If there was one disappointment in my 3 Cards, 3 Continents trip, it was flying long-haul on Qatar Airways but not in Qsuites. In fact, during my planning stages of the trip, I was surprised to find that Qatar has quite a few routes to Asia that are not consistently operated with a Qsuites-equipped plane. During the challenge, I flew from Manila (MNL) to Doha (DOH) in Qatar Airways business class aboard a Boeing 777-300ER. Prior to this, I had it in my mind that all of Qatars 777s have Qsuites, but that’s not true. The equipment on the Manila route (and quite a few others) seems to rotate and it is sometimes operated with a Qsuites-equipped plane, but it’s worth knowing that there are quite a few routes where you won’t find QSuites and knowing what the product is like.
Booking the award
As I’ve previously covered, I booked this award ticket via American Airlines AAdvantage because they charge just 40,000 miles one-way for business class awards between Asia and the Middle East. My full itinerary was Manila to Doha to Dubai in business class for 40,000 miles and $51.10 and I leveraged that short leg from Doha to Dubai to get 15 hours in Qatar’s first class lounge in Doha.
Immediately after booking, I realized that this plane would not have Qsuites when I attempted to pick my seat and I saw a seating chart showing a 2-2-2 layout of seats rather than Qatar’s well-known 1-2-1 Qsuites configuration. I thought I took a screen shot of the seating chart, but apparently I didn’t. I was immediately disappointed and I Googled to find other reviews indicating that Qatar indeed has a number of 777-300ERs without Qsuites and Manila to Doha is a route where the equipment varies.
Since American Airlines allows most awards to be cancelled without penalty, I could have cancelled for free and booked a different route (my Air Canada Aeroplan award was still flexible at that point). Furthermore, I could have booked on Qatar from Cebu, Philippines. I didn’t do that because Qatar flies a 787 from Cebu which has a product that looks reminiscent of Qsuites, but I gambled on Manila.
That was because the Manila route does get QSuites fairly often and Qatar had been rotating in a plane with QSuites pretty reliably within about a week of departure for most of the summer, so I took a swing at that and hoped that I’d end up with Qsuites. It missed — and by the time I realized that they just weren’t going to change it to a Qsuites-equipped plane, there were no award seats available on any of Qatar’s flights to Dubai for a straight month, so rebooking wasn’t really an option. Old 777 business class wasn’t a deal-breaker for me as I knew I’d still have no trouble reclining all the way and sleeping for a solid amount of time on this 9hr flight, but if I knew for sure that they weren’t going to put a Qsuites-equipped plane on this route, I would have booked something else. I still got a taste of the Qsuites experience on my short flight from Doha to Dubai, operated by an A350-1000 with Qsuites.
Soft product is mostly the same
For those who might consider one of the non-Qsuites routes, it’s worth noting that the “soft product” is mostly the same. That is to say that passengers in old 777 business class get the same amenity kit (currently a gift box of Dyptique stuff) and essentially the same catering (complete with the cute little lantern on the tray that you may have seen Greg and Maisue comment on in one of their Instagram videos). I even got the same limited-edition Qatar World Cup 2022 pajamas that you may have seen Greg wear a few times during his trip and I had the same plush blanket I remember seeing in their pictures.
You mostly get the same in-flight product apart from the snazzy seat — and let me pause to recognize that Qsuites are indeed quite snazzy. Similar to how I felt about Delta One Suites when I flew them a few years ago, I think Qsuites look far more impressive in person than they do in photos (and that’s not to say that they don’t look nice in photos but rather that they still managed to surprise me despite the fact that I’ve seen a thousand photos of them).
And on my specific flight, catering was a bit light. My flight from Manila took off at a quarter past midnight and landed in Doha just after 4am. The menu was a little disappointing, but I realized that since this was a middle-of-the-night flight, most people probably don’t want a large meal. I later made up for my disappointment in the first class lounge in Doha :-).
Hard product has its downsides
You can immediately see that one issue with the seat itself on these planes is that not all seats have direct aisle access. This means that the person in the window seat on either side of the plane might need to step over their sleeping seatmate to get to the aisle if they need to use the lavatory / stretch their legs / etc. That’s unideal.
It also means no privacy at all since you’re sitting right next to your seatmate. I had a lovely chat with my seatmate, who also happened to be American but was living abroad, but I could see where that may not be preferable for everyone.
Further, if I complained about at-seat storage on Oman Air and Gulf Air, there was far less on this flight. There wasn’t really room for my seatmate and I to both have drinks and both put our phones down. There was indeed a nice-size cubby underneath the seat in front of me, but that was far enough away as to necessitate removing my seat belt to get to it, which to me kind of defeats the purpose of at-seat storage (I want to be able to get my stuff even if I can’t remove my seatbelt otherwise I’d put it in the overhead compartment.
Possible rebooking tip
I want to toss in one tip that may be completely meaningless, but I thought it worth reporting nonetheless. I had originally booked a ticket from Manila to Doha to Helsinki to Rovaniemi to go to Santa’s village (for 75K total miles in business class). I later landed on the first class lounge trick and decided that I wanted to fly to change and fly to Dubai with this award instead (for 40K miles). However, American Airlines couldn’t just change my destination from Rovaniemi to Dubai and reprice the award without cancelling and rebooking the entire thing.
Unfortunately, the problem was that there were no longer award seats on the leg from Manila to Doha. Obviously I had an award seat booked on the flight, so I wondered what would happen if I cancelled my booking from Manila to Rovaniemi — would my seat from Manila to Doha go back into award inventory? This type of thing is never guaranteed — it’s almost always a gamble.
I mentioned it while on the phone with American Airlines and the agent told me that she was 100% sure that Qatar seats do not go back into award inventory when you cancel. She said that she had seen this before and they never go back into inventory. She seemed so confident that I almost accepted what she said as fact. Regular readers know that I always advise that you should not take a customer service agent’s claims as rule of law since they are so often incorrect.
Luckily, I eventually listened to my own advice and I cancelled my itinerary from Manila to Rovaniemi (since American Airlines offers free cancellation / redeposit). Much to my delight, my seat from Manila to Doha immediately went back into award inventory and I was able to immediately book Manila-Doha-Dubai in business class, scooping that seat back up within minutes of cancellation of the first award.
As noted above, you can’t count on that to work — whether or not seats go back into award inventory is often variable and unpredictable. But I was glad that it worked out for me here.
My experience aboard Qatar’s 777-300ER with its old business class product was fine. I got a solid night’s sleep and ate a decent breakfast on the plane and I got most of the same soft product that everyone gets when flying business class on Qatar. I was obviously disappointed that I didn’t get to fly Qsuites on this long route and overall the experience was a reminder that not every plane in the fleet has the snazzy seats for which Qatar has become so famed. That’s not only true with Qatar — some element of award booking involves knowing your products and not only finding award availability but finding it on the planes that have the fancy equipment you’d like to experience. I really wanted to get that Qsuites experience on a long haul flight on this trip, so I was disappointed to take a swing and miss — though I was glad to learn that Qatar award seats can go back into inventory after cancellation and the short flight from Doha to Dubai both gave me a taste of Qsuites and got me access to the first class lounge, which certainly helped to ease the sting.