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You’d be hard-pressed to go a week without seeing Qatar Airways (or its colorful CEO) appear in a headline. The constant accusations between the legacy US carriers and the ME3 carriers, Qatar’s new business-class suite and creative Qatar marketing plans all make for good #avgeek entertainment. Today, we’ll push aside the headlines and politics to see what value Qatar offers in terms of frequent flyer miles. Here’s everything you need to know about the Qatar Airways frequent flyer program Privilege Club and its loyalty currency, Qmiles.

Earn Qmiles

Like with most frequent flyer programs today, there are many ways to earn redeemable Qmiles. There are flights on an airline’s own metal, partner flights, hotel and car rental bookings, financial services like banks and credit cards and other partners.

The easiest ways for Americans to earn Qmiles are:

The good news is that earning redeemable Qmiles (not elite-qualifying Qpoints) from flights is based not on your ticket cost but on your fare class and length of flight. The bad news is that only full-fare economy tickets and above earn 100% miles of the distance flown. Discount economy tickets, like the cheap fares we often see from Qatar, will typically only earn 25% of the distance flown. Discount business fares earn 125% of miles flown, and it moves up to 200% for full-fare business. Here’s an example of the Qmiles earned on a one-way Atlanta-Doha flight:

Screen Shot 2017-08-03 at 9.21.09 AM

You can also earn Qmiles by crediting partner airline flights to your Qatar Privilege account. You’ll earn redeemable miles at about the same rate you would if flying a Qatar-operated flight. Discount economy on most partner carriers will earn 25% of miles flown. Look at each partner’s specific earn chart on the Qatar site to find out if you should credit a flight to your Privilege Club account. Here’s the chart showing the Qmiles you’ll earn when flying American and crediting to Qatar:

Screen Shot 2017-08-03 at 10.09.48 AM

There are several other ways to earn Qmiles. By signing up for the Privilege Club and booking your first online flight, you’ll earn 2,000 bonus Qmiles. For each subsequent online booking, you’ll earn 500 miles. Qatar also routinely offers promotions to earn Qmiles, which can make it easy to rack up thousands if you’re a frequent Qatar flyer. There have been 3x and 4x Qmiles offers on an almost quarterly basis, and currently there’s a 2x offer for all earnings.

Privilege Club does offer a family program where up to nine members of a family (spouse, children and parents of the main member) can pool Qmiles into a single main member’s account. The problem is unless you have elite status, you don’t get to pool 100% of the miles earned and start as low as 25%. That means if your family is flying on a discount economy ticket and you pool your miles, you will earn as little as 25% of 25% earnings into your family program account. Family members must be at least two years old to join your pool, and you can nominate members online.

If you book a hotel or car rental through Qatar Airways, you’ll earn 1 Qmile per dollar spent on hotels and 3 Qmiles per dollar spent on car rentals. You can also book hotel and cars directly with partner companies and earn anywhere from 1 to 3 Qmiles per dollar spent by adding your Privilege Club number to your reservation. There are dozens more partners from banks and companies in the Middle East, none of which look like viable options for Americans to earn Qmiles. Perhaps the most unique relationship is the ability to earn 12 Qmiles per gram of gold you buy in India, Kuwait or the UAE.

Qmiles Rules to Know

Here are a few rules/idiosyncrasies you need to be aware of when using the Privilege Club:

  • Miles expire at the end of the semester 3 years after you earned them. If you earn miles in September 2017, they will expire on December 31, 2020. If you earned miles in February of this year, they will expire on June 30, 2020.
  • You can extend or reinstate expiring/expired miles for 1.5 cents each online.
  • Award ticket fees are as follows:
    • Booking within seven days of departure without status will incur a $25 rush fee.
    • Booking a same-day departure award ticket will cost $50.
    • Change/cancellation of an award ticket 24 hours or more out from departure is a reasonable $25. Once you’re within 3 to 24 hours of departure, it will cost $100.
    • Changes/cancellations within 3 hours of departure are not allowed.
    • A $25 phone booking fee applies
  • You must have enough Qmiles in your account to search Qatar award space on the Qatar website. This is incredibly frustrating if you’re trying to decide whether to transfer miles into your Privilege Club account, as you have to call and ask for award space.
  • You cannot book first class on the A380 Doha-London route using miles.
  • You cannot book infant tickets in first or business class. That means you have to pay 10% of the adult fare.
  • No stopovers or open jaws are allowed on award bookings.
  • Qatar removed fuel surcharges from award bookings in 2015. You still have to pay minimal taxes and fees.

Redeem Qmiles

There is no published award chart for flights on Qatar Airways booked with Qmiles. You need to use the Qcalculator to determine all award costs. From my searches in the calculator, it looks like the program is region-based. All routes to the States require the same amount of Qmiles for an award flight; one-way from the US to Doha will cost 35,000, 70,000 or 105,000 miles in economy, business or first class, respectively. Flights from the US to Europe/India/Asia cost 40,000-47,500 miles one-way in economy, and that includes a layover in Doha.

