Qatar updates 'unlimited' rebooking policy, imposes 14-day waiting period for changes
Qatar Airways announced a new rebooking policy on May 14 — dubbed "Travel with Confidence" — that covered flights through Dec. 31, 2020, booked by Sept. 30, 2020. These changes gave customers more flexibility during the coronavirus outbreak, including an ultra-generous date and destination rebooking policy, the ability to convert travel credits to Qmiles and other interesting options.
Initially, the updated rebooking policy stated that Qatar Airways flyers could make "unlimited" changes to their itineraries, including changing their flight destination to anywhere within a 5,000-mile radius of their original destination. Even better? You were able to make these changes voluntarily (your flight doesn't need to be canceled), and a fare difference didn't apply.
Today, however, Qatar has made some slight modifications to the policy that remove some generosity — yet it still ranks as one of the most generous coronavirus change policies we've ever seen.
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Read on for full details on what this new verbiage means for tickets that haven't been adjusted.
A closer look at Qatar's change policy
Initially, these changes came just days after Qatar Airways announced that it plans to start ramping back up its international service, with the airline serving 52 international destinations by the end of May and 80 by the end of June. This makes it clear that Qatar wants to start its return to normalcy, but has left customers wondering what happens if their travel is disrupted in the case of continued border closures, flight cancellations and — frankly — general concerns around the safety of future travel.
Related: Complete guide to traveling during the deadly coronavirus outbreak
This new booking policy looked like an attempt to squash these fears and encourage future flight bookings, giving Qatar Airways immediate cash-flow. Here's a look at the changes Qatar announced originally. Again, these policies apply to bookings made by Sept. 30 for travel departing by Dec. 31.
- Canceled flights are eligible for a full refund to the original form of payment regardless of the ticket's booking class.
- The value of canceled tickets will be valid for two years, giving you extra time to rebook a future trip when you think it's safe.
- You're eligible for a 10% bonus if you exchange your ticket for future flight credit instead of a refund, so a $1,000 refund becomes a $1,100 flight voucher toward future credit.
- You can exchange your ticket for Qmiles at a rate of 100 Qmiles per U.S. dollar, effectively letting you purchase miles at 1 cent each. Note that this is still 0.2 cents per mile higher than TPG's valuation of 0.8 cents per point.
- You can change the date of your flight, the origin airport (so long as it's in the same country as originally booked) and the destination anywhere within a 5,000-mile radius of your original destination as many times as you'd like.
However, these are the new restrictions added as of Sunday May 17, as first reported by One Mile at a Time:
- You must wait 14 days from booking to make voluntary changes to an itinerary, and the same booking class must be available on the new itinerary.
- This policy only applies to flights via Qatar's hub in Doha (DOH); it's not available on fifth-freedom flights between other countries.
Even with these updates, the policy remains incredibly generous. In the case of the 10% bonus, a member could theoretically purchase a Qatar Airways ticket and immediately refund it for the bonus flight credit. However, there is some hassle involved with this and isn't exactly ethical, so we don't condone this practice.
In addition, the ability to convert a ticket's value to Qmiles at 1 cent each is also interesting. These miles aren't the most useful (or valuable) but could be worth considering if you have a very specific redemption in mind. We don't recommend doing this without a plan though — "buying" miles without a plan leaves you open to a huge devaluation.
One last thing: this policy only applies to paid tickets on Qatar Airways flights, so tickets booked with miles are not eligible for these benefits.
More: Complete guide to changing and canceling award tickets
The lowdown on Qatar's new rebooking policy
The most intriguing part of Qatar's change policy is the rebooking policy. As discussed, you can rebook any ticket set to depart by the end of the year and change its dates, origin and destination airport. While you must depart from the same country, destinations can be changed to anywhere within a 5,000-mile radius of your original destination.
The carrier has now imposed a 14-day waiting period for making voluntary changes and is requiring the same fare class to be available on the new itinerary. Otherwise, you may be required to cover any additional amount owed for the new ticket — be it airfare or taxes and fees. When it was initially announced, you could ticket a low-fare flight and immediately call in to adjust it to a new, eligible itinerary for no charge. Now, you not only need to wait; you also need the same fare class to be available (more on that below).
