Dan L. emails to ask why, in my recent discussions of the Maldives, I didn’t mention flying Qatar?

The context was that I had taken very much ‘the long way’ to get to the Maldives, I actually wanted to go to Singapore first, but I probably shouldn’t have returned back through Singapore given that I wasn’t looking for a stopover on the return.

And I decided given my preferences for in-flight product and the miles at my disposal that when I go back I’ll probably fly Etihad — they’re a new partner with American, award availability is generally excellent, especially for first class (suites with doors) on the New York JFK – Abu Dhabi route. They’re also adding DC-Abu Dhabi service a year from now which may work out great for me.

The connections aren’t the best, but that’ll work for me because I’ll use the opportunity to stop over in the U.A.E., ever since Lucky’s report I’ve just had to have tea at the Burj al Arab. It’s a hotel that I’ve known about for years, have had no interest in whatsoever, but now I must have tea there…

But certainly Qatar is worth mentioning, they’re a partner with several airlines including American Express transfer partners All Nippon and Virgin Atlantic (in the latter case, what a great use for all those 1000 mile deposits from my one day Avis rentals!). (Update: as pointed out in the comments, Virgin Atlantic is a partner in the Qater frequent flyer program, but Qatar redemption is not offered in the Virgin Atlantic program.)

And they’re a partner with United, which many folks forget, especially since United and Continental both dropped their relationship with Emirates.

This thread on Milepoint reports that Qatar awards are even now searchable on the United website. And in general availability is pretty good (which isn’t surprising, there aren’t that many partners whose members are putting pressure on the seats).

It used to be really tough to use United miles on Qatar, since you would have to call and request specific dates and flights, then you’d have to wait 12 hours to see whether or not they came back confirmed. It made it not worthwhile, most of the time, to do a Qatar booking with United miles. You could increase your chances of getting awards by signing up for a Qatar frequent flyer account and using their website to search for space, and requesting those seats found on the Qatar site. But the site was cumbersome, the process cumbersome, and it used to be that Qatar availability was really really restrictive. It does seem availability has gone better over the past couple of years.

United used to have a separate, more expensive award chart for Qatar — but post-merger and integration with Continental they just charge the regular award chart price, and allow both one-way and roundtrip awards. And you can combine partners — including Star Alliance partners — with Qatar (a non-Star partner) on an award with United miles.

For all of the complaints about the merger, award booking rules and online booking functionality have certainly improved for United Mileage Plus members as a result.

Qatar isn’t going to be how I get to the Maldives next time, I really want to fly a Middle East carrier in first class (I’m looking forward to Alaska Airlines redemptions on Emirates),, and doesn’t offer first class on U.S. departures. There’s a first class cabin between Doha and London, Paris, Frankfurt, and Munich, however.

  1. caveman said,

    One of the AA rep told me that you cannot use AA miles for Etihad first class, just business and the cattle class. Can you or anyone else confirm this?

  2. Hank said,

    How do you plan on picking up all those Alaska Airlines miles for Emirates first class? The BoA card hasn’t been 40,000 since last year, and as far as I know they aren’t transfer partners with anyone. Would like to rack up 80k for business class to Europe (Alaska miles on Icelandair).

  3. Gary said,

    @Hank they’re Starwood transfer partners and I already do have about 190k in my Alaska account

  4. Gary said,

    @caveman I have an Etihad first class award booked with AA miles

  5. Dan said,

    Hi Gary,

    Thanks for answering my question, and fast, too!

    A cursory examination of DOH-MLE flights looks like QR J class is going to be tough to get, so one might be relegated to 4:45 in Y. The other thing that stinks about QR routings is it looks like ex-MLE departures require a short overnight in DOH. Not my thing. (If it was 24 hours, it would be one thing, but it looks like the 1-stop itineraries are ~8 hour overnights.

    CMB-DOH has more frequencies and J availability, albeit both CMB and MLE service are on narrow bodies.

  6. Brendan said,

    I believe the Virgin Atlantic partnership is only one-way, going in the direction of Qatar. Unless I am mistaken, there is no mention of Qatar on the VS airline partner website and you can’t earn VS miles on Qatar either.

