It’s hard to live in Qatar and not bemoan the high cost of airfares out of Doha. Faced with a long drive and an often lengthy border crossing into Saudi Arabia, aviation is usually the travel mode of choice, even for the shortest journey out of the country.
However, finding the right ticket at the right price can be difficult. To this end, frequent flier Mohammed Al-Jufairi, a Qatari who works in the energy industry, offers these tips to navigate the oft-confusing, expensive process.
Plan in advance
It’s a cliche, but very true – the first tip is to plan your travel well in advance, and to try to avoid busy times if you can. Certain seasons (like Eid, Christmas, Easter, New Year, and Spring Break) are very popular – so tickets are more expensive.
Never underestimate the benefit of booking in advance. Many times, I’ve heard friends and family complain that they tried to book a business class seat to London for a huge sum of money – but their flight was only two days away! Flights to high-end premium destinations (such as Europe, North America, Australia and Japan) will go up considerably if you do not take advantage of early bookings.
But if you are not sure when to travel – let’s say you know that it’s going to be sometime at the end of August, but it depends – what do you do? I suggest that you buy the ticket and keep it. At least you will secure your seat. If you do cancel or change your ticket, however, just be aware of the cost of doing so. But in my experience, this usually isn’t more than QR100.
Also, make sure you’ve checked the fare rules if you decide to extend your stay at a destination. During peak times, you will often have to pay a lot of extra cash to postpone your travel just for a couple of days.
Take advantage of offers – quickly
I’ve noticed that ticket prices have generally been lower out of Doha this year than in the previous years. And every now and then, the airline sends out emails offering good discounts to certain destinations.
Do not ignore these emails. Book! Be aware that Qatar Airways carries more than 23 million passengers per year, so the good prices will disappear quickly as more people around the globe hurry to buy their seats. So, as soon as you get that email, open your browser and book. Make sure, though, that you check the cancellation/change policies, as certain offers are limited to a certain travel window, or restrict the return date.
Transit is always cheaper
Another complaint I hear a lot is from people questioning why Qatar Airways charges way more for a direct flight from Doha to a particular destination, compared to a flight with another Gulf carrier that would require making a transit stop.
The national carrier does this because this is the aviation industry’s business model, which revolves largely around transfer passengers. This is why Qatar Airways charges a higher fee for the luxury of going direct, without the hassle of a busy transfer. A Qatar Airways flight to London from Dubai via Doha is always cheaper than direct flight from Doha to London. Get over it!
However, it’s worth noting that Emirates and Etihad are not always cheaper than Qatar Airways’ direct flights. Both airlines are part of the Middle East “Big Three” and their fares tend to vary, and with QR’s offers, you might get a cheaper direct fare than Emirates or Etihad, so don’t always assume, and do your research wisely.
Make Doha your stopover
At first I was reluctant to share this tip, but people do deserve a decent price on the world’s best airline!
The trick is: Buy a one-way ticket to Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, or Bahrain, and then purchase another Qatar Airways ticket online from that destination to any Qatar Airways destination, via Doha—and you will notice fares drop by up to 60 percent versus going direct.
Of course, going from Doha to Dubai and back to Doha and then onwards can be tiring, but Bahrain is only 15 minutes away, while Dubai and Abu Dhabi are less than 50 minutes each.
Here’s an example of how this works. A Doha – Dubai – Kuala Lumpur ticket on Emirates is usually more expensive than a Dubai-Doha-Kuala Lumpur on Qatar Airways. So take advantage, and fly from Doha.
Take advantage of the oneworld alliance
As you probably know, Qatar Airways recently became part of oneworld, an alliance of several airlines spread around the world. Flying in any of the member airlines will earn you miles and points in Qatar Airways’ Privilege Club.
If you’re going to the US, British Airways and American Airlines offer excellent prices and their prices are much lower than direct Qatar Airways fares. Plus, American Airlines has an excellent business class product on its Boeing 777-300 aircraft, if you are looking to travel in premium class.
Usually it’s best to go to BA and AA agents in Qatar in person rather than booking online, as I’ve found that old fashioned travel agents often offer a better price for American destinations, where it can really complicated if you want to make a stopover in London or elsewhere.
Beware of hidden charges
First of all, FlyDubai charges extra for checked-in baggage, food and water, online seat allocation (which is a must if you’re traveling with family members) and other items you are probably not aware of. This may turn your low-cost ticket into one that rivals the price of a flight with a traditional carrier.
And, if you’re flying on a no-frills carrier, and your flight is delayed or cancelled due to weather, they’re unlikely to accommodate you in a hotel or on another flight. All you may get is the refund of the ticket price. Also, bear in mind that FlyDubai and Air Arabia usually have smaller seats than national carriers, and operate from busy, crowded terminals.
Choose your aircraft wisely
Most people do not know the difference between an “Airbus” and a “Boeing” and instead refer to planes as “the big one” or “the small one.” Planes have names and feelings too, so learn about them! This can bring big benefits.
For example, Qatar Airways flies its Boeing 777s to many destinations around the world. Its economy class on the 777 is considered the biggest in its class. It fits only 9 seats per row, compared to 10 on Emirates or Etihad, which means you get to sit in a (relatively) wide seat.
Meanwhile, seats in Business Class in Qatar Airways are also superior to other airlines in the region. Emirates flies 777s with 7 seats in a row, while Qatar Airways flies them with only 6, plus extra legroom. In my opinion, when you have this information, choosing the airline becomes a no-brainer.
Use travel search engines
I use Kayak or Travelocity to book seats, simply because they search many different options for me. Instead of opening Emirates, Qatar Airways, British Airways, and Turkish websites and searching for flights which is very time consuming, these websites do that for me in one click.
After taking note of the cheapest fare, I opt to book via the airline’s website—not the travel agent website. I never book from these online travel sites simply because I have personally encountered resistance from the carriers to alter a booking, since I have not booked directly with them.
And finally – flying to Dubai?
If you are planning a trip to Dubai (who isn’t), here are some specific tips.
Tickets can be cheap in economy – you can get them for QR700 if you book well in advance. The busiest times (and therefore the times to avoid if you can) are Thursdays after-work (between 2 to 6pm) and flights on Saturdays ((between 8pm to midnight).
Emirates tends to offer the best chance of finding a decently-priced ticket on return flights to Dubai. Qatar Airways tends to fly smaller planes to Dubai, so seats sell out fast, and prices inflate quickly.
And remember, Dubai has three airports within a close vicinity that Qatar Airways flies to (Dubai International, Al Maktoum Airport, and Sharjah Airport). Sharjah has the cheapest deals, and is less expensive than Dubai, or try Al Maktoum – it’s only a half an hour taxi ride away from anywhere in Dubai.
Are you a frequent flier? Do you have any tips you’d like to share?