Qatar Airways is offering the most generous flexibility conditions of any airline to encourage people to plan travel for 2020 - but is there anything worth booking?
Qatar is offering unlimited destination changes
The new Qatar Airways Travel with Confidence policy means you can change your travel dates or destination free of charge, as many times as you wish, as long as you travel before December 31, 2020.
You can change your origin to another city within the same country, or any new destination Qatar flies to, within a 5,000 mile radius (that's a long way!) of your original destination. Note, there is no change fee or fare difference to pay.
That throws up a couple of interesting possibilities. Firstly, you could book your travel from whichever city in your country was cheapest, then change your origin to the city you wanted to depart from in the first place.
For example, you live in Amritsar but found a cheaper flight departing from Trivandrum. No problem - book the flight from Trivandrum, then call Qatar Airways to have the city of origin changed to Amritsar.
The second good part is the ability to change your destination to any other city within 5,000 miles of your original destination, with nothing further to pay. Assuming I found a deal I was happy with, that means I could buy a business class ticket from London to Colombo - then change it to a city in Australia.
Similarly, you could book a ticket from India to London, then change your destination to any city in the US that’s less than 5,000 miles from London. That puts Miami, New York and all the other eastern seaboard cities in play.
What else is Qatar offering?
All journeys must be ticketed by September 30, 2020 to benefit from the Travel with Confidence policy, and passengers have a number of other options besides the re-routing possibilities mentioned above.
Firstly, you can now hold on to your ticket by extending its validity to two years from the date of purchase - again, call Qatar to have it extended. Tickets can also be exchanged for a voucher for future travel - with a 10 per cent bonus. Vouchers are valid for two years from the date of issue.
Qatar Airways is also offering the opportunity to exchange the value of your booking for Qmiles (its frequent flyer currency). You will receive 100 Qmiles for every USD1 of ticket value, meaning you’d be buying Qmiles for a cent each.
You can take advantage of these options even if your flight is unaffected by a cancellation or coronavirus disruption.
Finally, Qatar Airways is promising to provide a full refund if your flight gets cancelled.
Is it worth it?
Even with these concessions, Qatar is still going to struggle to get people to book travel for 2020 all the while everything is still so uncertain.
Personally, I’d take a chance on a business class ticket, but only if Qatar releases some much more attractive ticket prices (just as it does in “normal” times!).
As of Saturday, I can’t find a single fare I’d be tempted to buy. Bucharest to Colombo, for example, regularly sells for around £950, yet Qatar is currently charging more than £5,000:
I’d also be very cautious about the 5,000 miles rule, as we don’t know what source Qatar is using to calculate the distances. Google might tell you the distance between Colombo and Adelaide is 4,786 miles (and therefore eligible for rerouting), but will Qatar agree?
If, somehow, Qatar decides the distance between Colombo and Adelaide was more than 5,000 miles, and I still wanted to visit Australia, I could still change my ticket to Perth (which is 3,581 miles from Colombo).
Be cautious if you are banking on changing to a new destination that is only slightly less than 5,000 miles from your original destination.
Qatar is to be congratulated for coming up with such a flexible ‘Travel with Confidence’ policy, but current ticket prices are nowhere near low enough for me to consider taking a punt right now.
Apparently, better fares were available when Qatar first announced this policy a couple of days ago, but it doesn’t make sense to raise prices so quickly. After all, I can’t imagine there was a huge rush from the general public to book flights, even with these concessions.
With the new pricing, I would think they are pushing demand close to zero.
Did anyone find a tempting Qatar Airways business class fare?