Finding Qatar availability and booking it without moving Avios

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On the Frequent Miler on the Air podcast this past weekend, the Question of the Week was about finding Qatar Airways award availability. Greg relayed a reader tip about how to find availability without having Avios in your Qatar account. In response to the podcast, a couple of readers chimed in to note that not only is there a workaround to search for Qatar availability without Avios in your Qatar account, but you don’t even need to transfer Avios to Qatar to book. As long as you link up your British Airways account, you can spend Avios from your British Airways balance via your Qatar Privilege Club account, which is weird but kind of awesome. I confirmed that all of this works: I was able to search prices without sufficient Avios in my account to book and then I transferred points from Membership Rewards to British Airways Executive Club and successfully booked a Qatar flight using a mix of Avios from my British Airways account and my Qatar Privilege Club account without needing to first move Avios from one account to another.

a man in a suit sitting at a desk with a laptop and a cup of coffee

You Probably do have Avios

Avios is a shared rewards program between multiple airlines: Qatar, British Airways, Aer Lingus, and Iberia.  Once you have Avios in any one of those programs, it’s possible to move points from one to the other.  For details, see: How to transfer Avios between British Airways, Qatar, Iberia, and Aer Lingus.

Also, if you have points in any of a number of transferable points programs, you can convert your transferable points to Avios:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Marriott Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Brex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Qatar Privilege Club Avios1 to 1 ()1 to 1 via BA (Instant)1 to 1 (1 to 2 days)60K to 25K (3 to 4 days)1 to 1 via BA (Unknown)1 to 1 via BA (~1 Minute)

Award Search Workaround

One of the most frustrating things about the Qatar Airways Privilege Club is that you can’t search for award availability without enough miles in your account to book your chosen award. If you go to the Qatar Privilege Club page about redeeming Avios to book award flights (found here), it links you to an award search tool. Searching with the tool requires logging in to your Qatar Privilege Club account. However, if you don’t have enough Avios in your account, you get an error message saying that you can not proceed with booking (or searching).

a screenshot of a computer

The good news is that the workaround for this is very easy. Simply do a regular paid / revenue flight search from the Qatar Airways home page.

a screenshot of a flight checklist

You’ll see search results in cash prices, but above the flight results there is a button to “book an award flight”.

a screenshot of a flight

Clicking that button will prompt you to log in to your Qatar Privilege Club account. Once logged in, it will display award availability and pricing even if you don’t have enough Avios to book the flight. I only had 750 Qatar Privilege Club Avios in my account when I did the search below for business class from New York (JFK) to Doha (DOH).

a screenshot of a computer

That’s a neat little workaround. One of the reasons the reader had asked about finding Qatar award availability was because they wondered whether Qatar releases more award availability to its own members. We didn’t know the answer to that question. It was a solid question since many programs are known to reserve more award availability for their own members than they release to partners. In this case, I’m still not positive whether or not Qatar releases more seats to their own members. The flight above, on April 27th, does not show as available via American Airlines:

a screenshot of a calendar

But that flight is available via Qantas and British Airways (and each program shows 2 available seats, which matches the saver availability on the Qatar website) as well as via Alaska Airlines (which charges an obscene number of miles at 170K one way).

Still, booking via Qatar comes with two potential benefits. First, you’ll have access to both saver and non-saver availability if you want to book additional seats at significantly higher cost (the saver awards above cost 70K Avios one-way in business class from New York to Doha whereas the non-saver seats cost 140K one-way in business class). With the current Avios transfer bonus though, a couple of non-saver seats may still be worth it for someone willing to split a booking into two PNRs (for example, you might be able to first book two saver seats at 70K each and then two non-saver seats at 140K each). Assuming you were transferring from Membership Rewards with the 40% transfer bonus, you’d only need to transfer 300K points to get the 420K Avios you would need for two saver and two non-saver seats (70K + 70K + 140K + 140K). That’s an average of 75K Membership Rewards points per passenger, which certainly isn’t as stellar a deal as getting four saver seats but neither does it seem like a particularly bad deal for a family of four looking to book QSuites.

