline. Singapore is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, so it’s a potentially very useful program. However, it would cost 45,000 miles (38,250 with the 15% online discount) and about $150 in taxes and fees. I’d also already booked a Singapore First Class Suites award from Melbourne to Singapore for this trip, so I wanted to try another airline if possible.
I also have a stash of American Airlines AAdvantage miles, with redemption rates among the most favorable out there at the moment. Taking that into consideration, it looked like my best bet was using American AAdvantage miles either on its Oneworld partner, Qatar Airways, or on its non-alliance partner, Etihad; a quick look at award availability narrowed the choice down to Qatar.
To come to that conclusion, I looked on Etihad’s award-booking page to check out potential flights (you look for “Guest” flight availability), and while it operates four flights daily from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok, they’re on 777-300ERs, and its daily flight to Singapore is aboard an A330 — which isn’t that exciting.
On the other hand, a quick search on British Airways’ website (American’s website doesn’t access Qatar award availability) revealed that Qatar is currently flying both its new A350 and 787-8s from Singapore to Doha. Award availability in July on both aircraft in economy and business was pretty spectacular, so I had my choice of dates and aircraft. (Just a quick note here: If you click on the individual flights in the BA search, it will list the 787, but no aircraft will be listed if it’s the A350. That’s how you can tell which is which on this route.)
I actually would have preferred trying the newer A350, but it was only available for flights that left at either 2:30am or 9:20pm, which didn’t seem like great options. Instead, I opted for the 787 flight, which departs Singapore (SIN) at 10:40am and arrives in Doha (DOH) at 1:15pm. I wanted to spend a night in Doha if possible since I’d never been there before, so I did a separate search for flights from DOH-Dubai (DXB) for the following morning and settled on one departing at 9:25am and arriving at about 11:30am. That way, my connecting flight still came in under the 24-hour layover wire in American’s award routing rules and I could book the whole thing as a single award.
I made a note of all the flight numbers, then phoned the American Airlines AAdvantage desk to book the award. At first, the agent said she wasn’t seeing any flights between SIN-DOH-DXB, but I spoon-fed her the flight numbers and times and she seemed to be able to pull them up at that point, so I’m not sure what the issue was.
The total cost came to 30,000 miles and about $31 in taxes and fees. However, I got a 10% mileage refund thanks to my Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard, so the mileage redemption came out to just 27,000 miles – a steal for a 7.5-hour flight with a relatively new business class and plane.
Within five minutes, my flights were booked, I had my confirmation number and got an email from American stating that my award was being processed. The following morning, the booking had been finalized and I received a confirmation email from American with my ticket. At that point, I had to call into Qatar’s US customer service number to select my seats, since I wanted to be sure to get one along the side of the plane on the 787 — and then I was done!
Qatar Airways operates out of Terminal 3 at Singapore Changi (SIN), and there were just a few check-in counters open. The other business- and first-class counters were busy, but there was one open for me, and I headed straight for it.
Here’s where things got a little complicated.
Although my final destination was Dubai, as I mentioned above, I would actually be overnighting in Doha. This threw the check-in agent, who then said she needed to see proof of onward travel from Dubai as well as my hotel confirmation for Doha. Luckily I had both on my iPhone, so I just handed it over to her so that she could note the details.
While she was doing that, I noticed my baggage tags had DXB, the Dubai airport code, printed on them. When she finished the data entry, I asked her if my bags were checked all the way through, and she said they were. I asked if she could just check them to Doha instead since I would be staying overnight, and that seemed to mystify her and she asked if I was going to re-check them in Doha. I said I was and that I wanted them for the night that I’d be spending in Doha. She still seemed a little confused and called over a supervisor; once he came over, though, he was able to reprint the tags for me and send them to Doha.
That taken care of, I got my boarding passes (both of them — I figured it was safer to have the DOH-DXB one in hand!) and was on my way through immigration to the lounge.
Qatar uses the Dnata lounge. It’s next to the SilverKris and KrisFlyer Gold lounges on the second floor of the terminal, but this one has fewer amenities. It’s little more than a small private area shared by a few airlines, but the Wi-Fi signal was decent and there was enough seating at that time of day, so I was happy.
It had a small buffet with breakfast foods, some beverages including coffee, tea, juices, beer and wine. They even made a boarding announcement for my flight (an increasing rarity these days), after which I immediately started the 15-minute walk to my gate at the end of the terminal.
Boarding Qatar’s 787-8 is meant to be a dramatic experience, and it’s definitely different from entering other planes. You walk right into the back of business class where there’s a small counter but no curtains, galley or anything else to obstruct the view of the interior and the cabin itself.
Qatar’s Dreamliners are two-class aircraft with business and economy classes, but no first class. In business, there are just 22 lie-flat seats in a reverse-herringbone 1 x 2 x 1 configuration. The first 20 seats are in five rows in the front cabin, and there’s an odd two-seater section behind the lavatories and just in front of economy that has just the middle seats.
Each seat is 22 inches wide, though both of the armrests are adjustable and can give you up to 30 inches in total width when lowered. The seat reclines fully flat to a full bed pitch of 80 inches, which is among the longest out there. When reclined, the footstool under the table and monitor becomes the foot of the bed.
The seats are a lot like the ones Cathay Pacific and American Airlines have in their 777-300ER business-class cabins, but the design is sleeker and slimmer. While the backs of the seats are a rounded shell, these seats don’t have panels shielding them from the aisle, so they don’t feel quite as private. However, you still have a good deal of space to yourself, and the design effect echoes the sweeping curves of the plane itself.
