a row of monitors in an airplane

Feb 29 Update: Delighted to say that within 24 hours of our article pointing out the errors in Qatar Airways booking process, these pesky mixed cabin fares are gone when you search for business class. Feeling pretty great about that. You can catch up on what was happening below…

You walk into the lovely ice cream shop on a warm summer day. Chocolate or vanilla, they say. You say chocolate, naturally, and then wait for your freshly scooped goodness, only to be handed a cone full of vanilla. No, chocolate – you say, but they say “sorry you already paid, here’s vanilla anyway”.

This is basically what’s been happening with Qatar Airways website and online flight searches, since someone in the web IT department decided to make a search between business class and economy incredibly hard to distinguish…

a plane with a red logo on itSearch For Business, Get… Some Business?

Whether you’re searching on Google Flights or directly with Qatar Airways, buyer beware when you go to buy a Qatar Airways business class ticket. No, it’s not because Qatar has a bad business class offering, quite the opposite in fact – with arguably the best overall.

The airline has simply introduced an IT glitch which is catching many off guard, where even when you specifically search for business class, the lowest fares you see may actually be a combination of economy and business class, without an entirely clear warning! Let’s walk through the booking process…

You logon to the Qatar Airways website, and wow – an amazing business class offer! 11834 NOK is about $1250, or £985 round trip for business class to the stunning city of Singapore – woohoo! So naturally, you press book now!

Note: this problem also exists if you run your own search on Qatar or Google Flights without looking at their offers and extends to virtually all markets and flights, not just one random route.

a screenshot of a website
the website is proudly displaying a business class price which doesn’t actually exist, and it’s displaying them all over the world.
a screenshot of a flight schedule
Note the all grey banner proclaiming business class.

Potential business class buyers are then presented with a very clear, clean interface with prices clearly on display in the “business class” column. It’s sharp, and couldn’t appear more clear that you are booking business class, which is what you wanted – right?

a screenshot of a flight information
All displayed in the grey umbrella of business class, during a premium only search. I had already filtered out economy!

Yep, perfect. It says business class, shows business class and even has the “Q” logo to illustrate that the flight offers Qatar Airways Flagship Qsuite, one of the two best business class seats in the world. You assume all is good, and then go to select a flight.

a screenshot of a flight scheduleStill looking really good! If you’re paying close attention, it says multiple cabins, but if you click the pictures for each flight, it just shows you two different business class cabins. One with the Qsuite, and one with the older flat bed seating.

a screenshot of a flight
Note that the picture for both flights shows an iteration of business class, which could explain the term “multiple cabin”.

It’s safe to assume you’re in business, and why wouldn’t you – you searched for it – right? Should be.

Even if you press “select” you’ll still have no idea at this point that the fare you see is actually only half business class, and half economy! Unless you click the tiny exclamation point (in blue) after the word multiple cabin, you’ll be taken to the penultimate page in the booking process, with no idea you aren’t actually booking business class. Just some of it…

This leads to plenty of questions, with only one answer – it’s dumb.

Anyone who searched business class must now go back and modify their selections, after the false hope that they found a great deal has faded away. Prices are typically a few hundred more, which may be a deal breaker.

So is Qatar Airways…trying to dupe passengers into booking half business fares? I highly doubt it.

Are they trying to frustrate business passengers by making a cumbersome booking process? I highly doubt that too. Perhaps they’re just failing a bit in the IT department with a new update? Maybe.

Google Flights Filters

But its been weeks and I alone have wasted hours chasing phantom fares displayed on both Google Flights and their own website. No one likes a wild goose chase, particularly people forking over thousands on airline tickets.

In fact, Google Flights allows travelers to filter out certain airlines, so if the problem persists long enough, many may choose to exclude Qatar Airways from Google Flights searches to avoid fools errands, which could lead to a drop in sales.

It’s hard to imagine anyone wants that.

a bed with a tv and a monitor in the back of an airplaneThe problem is that this glitch extends beyond Qatar Airways website borders. If you search for business class on Qatar Airways via Google Flights, the same issues will pop up. You’ll see amazing flight deals, click to book and make plenty of clicks before you have the faintest clue – that’s if you’re paying attention – that you’re booking the wrong thing.

If you’re not paying close attention – or even if you are – you could easily be fooled by the product photos which show business class seats, even on the flights where you’ll be in economy. Yikes! This is simply a no win result for Qatar. All travelers hate fools gold – aka deals that don’t exist – and no one wants to make six clicks before they find out that a business class fare isn’t business class.

