Head-to-head: Comparing Qatar Qsuite with American Flagship First
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There’s a new carrier flying between the U.S. and Doha, Qatar: American Airlines.
While some industry observers might’ve been caught off guard by American’s new long-haul route from New York-JFK to Doha (DOH), it makes sense on paper.
Doha is the main hub for Qatar Airways, which is in the Oneworld alliance along with American Airlines. By flying there, American will be able to flyers offer plenty of onward connectivity on Qatar Airways to various regions including the rest of the Middle East, India and Africa. Plus, with the FIFA World Cup taking place in Doha this winter, Qatar will likely be the terminus for many U.S. flyers in the near term.
Meanwhile, in New York, this particular route will be supported by American’s so-called Northeast Alliance with JetBlue, with the carrier tapping into JetBlue’s robust network from JFK for additional domestic connectivity beyond the New York City area.
For premium-cabin passengers, American’s entrance to the market presents an interesting question: Can the airline’s onboard experience compete with Qatar’s award-winning cabins?
American is flying its largest jet, the Boeing 777-300ER, to Doha, which features both a first- and business-class cabin. In fact, American is the only airline flying a first-class product nonstop between the U.S. and Qatar. Meanwhile, Qatar Airways flies its well-regarded Qsuite business class on its U.S. routes.
While the TPG Award-winning Qsuite is undoubtedly better than American’s business-class offering, things get more interesting when you compare American Flagship First with Qatar Qsuite.
Fortunately, I just had a chance to fly American’s top cabin to Doha, so now it’s time to put it head-to-head against Qsuite using TPG’s reviews framework.
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Both American and Qatar belong to the Oneworld alliance, meaning that you can redeem miles with any of the 13 member airlines for flights on either American or Qatar.
That said, Qatar beats American in terms of the number of frequencies and available award seats. The carrier flies to 12 U.S. destinations, while American serves Doha only from New York.
Of course, the greater availability of Qsuite saver awards is partly due to the fact that Qatar simply operates more flights to Doha than American does (American offers just eight Flagship First seats on each daily flight).
American does offer some dynamically priced Web Special awards for AAdvantage loyalty program members looking to book Flagship First using their AAdvantage miles, but for everyone else, finding an award seat for Qsuite should be easier.
On the flip side, upgrading to Flagship First (for those booked in business class) is quite easy, especially for top-tier elites with systemwide upgrades. American makes much of its unsold premium-cabin inventory available for upgrades within a few days of departure.
This one might catch you by surprise, but American’s first-class passengers are in for a better ground experience than Qatar’s Qsuite travelers are.
That’s because American offers an exclusive Flagship First dining facility at its Flagship Lounge in New York-JFK, whereas Qsuite passengers are “only” entitled to Flagship Lounge access. With a la carte meals and upgraded drink selections, Flagship First dining is one of the most exclusive hideouts available across U.S. airports.
The same is true for those departing Qatar. Flagship First passengers can access the incredible Al Safwa first-class lounge, whereas those in Qsuite are welcomed to the gorgeous (but less luxurious) Al Mourjan lounge in Doha.
Cabin and seat
Figuring out which seat is better will ultimately come down to personal preference and what’s available when you’re booking.
American’s Flagship First cabin has just eight individual pods spread across two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. There’s no question that Flagship First is more exclusive, but unfortunately, these seats don’t offer much privacy.
There are no doors, nor are there any real privacy shields between the window and center seats. There is a large divider that can be raised between the two center seats, but that doesn’t help shield you from the passengers across the aisle.
Another downside to the American seats is the lack of storage. Aside from the large exposed shelf, you won’t find any enclosed areas to keep your belongings.
The one redeeming quality of the Flagship First pod is the comfort of the bed. Measuring 82 inches long, the bed is extremely comfortable and spacious. There are no plastic sidewalls or tight footwells that would restrict your movement when you’re sleeping.
For novelty’s sake, American’s seat can also be swiveled into a desk. Great for those who need to focus on work, but likely just a gimmick for everyone else.
Meanwhile, the Qsuite cabin is also arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, but there are multiple different “types” of seats. Window seats alternate between being closer to the window (more private, but rear-facing) or closer to the aisle (less private, but forward-facing).
Those in the center alternate between being closer and farther from each other. The closer ones can be converted into a double-bedded “honeymoon” suite — perfect for couples.
