In May, Qatar Airways launched a rare status match promotion for frequent flyers of six airlines including Virgin Australia. Velocity members were invited to apply for the match, and most applicants have now received reciprocal Qatar Airways Privilege Club status.
It was a great deal for Velocity members, especially at a time of uncertainty surrounding the future of Virgin Australia. With newly-minted Qatar Airways Privilege Club status, applicants now have access to Qantas lounges and other benefits when flying with Qatar’s fellow Oneworld member Qantas.
Yet, bizarrely, it seems Qatar Airways will gain very little from this whole exercise. Overall, the status match was poorly planned, poorly executed and could cost Qatar Airways far more than it benefits them.
So, where did it all go wrong?
As far as airline promotions go, this one was executed relatively poorly. Velocity members were made to submit activity statements that Velocity doesn’t normally issue, then wait for up to a month to hear back from Qatar Airways. The airline did eventually respond to most applicants, and most status matches were processed correctly. But at least one Velocity Platinum member was only matched to Privilege Club Gold status without a reason being provided. On the other hand, a Velocity Silver member received Privilege Club Platinum status. Go figure.
In a Travel Data Daily article, Mark Ross-Smith has also questioned whether Qatar Airways had sufficient processes in place to detect fraudulent applications. Although I am not personally aware of any fraudulent cases, it wouldn’t have been too difficult for somebody with Photoshop skills to apply.
However, that’s not actually why I think this promotion was botched…
Most Australians have no prospect of flying Qatar Airways in the next year
This status match was specifically targeted at Velocity members to attract Australians to the Privilege Club program. Why else would Qatar Airways offer a match to Velocity Frequent Flyer members, most of which must be Australian since Velocity doesn’t allow residents of most other countries to join?
The whole point of running a status match promotion is to attract new loyal customers from a competing airline. A status match is supposed to give these new members an opportunity to try out your airline, in the hope they’ll like what they experience and stay.
Under normal circumstances, there wouldn’t be a problem with Qatar Airways’ approach. But as we’ve been reminded ad nauseam over recent months, these are unprecedented times.
The Australian international border currently remains closed indefinitely. Since March, Australian citizens and residents have been banned from leaving the country without an exemption for essential travel – which can be difficult to get. There is no current end date for the border closure, but the federal government has indicated international travel may not be allowed to resume until there is a vaccine. That could be more than a year away.
Meanwhile, Qantas has already cancelled all international flights until October and says it will likely have to extend these cancellations until at least July 2021. The only possible exception would be flights to New Zealand, assuming the delayed “trans-Tasman bubble” eventually goes ahead.
Qatar Airways is still operating flights to and from Australia. But the vast majority of Australians are not allowed to travel on these flights. This means they won’t be able to try out the Qatar Airways service – which, by all accounts, is excellent – nor redeem the Qcredits that came with their Gold or Platinum status for upgrades. By the time Australia’s international border eventually reopens, it is likely that the Privilege Club status of matched Velocity members would already have expired.
It will be possible for Privilege Club members to use their status benefits when flying on Qantas domestic flights within Australia. But when a Privilege Club member uses a Qantas lounge, Qatar Airways needs to pay Qantas for this. So this will cost Qatar Airways money, while providing no benefit to them. The only winners here are Qantas and Privilege Club members.
As part of the original status match promotion, new Privilege Club members were told they could renew their status for another year by earning only half the amount of Qpoints normally required within 12 months:
But the lower renewal requirement has not been reflected in members’ Qatar Airways Privilege Club accounts and not clearly communicated to members. For example, Platinum members have been told that they would need to earn 540 Qpoints in the next 12 months to renew their status. So, which is it – 300 or 540?
Furthermore, Qatar Airways normally requires members to earn at least 20% of their Qpoints (or fly at least 4 sectors) on Qatar Airways marketed or operated flights, in order to earn or maintain status. This requirement was not mentioned in the status match terms & conditions at all. So it’s not clear whether it applies to members that received a status match.
Australian Frequent Flyer contacted Qatar Airways for clarification over a month ago. We never received a response.
No Qmiles or Qpoints earned on Qantas domestic flights
Even in the best case scenario – where status-matched members need to earn only half of the usual Qpoints and don’t need to fly a minimum number of Qatar Airways miles or sectors – it will still be impossible for Australians to renew their Privilege Club status if the international border remains closed.
For some reason, Qatar Airways does not award Qmiles or Qpoints on Qantas domestic flights unless they’re on the same ticket as a Qantas or Qatar Airways international flight.
The Qantas partner page on the Qatar Airways website states:
Accrual on Qantas domestic flights are only eligible when they are in conjunction with an international flight marketed by either Qantas or Qatar Airways on the same ticket.
It’s simply bizarre that this restriction would even exist in the first place. It’s not normal for a Oneworld airline. Even so, many Qantas Economy fare classes earn nothing on international flights, either.
Qantas Red e-Deal, Sale and Saver fares (except fare classes V and L) earn nothing in the Privilege Club program. (And as Qantas does not tell you which fare class you’re booking online, this can be a minefield to navigate.)
Qantas is the only Oneworld airline operating domestic flights in Australia. So, with international borders shut, most Australians have no prospect of renewing their Qatar Airways status beyond 12 months. That defeats the entire purpose of running the promotion in the first place!
We also asked Qatar Airways if it planned to change its policy of not awarding Qpoints and Qmiles on Qantas domestic flights. They haven’t responded.
In short, this status match is a complete mess for Qatar Airways. They will bear the full cost of Australian members accessing benefits when flying with Qantas for the next year but get almost nothing in return… other than, perhaps, goodwill. It’s a great deal for Australian frequent flyers, but a classic loyalty program case study in how not to run a status match!
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Qatar Airways status match to Virgin Australia