Luxury travelers associate Qatar Airways with the Qsuite, its business class product that promises a higher level of opulence and splendor in the sky. With that in mind, it's not all that surprising that the airline plans to phase out its first class cabins in its next generation of long-haul aircraft.
This news comes courtesy of Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways’ chief executive officer, in an interview from June 3, 2023. Apparently, while the airline's business class product is growing in popularity, first class isn't selling as well.
"Why should you invest in a subclass of an aeroplane that already gives you all the amenities that first class gives you," said Al Baker when questioned about future aircraft configurations in premium cabins. "I don't see the necessity."
Currently, Qatar Airways offers a first class option on several of its wide body jets, including multiple layouts of its Airbus A330-200, Airbus A340-600 (346) and Airbus A380 (380).
Qatar Airways to focus on its popular Qsuite offering
The airline's CEO seems to believe Qatar Airways would be smarter to focus on its Qsuite offering, as it already resembles a first class product. When you book a flight in the Qsuite cabin, you get to travel in a private suite with a closing door and mood lighting. Other amenities include a lie-flat bed, an exclusive Diptyque amenity kit and upscale dining in the sky. The airline even offers you a set of take-home pajamas when you board the plane.
There are multiple Qsuite configurations that allow you to sit in close proximity to those you're traveling with. You can book a single Qsuite, a double or even a Qsuite for four, known as "The Quad."
Of course, not all Qatar Airways jets offer a Qsuite configuration, nor do all of the airline's itineraries. Generally speaking, you can book a Qsuite with the following aircraft depending on the specific layout on your plane:
- Airbus A350-900
- Airbus A350-1000
- Boeing 777-200LR (77L)
- Boeing 777-300ER (77W)
You can book Qsuites with credit card rewards
While a Qsuite round-trip ticket can easily cost $12,000 or more, it's possible to book a flight in this over-the-top cabin with rewards instead of cash.
Since Qatar Airways has a large number of travel partners, you can use a variety of rewards currencies to book a QSuite. Qatar Airways Privilege Club is a transfer partner of the Citi ThankYou program, while frequent flyers also commonly use British Airways Avios to book flights through the oneworld alliance. Travelers can also use American AAdvantage miles to book Qsuites flights with Qatar Airways, as well as miles through the Japan Airlines MileageBank program.
Thanks to these partnerships, you can easily earn miles for this redemption with major credit card rewards programs, including American Express Membership Rewards points, Capital One miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Citi ThankYou points.
That said, the number of miles you'll need for a redemption can vary widely and the cost can be exorbitant — not only that, but fuel surcharges can be all over the place. For example, we found Qsuite award availability from the New York City area to Doha, Qatar through the American AAdvantage program on the Boeing 777-300ER (77W) for anywhere from 70,000 American miles plus $935.75 in airline taxes and fees to 278,500 miles plus $7.65.
Other airlines dropping first for international flights
While Qatar Airways' biggest competitor in the region (Emirates) doesn't appear to be stepping back from offering first class cabins just yet, it does seem like more airlines are reconsidering their first class offerings.
For example, American Airlines announced it would stop offering first class on long haul international itineraries in late 2022. The airline's reasoning? Flyers aren't booking international first class enough to justify offering it, yet their business class product remains popular across the board.
In addition, Air France recently announced a renewed focus on business class seats for its future Airbus A350 fleet, beginning in July 2023. The company's press release noted that the new aircraft will feature 48 business seats, 32 premium economy seats and 212 economy seats with no first class offering.
The airline has ordered 41 of these aircraft already, and have so far received 20 of them. Not surprisingly, these new planes will feature business class seats with most of the bells and whistles you’d get in a first class product — lie-flat seats, a giant entertainment screen, direct aisle access and a sliding door for privacy.
Most flyers may be content with business class
Qatar Airways may be dropping its first class offering, but this may not matter much to anyone other than the airline's premium customers. The fact is, most international travelers who want to fly in comfort will likely be more than happy with the airline's business class seats — especially the Qsuite, thanks to its roomy seats and privacy door.
As long as there's a lie-flat bed, a huge entertainment screen and nonstop food and drink on offer, what's not to love?