Meanwhile, if a family or group of friends is traveling together, you can convert four center seats into a “Qsuite quad.”
Every Qsuite has a tall door (measuring 52 inches on the A350) that provides an incredible amount of privacy.
There’s also a good amount of storage space in each Qsuite, as the side ottoman doubles as an enclosed storage area.
I don’t find the Qsuite beds to be as comfortable as American’s Flagship First ones. They’re 3 inches shorter and definitely not as wide. Each Qsuite seat is roughly 21 inches wide, whereas the Flagship First pod is nearly 30 inches wide.
While the Qsuite cabin isn’t as exclusive as Flagship First, it’s most certainly much more tastefully designed — the burgundy coloring, coupled with the gray upholstery, tasteful gold accents and black trim make for a soothing and relaxing onboard experience.
Amenities and IFE
Winner: Qatar, slightly
Both Flagship First and Qsuite excel in terms of service and amenities — or the “soft product.”
Each Flagship First passenger receives a thick Casper-branded mattress pad, a duvet and both lumbar support and standard-sized pillow. You’ll also enjoy a pair of slippers and Recliner-branded pajamas to use during the flight.
Qatar also offers two pillows, along with a plush duvet. You’ll receive a mattress pad during turndown service, but it’s not as thick as the American one. Pajamas are provided by The White Company, and they are a bit scratchier than the ones you get in Flagship First.
You’ll receive an amenity kit in both cabins; American’s are branded by Shinola, and Qatar’s are from Bric’s.
Taken strictly in terms of amenities, it’d be a toss-up about which product is better.
However, Qatar’s Oryx One entertainment system is vastly superior to American’s. The screens are larger (22 inches vs. 17 inches) and of higher quality, plus there’s much more content on the Qatar system than the American one.
American does offer its premium-cabin passengers a pair of Bang & Olufsen headphones during the flight, which are much more comfortable (and offer better sound) than the Qatar ones.
Neither carrier offers a great Wi-Fi experience. Qatar’s “Super Wi-Fi” is often frustratingly slow and spotty, while American’s Panasonic offering can be hit-or-miss.
Food and beverage
Before the pandemic, Qatar offered some of the best food and drinks you can find in business class.
With an extensive a la carte menu of both breakfast and all-day options, you’d never go hungry on the airline (as long as there was enough food catered for the entire cabin).
During the last two years, the airline scaled back the range of options, but even so, the Qsuite culinary experience still excels. The airline recently debuted vegan options on all its menus, and staples like the Arabic mezze continue to be fan favorites.
The spirits menu is quite extensive, and you can even order a cocktail (or mocktail) with Qatar.
While American Airlines has done a great job investing in its catering in recent months, it still pales in comparison to what Qatar offers, even in Flagship First.
The food isn’t as tasty or presented as elegantly as it is on Qatar, and the portions, especially the appetizers, aren’t as large.
On a good day, American’s Flagship First service can be best described as great… for business class.
The airline doesn’t offer a competitive international first-class service flow. Menus aren’t hand distributed, the pre-departure beverage is pre-poured, there’s no turndown service. The list goes on. Though you can always ask, there’s technically no “dine-on-demand” concept in Flagship First, either.
Of course, your service experience is going to differ based on the crew staffing your flight, but my experience with American has been mixed.
With Qatar, however, I’ve only had above-average to phenomenal service interactions. You’re always greeted by name, and the crew often bends over backward to make sure you have a good flight.
Whether it’s turndown service or elaborate meals, Qatar definitely gets the nod here.
American Airlines is the only U.S. carrier still offering an international first-class product, and the carrier is now flying its largest jet, equipped with Flagship First, to Doha, Qatar.
That means premium-cabin travelers looking for the best onboard experience will have the option of choosing between Flagship First and Qatar Airways’ Qsuite.
In most ways, Qsuite trumps Flagship First, even though the former is technically a business-class product. With delectable food and drinks, personalized service, extensive amenities and endless inflight entertainment options, Qsuite continues to shine.
That said, American definitely stands its ground, literally and figuratively. The ground experience both in New York and Doha is impressive, while the seat itself could be better for those looking to maximize sleep or to focus on work.
At the end of the day, you’ll (hopefully) have a great flight with either airline, but given that Qsuite is easier to book than Flagship First, that’s likely the product you should try first.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.
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