Yikes: Qatar Offers “Basic Business” Class

Over the past few years we’ve seen countless airlines make “enhancements” to their loyalty programs, service, and fares.

Well, add Qatar Airways to the list of carriers that have made an enhancement and unbundled fares, specifically business class.

THE SPREAD OF UNBUNDLING

If you’re not familiar with “basic economy” fares, the concept is, essentially, the customer pays for the transportation but everything else is á-la-carte. For example:

  • You want a seat assignment? Pay for it.
  • You want a meal? Pay for it.
  • You want to check a bag? Pay for it.

Many airlines will often spin this concept and say “we’re offering cheaper fares” when they are simply making you pay (more in most instances) for what used to be included.

The concept started with economy but then Emirates started the trend of unbundling business class in the summer of 2019 and now it has spread even further.

This Morning Executive Traveler noted that an email had been sent to travel agents informing them of some changes to Qatar Airways’ lowest business class fares. Specifically, “R class fares will not be eligible for lounge access or advance seat selection” and that more details “will be shared in the coming days.”

Let’s look at an example. This sample flight from London (LHR) – Singapore (SIN) via Doha offers the following:

  • ~$2924USD (based on todays exchange) for Classic Business
  • ~$3385USD (based on todays exchange) for Comfort Business
  • ~$4255USD (based on todays exchange) for Elite Business

In other words, a revenue business class fare (“R” fare class) would cost you ~$2924 without the ability to select your seat or have lounge access. But for a minuscule $461 more, you can select your seat and go to the lounge.

Unbundling is a unique concept because if you’ve never purchased a business class fare then it (potentially) lowers the bar with which you can buy a ticket and having the ability to lay down (sans a seat assignment and lounge access) may be worth it.

However, if you have purchased a business class ticket, then you’ll understand this development is not good.

FINAL STAMP

Qatar Airways is “unbundling” their business class fares however it’s worth noting that this only applies to revenue fares (not award tickets though Qatar or through a partner).

There are still many questions to be answered like how does this apply for Oneworld elites from other loyalty programs? For example, if you have elite status on another Oneworld partner (e.g. American Airlines), but purchase the “basic” business class fare, do you still have access to the lounge – a perk that currently comes with elite status?

Personally, I think this business decision is shortsighted but I can understand the financial position that many airlines may find themselves in given the current pandemic and less than optimal flight loads. It’s a classic bait-and-switch and many consumers will fall for it.

Fortunately, if I’m departing from the US on Qatar Airways, 99.9% of the time I’ve redeemed miles so it doesn’t affect me. In other parts of the world purchasing business class fares on Qatar Airways (and every other airline) is much more affordable so, that is where is this decision really affects whether you redeem miles or pay for a revenue ticket.

Let’s file this under ‘developing story’ since not many details are available at the moment but I’ll be sure to update it when I know…

What do you think of this development and the “unbundling” movement?

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