Qatar Airways Makes Things Up, Slaps Us with a Penalty (Tales From the Field)

Qatar Airways

I haven’t written a tale from the field from our adventures at Cranky Concierge for some time, but there hasn’t been a shortage of opportunity. Booking travel remains as nutty as ever, but this one just got me so worked up for being so ridiculous that I thought I’d share. Qatar Airways has decided to use a new practice to raise money… making up stories and charging agents penalties for things that did not happen.

And there is no way to fight it.

We had a client going on a heck of a honeymoon trip:

  • Fly from LA to Paris
  • Travel around the south of France and Southern Europe for awhile
  • Fly from Santorini to the Maldives
  • Fly from the Maldives back to Paris for a night
  • Fly from Paris back to LA

This is a complex trip that obviously wasn’t going to be easily solved with a single ticket. Instead, what we did was find a roundtrip from LA to Paris on American (actually a codeshare operated by Air Tahiti Nui) and then a separate ticket on Qatar from Santorini (first leg to Athens operated by Aegean) to Male and back to Paris. Getting between Paris and Santorini was all on land or with a low-cost carrier, so that wasn’t related to any of this.

We’ve run into problems with Qatar before for slapping on stupid penalties, and it has made us wary about using the airline unless there is no better option. For example, we had booked a traveler from San Francisco to somewhere in the Middle East on Qatar but the first flight was on JetBlue down to LAX then connecting over. This client had a home in both places, so she just asked us to cancel off the JetBlue flight before ticketing and start in LA. We did that and then Qatar said we were manipulating the point of origin, so it hit us with a penalty. That should have been a good first warning of what was to come.

On this trip, we were careful. We sold the flights in date order. Since it’s easier for clients, we put all the flights in a single reservation and just issued multiple tickets. That means we sold in LA to Paris, then from Greece on to the Maldives, and then back to Paris, and finally back to LA. The tickets were issued and all was well… until Qatar came up with a lie.

As Qatar explained to us, they can see the point of origin country in their system. It’s nothing we can see on our side, nor is it anything we can change, so they can basically make up whatever they want and we can’t confirm anywhere. Apparently since we first sold in the flight from LA to Paris, it showed the origin country as the US and not Greece, which is true for the trip but not for the Qatar ticket. Qatar decided this was an egregious violation and charged us $307 for, once again, manipulating the point of origin. This is not something we can pass on to our client, so we just lose.

Keep in mind, this is a problem that’s entirely of Qatar’s own invention. Regardless of whatever this point of origin shows, the fares that apply are the same. No matter the point of origin, the point of sale is in the US because that’s where we’re based. So we have access to the fares that are made available to US point of sale.

Where this becomes an issue for the airline is when Qatar gets too smart for its own good. It has decided to vary availability depending on the point-of-origin country. So, in theory, Qatar could say that if you are starting your trip in the US it will make I class available, but if you are starting in Greece, then you are damned to hell and I will be closed. You’d have to buy the higher fare.

In this case, we have absolutely no way of knowing if there was even any difference in availability by point of origin. We weren’t trying to game any system. Our clients absolutely were originating in the US. We were just booking the flights that our client wanted booked. It’s entirely possible, and I’d argue likely considering what availability was like at the time, that there was no difference at all. But Qatar doesn’t care. It just penalizes at will, regardless of if there was any actual impact.

Now, we’re used to getting dinged for things that don’t make sense. That’s why there’s a whole dispute process around this. We submitted multiple responses proving that there was no manipulation, and the airline just kept coming back like a robot ignoring any evidence and saying the penalty stands.

We did reach out to the sales team. At least in the US, sales teams can help fix these types of issues where there’s clearly some misunderstanding somewhere in the system. Qatar’s rep was very nice, said she agreed there was no violation, but she told me that she had no power to do anything and that it was entirely up to the revenue management team in Qatar that handles these disputes.

The dollar amount on this isn’t some enormous amount like I’ve written about here before, but the anger of it all being completely unfair and incorrect has made my blood boil. I’ve now instructed my team to inconvenience our clients by booking any Qatar tickets in a completely separate reservation from any other travel plans. I’ve also asked them to only consider Qatar if there is no better option. Of course, if Qatar is the only/best option for a client, we’ll still book it, because we always do what’s best for the client. But we’ll just have to live in fear that we’ve somehow mistakenly broken some nonsensical rule and wait for a penalty to fall upon us.

This is worse for the traveler in that it’s harder to keep track of everything, but Qatar clearly does not care about any of that. It’s all about whatever the robot says, no excuses, no changes. That’s a terrible way to run a business.

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30 comments on “Qatar Airways Makes Things Up, Slaps Us with a Penalty (Tales From the Field)

  1. That had to be one hell of a trip your client went on. As for QR, it’s known as a money grab plane & simple.

  2. But why why why would you put the client on a single reservation when this had happened to you before? Honestly, the mind boggles. Plus, single reservations with multiple carriers mean the client cant make any changes themselves (may be that is why you did it?) and generally is more messy. My corporate travel agent knows I wont accept single reservation for multiple carriers.

