Buying access to Qatar’s incredible Al Safwa First Lounge in Doha

Nov 23, 2019

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You’ve probably read all about Qatar Airways’ outstanding Qsuite business class on TPG, but we rarely write about the carrier’s first-class product — technically, a cabin above that enclosed biz suite.

There’s a simple explanation: Qatar only offers first class on its Airbus A380, which doesn’t fly to the U.S., along with some regional business cabins branded as first class for flights within the Middle East. As a result, it’s historically been difficult to access the carrier’s Al Safwa First Lounge in Doha (DOH), though there’s a new first-class lounge for business-class flyers to buy a ticket to.

I decided to take that process for a spin on a recent eight-hour layover in Doha, during my journey from Cape Town (CPT) to New York-JFK.

As of the time of this post, business-class passengers can spend up to six hours in the lounge for 600 Qatari rials (about $165) or 650 rials ($180) with a bundled 15-minute “express” massage. I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve card to pay for the massage bundle — yes, it did code as travel for 3x points — and was promptly welcomed in. Note that other purchases similar to this may not code as travel, so be sure to check your statement to see what you’ve earned on the transaction.

This was my second time inside the lounge, and it was almost entirely empty again, in stark contrast to the packed Al Mourjan Business Lounge just down the hall.

With a full crew and only one guest to attend to (me!), the staff almost seemed excited when I stopped by the dining area for a very late-night bite.

Though I wasn’t blown away by the cuisine, the shrimp starter tasted fine, and the desserts were interesting — aish el saraya, a Lebanese bread pudding and umm ali, an Egyptian bread pudding.

After dinner — or breakfast, maybe, since it was 3 a.m. — I wandered around the lounge for a bit. Aside from a staffer here and there, I didn’t see a soul!

I ended up spending most of my time in one of the fancy private rooms Qatar offers on a first come, first served basis.

The private room was the true highlight for me. On my last layover, I booked a room at the Oryx Airport Hotel in the transit area, which costs $260 if reserved online. Buying into Al Safwa, I saved $80, got a 15-minute massage, a nice meal, some good wine and had a far more interesting experience overall.

Each private room included a shower, too. They do sometimes fill up, but you can ask about availability before you pay for lounge access at the main check-in desk.

My massage was fantastic, too. It was so great, in fact, that I decided to add another 45 minutes for about $125 — steep, but easier to justify given the money I had just saved on a hotel room.

I ended up staying in the lounge just over my allotted six hours, from around 12:45 a.m. until 7 a.m., when it was time to head to my gate. Nobody mentioned the time limit again after I checked in, though, so it seems reasonable that they would have allowed me to stay a bit longer.

I really hope Qatar Airways continues to sell access to the Al Safwa First Lounge. While I might otherwise argue that paid access hurts the experience for first-class flyers, there didn’t seem to be anyone in the lounge to disturb until just before I left in the morning.

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