READ MORE: What airline fare classes tell you about your ticket
Bear in mind too that travel must be completed by the end of 2020 utilizing this policy, so you can't book a ticket for winter 2020 and rebook into summer 2021. This limits some of the policy's usefulness as some countries may keep their borders closed through 2020, and it simply may not be safe to travel by the end of the year.
On the bright side, there's nothing stopping you from rebooking a ticket and requesting a flight credit (with a 10% bonus) if you decide to not take the trip. Just keep in mind that there's no guarantee that Qatar Airways will make it through this travel downturn, so your flight credit could be deemed worthless if the airline did go under.
Maximizing this change policy
Under this policy, you could book a ticket from New York-JFK to Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) via Doha (DOH) and change it to Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Sydney (SYD) via Doha for no additional charge — as long as you wait 14 days and can find the same fare class. Plus, you could change the flight to any date before the end of the year, letting you avoid higher prices during the holidays.
For example, let's say you wanted to spend Thanksgiving in the Maldives. Flights out of Miami (MIA) to Malé (MLE) are quite expensive — over $2,000 per person round-trip in economy.
However, a round-trip flight from Miami to Mumbai (BOM) for nearby dates is less than half that amount.
Better yet, both of these flights book into the S fare class, and Mumbai and Male are separated by just 1,025 miles — so if you book the inexpensive option and wait 14 days, you should be able to call and make a voluntary change to the new itinerary. This effectively saves you over 50% — as long as you're comfortable that the new itinerary will still be available in two weeks (and that there aren't any additional changes).
Since this policy covers voluntary changes, you could — in theory — use it to score cheap business class flights in Qatar Qsuite — just find a cheap route that departs from your home country and change it to the date and destination you'd like to book.
Related: The ultimate guide to Qatar QSuite
Is this policy too good to be true?
On paper, this rebooking policy is awesome. It provides Qatar Airways' customers with the utmost flexibility, letting customers change their travel plans for any reason. However, the airline's old policy only allowed customers to change their destination, leaving many to wonder if this change was a typo.
This doesn't seem to be the case, though. The policy is cut-and-clear on Qatar's recently-published passenger guidelines document (warning: PDF link) and nowhere in the document does it say that this policy only applies to those whose travel has been involuntarily disrupted. Likewise, this rebooking policy has been posted on the airlines' coronavirus updates page.
Some initial reports indicated that phone agents were advising some customers that this rebooking policy only applies to tickets that were involuntarily disturbed, but those issues appear to have been resolved. However, the new 14-day waiting period does add some risk — and could always be subject to future changes.
Related: I didn’t want to get off the plane: A review of Qatar Airways economy on the A380 from Doha to London
Which change option is best for you?
The best option for you depends on if you see travel recovering in 2020. If you already have a flight booked and think that it will be safe to travel at the end of the year, it may be in your best interest to rebook your flight at the end of the year and assess the situation. If things don't recover, request a flight credit and book for 2021.
If your flight was involuntarily disrupted, think of how likely you will be to travel on Qatar Airways. If you're a Qatar Airways loyalist, it may be worth rebooking your flight or opting for a flight credit with a 10% bonus. On the other hand, you may want to opt for a refund if you don't see yourself traveling on Qatar in the future or if you don't have a positive outlook for the future of the airline.
Related: 10 ways coronavirus could forever change the future of travel
The only option we recommend you stay away from is converting a ticket to Qmiles. Again, these miles only have limited usefulness and consistently rank as some of TPG's least valuable miles.
Do your research and see what option is best for you. There's no need to make a decision now either — the policy is set to be in place until Sept. 30, so you have time to feel out the situation and make future plans as you see fit.
It's great to see Qatar Airways offer flexible change and cancellation options to its customers, even with some additional adjustments made as of Sunday May 17. The coronavirus outbreak has brought a ton of uncertainty to the travel world, and customers are worried about future travel plans. Offering these options means that Qatar is telling its customers they can travel when and where they want, regardless of what was originally booked.
That said, the airline's rebooking policy isn't risk-free. While you could book a cheap ticket only to change it after waiting 14 days, you must stay within that same fare class or be on the hook for a fare difference. And if the policy is later changed, you could be stuck with a flight credit.