As mentioned above, because you need Qmiles in your account to do an online booking, the process of getting a Qatar award can be frustrating. You first need to call 1-800-988-6128 and request award availability. The agent should look for “X” fare class for an award economy seat and “U” fare class for business and first (if operated) award seats. They cannot tell you the taxes and fees for your route until you have the miles in your account. Because transfer times from Marriott and Citi are not instant, you risk availability changing while you wait for the points to show up. The two phone agents I spoke with would not put a reservation on hold or even begin the booking process until miles were in my account.

Qatar 777 Qsuite First Look
Book Qsuites for 70,000 miles from US-DOH — when the route is eventually announced.

On the routes from the US I had phone agents search, availability for Privilege Club members seemed to be decent. The first week of September for ATL/JFK/PHL/DFW-DOH had several days with multiple seats in economy and business. If you want an almost guaranteed seat, you could pay twice the amount of miles required to book a Flexi award. I would never recommend doing that, though.

Partner Flights

All partner flights are booked on a distance-based award chart. The cost of your ticket will depend on the total distance of all legs flown. If you want a stopover or open jaw, you’ll have to book separate tickets. In addition to using Qmiles for flights on Oneworld partners, you can also book Middle East Airlines, Gol and Royal Air Maroc utilizing the same partner award chart as Oneworld airlines.

Qatar Partner Award Chart
Qatar Partner Award Chart

That’s a pretty rough partner award chart no matter which way you cut it. You’re looking at 70,000-100,000 miles each way for business-class transatlantic flights. The mileage zones are small, and with the first zone starting so expensive, the rest of the chart is a losing proposition. In my opinion Qatar is definitely trying to incentivize members to not redeem Qmiles on partners, but rather only on Qatar metal.

Easy Deals

Qatar Airways has ongoing specials where specific routes have discounted mileage requirements for award bookings. Through August 15, you can book Doha-Dublin for an 8,500-mile discount each way in business, making the long-haul flight only 36,500 miles each way (and on a 787 Dreamliner).

Upgrades

You can use Qmiles to upgrade your paid ticket — even if it’s discount economy — and you can even double upgrade from economy to first (for 100,000 miles from the US to Doha). The constraint is what space Qatar makes available for upgrades — and by many frequent flyers’ accounts it’s been dwindling in the last year. Upgrading discount economy tickets from the US to Doha will cost 50,000 Qmiles, while upgrading a full-fare economy ticket to business will cost 42,500 miles one-way. This is not a screaming deal, but it is an option if you want to enjoy a premium cabin. Just remember that 70,000 miles will get you an entire free business ticket. Here are the miles required for upgrades from the US to Doha:

Screen Shot 2017-08-03 at 11.53.28 AM

You can upgrade your ticket all the way up to the airport check-in counter, which is where most people are reporting success lately.

Other Options

You can redeem Qmiles for excess baggage, shopping and merchandise. As is the case with the overwhelming majority of programs we review, this rarely leads to a good value for your miles and should be avoided. You can also transfer Qmiles to Le Club Accor Hotel points at a 4.5:1 ratio, which again should be avoided.

Sweet Spots

If you want to fly economy to the Middle East, Qmiles charges the lowest amount of miles one-way (35,000) of all award programs I searched. A nonstop itinerary and no fuel surcharges make it all the better. Add in the onboard product, which is much more pleasant than flying legacy US carriers to Europe then connecting to the Middle East, and it’s a real winner in my book. 70,000 Qmiles for business to the Middle East is also a great price — and you can fly the A350 right now and hopefully new 777-330ER with Qsuites in the near future.

For other routes flown by Qatar Airways, if you’re starting in the States you have to transit in Doha. If you’re headed pretty much anywhere besides the Indian subcontinent, that can be out of the way. Even though the amount of miles required are competitive for itineraries from the US to Europe, Africa and Asia, I can’t recommend using Qatar Airways Qmiles to get there because of the routing. If stopovers or open jaws were allowed, there’d be great potential. Sadly, they are not.

The Easy Deals and limited-time offers are definitely worth keeping an eye on in the Privilege Club. The discount mileage rates for some routes look like great deals if you find yourself looking to travel to or from the Middle East.

Bottom Line

If you routinely need to fly Qatar Airways for business and get the 2x and 3x earn offers, crediting your flights to Privilege Club would actually make a lot of sense given the reasonable amount of miles needed for award tickets on Qatar-operated flights. If you catch a cheap Qatar Airways fare deal, make sure you look at upgrade options and hope you get lucky with available upgrade space. But when it comes to booking Oneworld flights and the three other partners, don’t look to utilize Qmiles for award tickets.

Have you transferred miles to Qatar Airways Privilege Club?

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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