  7. jfhscott said,

    Do UA’s routing rules permit connection (not stopovers) in an “expensive” region, such as the middle east? That is, would they permit IAD-DOH-BKK, or IAD-DOH-JNB with a less than 24 hour connection?

  8. A. S. said,

    @caveman: I have already flown Etihad first class using AA miles (and know many others who have as well), so that’s incorrect.

    @Gary: Enjoy your upcoming EY first class trip, though I think you’ll find they’re not as good as EK (which is pretty fantastic, especially on the A380). My EY experience was great in terms of hardware, but mediocre service-wise. Have had 2 long-haul and 2 medium-haul trips with them and all rated the same.

  9. Gary said,

    @jfhscott you will even get offered that on the website when searching IAD-BKK and IAD-JNB in my experience!

  10. Phil said,

    Thanks Gary for posting this. This is a game changer for me given Qatar’s route. I have struggled with them in the past as the only way I could check availability was by calling up ANA.

    So over the past few months I would say Maldives has gone from being one of the hardest destinations to get to on points to probably one of the easiest. Here is why I think so:

    1) AA miles on EY. Not the best as you have to double pay two awards but still opened up a nice one stop trip from several North American points. By the way what patterns are you noticing with their F availability? I find it so hit and miss. Wide open in March/April, then nothing at all the rest of the year JFK-AUH. We are going in August and are booked in EY J as have not been able to get F (and I have been looking at upcoming days and not seeing them releasing at last minute either)

    2) Next one to open up was Singapore Airlines making J space available on EWR-SIN. So EWR-SIN-MLE is now possible (or even JFK-FRA-SIN-MLE) While it is longer, the connecting times mean it’s actually a shorter total flying time than EY. Basically you sleep on SQ rather than some hotel in AUH!

    3) Now QR is a real possibility with more North American access points than EY. Only J out of the US but their J product looks very impressive.

    4) And as you mention coming soon EK via AS points. Nice thing here is many, many US access points including oddities like SEA, and they are the ONLY carrier that flies to MLE with an F cabin. So you can go all the way in F and while I have never been all accounts are it is an excellent F product

    And then once you get to the Maldives there are three good Hilton properties (Waldorf Astoria, Hilton, Conrad) and a Park Hyatt all very accessible with points. The Starwood properties are in theory too but very poor value as redemptions.

    I will add that all four options also work for the Seychelles which is another beautiful Indian Ocean spot, though the really nice places to stay there are not point accessible and the points places are rather bland.

    Qatar is nice for me as I have been looking for a good routing to South Africa and this will get us there without the ridiculous YQ fees of BA.

    Now to start amassing some UA points…. !

  11. beachfan said,

    Great post and thread. I’m wondering what folks would recommend as a routing from LA? Gary’s Pacific route on Cathay and Singapore, another Pacific route, or an Atlantic route.

    I almost pulled the trigger on a Cathay route to Sri Lanka and paying for the Sri Lanka, since I’d like to see Sri Lanka too, but the double connection on Cathay didn’t fit with my schedule.

  12. Phil said,

    @beachfan I would personally go Singapore Airlines. You could get there one stop LAX-SIN-MLE with pretty short connection times in SIN. It would be 153k miles booking online so not the cheapest (you can convert Amex into SQ miles) but I am a big fan of getting where you are going expeditiously, rather than more complex routing to take advantage of a particular airline product

  13. Creative Itineraries now that LH-owned airlines are gone - FlyerTalk Forums said,

    […] QR award availibility can now be searched on the UA website. http://boardingarea.com/viewfr…nited-website/ […]

  14. Uday said,

    I have lots of US Airways miles courtesy of Grand slam.Would I be able to use them to book award tickets on Qatar.


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  16. Mallthus said,

    Just read a review of Qatar F in Airways magazine (May 2012). My takeaway was that it was, at best, marginally better than J. Service was more personalized and the seat area larger, but the food wasn’t meaningfully different and the F lounge onboard has been removed.

    The flight was LHR-DOH on a A340.

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