When Delta experienced similar issues in displaying Virgin Atlantic economy as premium economy, the initial response was that it was Google’s fault, before the issue was mostly resolved. With the same issue cropping up on Qatar Airways own website, not just Google Flights, it’s hard to blame third party content.

If Qatar wants to continue succeeding with one of the world’s greatest business class options, they may want to figure out how to properly sell it online again. Offering an economy passenger a chance to pay extra for a business class segment is entirely different than unwittingly having a passenger aiming for a business class ticket business winding up with half economy.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I almost booked mixed cabin. I saw a price and was like WOW what a discount! Then i look for this flight on mobile and then noticed it’s economy to SIN! I would be soooooo angry!

  2. This happened to us on LATAM NYC to EZE via Santiago after I bought business class tickets on their website. Had seats assigned as 2A and 3A on connecting flight. Told at JFK that the connection was in coach. No luck dealing with it at airport or LATAM office in Buenos Aires. Never again.

  3. We tried multi city travel using QR website….bcn-syd-bkk-bcn……their website couldn’t price……reservation agents couldn’t figure out…..we preferred Qatar and oneworld…..ended upwithSwiss and star alliance…..epic fail for QR…..

  4. Eric thats beacuse Qatar doesnt fly that route BCN-SYD Or SYD-BKK they fly BCN-DOH-SYD-DOH-BKK-DOH-BCN

  5. Blaming it on IT issues is the easy way out for a marketing experiment and campaign that is questionable and dishonest. Hopefully people will figure out before they book but I fear many will book these fares and realise afterwards that they have been played.

    Good on you for publishing this.

  6. As ever Gil, you’re doing a great job of alerting the frequent flyer community to the Occasional / Occupational Hazards of trying to get a good deal! Thank you. I do wonder whether Google would be liable for their very misleading advertising…

  7. Yeh – it’s a little more complex than that. Qatar introduced new Mixed Cabin Promotions on 21st Feb (for sale until 30 April), obviously struggling to fill the J cabins ex-UK. Some good prices *but* they have great prices frequently ex-EU for full business on all flights.

    Obviously someone in the fares department came up with the idea without telling the IT team to make sure it was easily differentiated on their website! I can see a lot of people hitting Doha and finding themselves flying onwards in Y without realising…

  8. I agree with the comment about a “deliberate underhanded offering”.
    I don’t know about the UK legislation, but in France QR might face some real judicial issues if a client goes to court or raises the bell of consumers unions ; because even if at the end you can understand about one segment to be flown in coach, the way it is all showed with promotional rates, business class mention and pictures of the cabin would surely be considered as a deception… and this is strictly prohibited here.

  9. This is not a glitch. I first noticed this 17 months ago, and clearly it is still occurring. Shame on QR…

  10. This, and the Google “Sorry the price has changed” scenario are equally frustrating.

    I can only feel for the poor sop who arrives in DOH off an outstanding QR flight in Business Class to find they are in Economy for the 16 hours onward to AKL. 😱

  11. Notice that TPG UK listed cheap Qatar deals on their website, without going through and checking if they were bookable. Poor comparison to your website.

  12. QANTAS has the same annoying search function for points redemption seats.
    I enter in the city pairs, followed by the dates and then go to filter out Y and PY as I’m only interested in J. So let’s say I want MEL/LHR and I’m flexible on the dates.
    I get a myriad of choices going via all sorts of domestic points, then either SIN, HKG, TYO or DXB. Annoyance comes when there is availability showing under the Bus Cls column where the MEL/SYD flight is in J but I have to fly Y on the overnight long haul. The very sector where I want a flat bed. The QF system is so clunky it drives me crazy!

  13. Great airline and fantastic in flight service. I use them quite often. But that’s where it stops.
    When it comes to booking, redeeming points they are far behind. Someone also decided to cancel the frequent flyer direct line for gold and platinum members. So basically you have to email them and wait. The person responding is often different to the previous one and you have to start all over again. Very frustrating. Surely gold members should have a direct line for enquiries, point redemption etc.
    Their website is complicated and makes no sense.
    They should have a look at Singapore Airlines and how they treat their FF members

  14. I was doing some imaginary checking last week and saw this too! The pure business were actually often lower or only marginally more expensive. I thought it was just my lack of travel savvy that I had never really noticed before. Thanks for pointing out that it’s them, not me!

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