One of the other main differences between this seat and similar ones on other airlines is that the 17-inch entertainment screen isn’t embedded in the back of the previous seat, requiring you to release a latch and swing it into place to watch it (and stow it for takeoff and landing). Instead, it’s mounted next to the seatback and above the tray table so that you can take advantage of it the whole flight — and it’s easier to maneuver the table, as well.
As for the seat itself, it’s handsomely upholstered in gray fabric with a purple-red trim, and has wood-paneled armrests and cubbies. The armrest on the aisle side holds a noise-canceling headset and a bottle of water, while the one on the non-aisle side of the seat conceals a storage cubby.
The seat controls are very simple to use, and there are diagrams showing you which button moves what, so I had fun playing around with that for a few minutes. (Chances are you will, too.)
The amenity kit was already sitting at my seat, so naturally I opened it up right away. It was a black fabric Giorgio Armani kit with Acqua di Gio aftershave and eau de toilette; Rituals lip balm; and ear plugs, socks and an eye mask. Shaving razors and toothbrush-toothpaste packets were stocked in the lavatory the whole flight. The airline doesn’t hand out pajamas on day flights.
Qatar also offers Wi-Fi. The plans are by usage, so you end up paying about $10 for 20MB or $20 for 50MB. Not horrendous, but not too impressive, either. I didn’t need Wi-Fi, so I saved my money.
From the very start, the crew was fantastic, solicitous but not overbearing. My flight attendant came over immediately to introduce himself as Oscar and offer me juice, tea or water before the flight. I’d actually just had food poisoning the day before, so water and tea were pretty much all I was going to have on the flight and I told him so. He made a note and said if I needed anything at all to just let him or his colleagues know, and that if I changed my mind and wanted anything to eat at anytime, to hit the service button.
Take-off was right on time, and despite a few minutes of turbulence, the crew got right to work with beverage and meal service. They don’t wheel a cart down the aisle, instead serving each passenger individually, which was nice since it kept the aisles clear. I ordered cup after cup of chamomile tea, and I will say, mine never got cold — that’s how often Oscar and the other attendants came back to refill it.
I did take a gander at the menu, though, and here were the choices the other folks had:
For a starter, there was an amuse bouche of sesame-coated prawn with mango-cucumber salsa. Then there was a choice of coconut-chicken soup with rice and spring onion; Thai-style beef salad, or the airline’s signature Arabic mezze including hummus, tabouleh and moutabel (a spicy eggplant dip) with Arabic bread.
Among the mains were pasta in a mushroom cream sauce with caramelized red onions and tomatoes (this smelled okay, but looked just so-so); a nice-looking lemon and garlic-marinated chicken breast with herb jus served with chive mashed potato, slow-cooked cherry tomatoes and balsamic-glazed carrots; and Thai beef curry with jasmine rice and eggplant sambal.
For dessert, there was a cheese plate, a seasonal fruit plate, chocolate truffle with mango coulis or ice cream. There was also a small buffet with breakfast foods and some beverages, including coffee, tea, juices, beer and wine.
I was actually pretty impressed by the wine list — and not only because they were serving wine during Ramadan, but also for its great selections. The Champagnes included Taittinger Prestige Rosé and Billecart-Salmon Brut, and among the white wines were a Bouchard Père et Files Premier Cru white Burgundy and a Sauvignon Blanc from Yealands Estate in New Zealand. For the reds, there was a Château Monbousquet red Bordeaux from Saint-Emilion, a Fox Creek Shiraz from McLanren Vale in Australia and an Amarone by Borelli from Italy. There were also two sweet dessert wines: Pfaffenheim sweet Gewürztraminer from Alsace and a Colheita 1974 vintage tawny Port from Kopke.
While watching a movie, I felt myself getting a bit sleepy, so I made my seat into a bed, stretched out and went right out. The bed goes fully flat, and the space for your feet actually feels pretty big, unlike the cubby you’ll find on American or Cathay.
The pillow is more mid-size than full, I’d say, and the duvet was lightweight (and not that big).
I got a good three- or four-hour snooze in, waking up just as the flight attendants were ending the pre-landing snack service. As soon as my seat was up, Oscar was back asking if I felt any better and wanted anything. I asked for some more tea, and he actually made up a mezze platter for me to see if I might be tempted to have a nibble.
I did eat a couple pieces of the bread and tried a little bite of each of the three dips, but that was all I could manage. The other light options for the snack were grilled chicken panini, seared local fish fillet with meehon noodles and star anise-hoisin sauce, and little hot savory cakes.
All of it made me think that I should definitely fly the airline again when I can actually eat and drink!
We got into Doha about 20 minutes early, taxied past a few other aircraft and came to our gate. I think I must have been the only passenger in business class not transiting elsewhere immediately, because I had the whole immigration hall to myself. I paid for a visa on arrival for 100 Qatari Rial (about $27) with my Chase Sapphire Preferred at the immigration desk, and by the time I walked out to the carousel, my bag was just coming out. I went through customs, was met by a driver from my hotel and was on my way. I’d say the whole thing took about 15-20 minutes, mostly due to the walking.
If I had a long layover or part of a day and wanted to get out into the city, I could have used the arrivals lounge for a snack and a shower. But because I was heading to a hotel, though, I just left the airport without checking it out.
Although I was sad not to be able to sample the cuisine, I have to say that my experience on Qatar was great. Not only was it easy and relatively cheap to book a great award, but the new business class was also really comfortable, the staff were friendly and attentive and the experience (at least in Doha itself) was seamless. I would definitely recommend flying Qatar, especially if you can get on one of the new planes in its fleet (787, A350 and A380), and if you can book an AAdvantage award because of the decent redemption values.
Have any of you flown Qatar’s 787? How was your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.