The other benefit of booking via Qatar is how easy it is to use your British Airways Avios. You won’t even need to move them from British Airways to Qatar.

You can pull from your British Airways Avios balance without first moving them to Qatar

The most interesting piece of this puzzle to me was a tip sent in by a reader who noted that they were able to book via the Qatar Airways website using their British Airways Avios without first moving Avios from British Airways to Qatar. That sounded bizarre to me, but it is indeed true.

To test this concept, I searched flights from Dubai (DXB) to Doha (DOH). I had 750 existing Avios in my Qatar Airways Privileges account, but using the trick above I was able to confirm that the cost of such an award would be 7,000 Avios + 260 AED (about $70). That was a nice low bar of entry to test.

a purple background with white text
I only had 750 Avios in my Qatar account to start (from a test transfer from Capital One when they used to transfer 1,000 to 750 to Qatar).
a screenshot of a computer
Despite only having 750 Avios in my Qatar account, I could see availability and pricing.

I followed Stephen’s steps to link up my British Airways account with my Qatar Airways account, which was very simple (though it did require a bunch of verification codes). I previously had 1,377 Avios in my British Airways account (from the shopping portal or something like that). Once I linked my accounts, Qatar Airways automatically displayed my total Avios — 1,377 + 750 = 2,127 Avios. I did not move Avios from British Airways to Qatar. Qatar Airways simple showed my combined balance between the two accounts.

a screenshot of a computer

That meant that I would need another 4,873 Avios to book the flight from Dubai to Doha. I liked this because of the way it worked out for the experiment.

In order to have enough total Avios to book this flight, I needed to transfer 4,000 Membership Rewards points to British Airways Avios. With the current 40% transfer bonus, that meant I would receive 5,600 British Airways Avios.

a green and white rectangle with text

That meant that with my 1,377 existing British Airways Avios, I now had 6,977 British Airways Avios.

a screenshot of a phone

Combined with the 750 Avios I previously had in my Qatar account, I now had enough total Avios between the two accounts to book the flight from Dubai to Doha.

What I especially liked about this was that it would enable me to test the answers to a few questions:

  • Would it really be possible to book without moving Avios from British Airways to my Qatar account?
  • Would Qatar allow me to draw from my combined Qatar and British Airways balances at the same time?
  • Would Qatar first use up any existing Qatar miles or would they use my British Airways Avios first?

The answers to the above questions turned out to be exactly what one would hope. Yes, it was really possible to book. Yes, I was able to book this flight for 7,000 Avios despite having fewer than 7,000 Avios in either program (but having a combined total in excess of 7,000 Avios). Yes, Qatar used up my Qatar Avios first and then took the remaining Avios necessary from British Airways.

That last point is kind of interesting and a wild quirk of the booking process. The search tool accurately noted that I had 7,727 total Avios. Remember that only 750 of these were in my Qatar account and the other 6,977 were in my British Airways account.

a screenshot of a phone

As I navigated through the booking process, at some point the Qatar Airways website prompted me to log in to my British Airways account.

a screenshot of a login form

That required a one-time passcode for two-factor authentication, but then it brought me right back into the Qatar Airways booking flow. I completed the booking via Qatar Airways, making my payment and receiving my confirmation and e-ticket numbers moments later.

a screenshot of a contact us

The entire process was very simple and didn’t require moving Avios before booking.

Bottom line

Booking Qatar award flights with Avios is very simple. While the main award search tool errors out if you don’t have enough Avios to book, there is a simple workaround button via a revenue flight search. Very interestingly, once you link your British Airways and Qatar Privilege Club accounts, you don’t even need to move Avios from British Airways to Qatar Privilege Club in order to book using your British Airways Avios: the Qatar Airways website can pull directly from your British Airways Avios balance. This would make it very easy to take advantage of the current Membership Rewards transfer bonus to British Airways Avios in order to book Qatar Airways flights: simply do an award search using the trick above, transfer instantly from Amex to British Airways, and book via Qatar without needing to move Avios first. That’s pretty cool indeed. Thanks to the readers who chimed in with these tips!

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