    1. As the post says, it was a single reservation for client convenience. Which I understand – need things to be simple and easy to remember when on honeymoon and potentially in places which might not have super connectivity.

      1. Oh agree around client convenience and if they are using Cranky’s services, its because they probably arent all that comfortable doing it all themselves and as you note, they may not be well connected during their travel. However, Cranky already notes that they have had problems with Qatar that would have been automatically resolved via plural reservations.

    2. David – This did not happen before. The previous instance we booked it as normal and then just canceled the JetBlue flight to start the trip. This time, as I mentioned, we were very clear to book everything in chronological order. At one point they were thinking about coming out of Athens instead of Santorini. When they made the switch, we scrapped the whole thing and started over to make sure that Qatar wouldn’t have any issues. This was an entirely different issue that Qatar made up.

      1. This stinks! I just received a debit memo from QR for a similar reason – $307 POC violation is how it reads. I issued a one-way JNB-LAX ticket in I class (the client used miles for her LAX-ZNZ portion, with ZNZ-CPT issued separately). How else can a ticket be issued with a routing like that? I thought if the GDS auto-priced a ticket, we as agents are protected? We are on Worldspan and I’m going to ask them for help. It sounds like QR is using some BOT to monitor records.

        1. Chip – Was the ZNZ-CPT in the same PNR? If so, that’s probably where their system decided to flag it. It should have been booked in a separate PNR, apparently. That’s what we will do going forward.

          1. Yes, the ZNZ-CPT via NBO on KQ is in the same record, ticketed separately.
            Expensive lesson. I?m still going to fight it.

    3. Some airlines will not check luggage thru to your end destinations via a 2nd carrier unless both reservations and ticketing are on the same booking.

      1. Unless both airlines have an interline agreement, they wont be checking luggage through regardless of being on the same reservation.

  3. Off-topic, but… Shame the client didn’t have a little more time on the honeymoon for another stop further east, or didn’t take a different flight home, as they could have done a circumnavigation of the globe with minimal additional flying.

    Maldives to LAX with a stop in SIN, for example, would have been only 71 miles longer (great circle distance) than Maldives to LAX via CDG.

    1. Kilroy – They had to be back in Paris for a night. I think they had family there and had possibly left bags with them or something? I don’t recall, but there was a reason.

      1. Totally understand. I just thinking aloud, after getting a little curious about the position (and GC routes) on the globe of the Maldives vs LAX.

        I’m always up for an excuse to use the Great Circle Mapper, which this blog introduced me to many years ago.

  4. Some companies take on the personality of their leaders. Qatar has definitely taken on Akbar Al Baker’s…

    1. PF – LAX to Paris roundtrip was validated on AA but the rest was validated on Qatar. It had to be or Qatar wouldn’t be penalizing us. The validating carrier is the one that would send any debit memos.

  5. Perhaps a special Cranky Jackass award should be given to Qatar for finding penalties where no other airline can as well as customer disservice!

    1. It would be viewed, rightly or wrongly, as a little self-serving. And it doesn’t really meet Brett’s very high (sometimes I think too high) bar for the award…

      1. Doug

        I agree that Brett DOES have a very high bar for the award….so maybe a “cranky small donkey award” that would fit under that bar for situations like this :-)

  6. Cranky, until fairly recently I had no idea that you *could* actually put two separate tickets into one reservation. I guess I have for the most part booked directly with airlines and thus always had a 1:1 reservation to ticket relationship. The most complicated thing with that being that if the ticket/reservation includes multiple airlines, they don’t share one record locator / reservation number.

    Could you write about why and when it makes sense to not have this 1:1 relationship? What do the travelers in the example in this post actually get from this? Presumably protections against misconnect are per ticket, not per reservation? Can tickets plated by different airlines be included in one reservation? (seems likely in this case?).

    1. Oliver – The record locator issue is pretty easy. There is a PNR record locator for the agency side. Then each flight segment has its own record locator with the airline that’s noted in the reservation. This happens even when you book direct. Let’s say you booked American connecting to BA or any other partner option. It’s really not an issue.

      The benefits can vary. In some cases, airlines say that they will check bags through only if you have all your flights in a single reservation. It can be multiple tickets, but if it’s in the same reservation, it’s covered. In other cases, it’s just easier for customers to track. They can see their full itinerary in one place. It really does help when there are connections, because then other airlines can usually see the inbound and outbound flights. It may not be protected if the airlines don’t work together but it still helps.

  7. You’ve been doing this a fairly long time. Going forward, I would just “book away” from Qatar, including code shares to avoid any crazy debit memos, etc. If your Qatar rep can’t fix the problem internally with their revenue management analysts – then file a formal complaint with the D.O.T. That will get Qatar’s attention – and this will be interesting what their third-party law firm writes as the response. It’s as if Qatar would even entertain the thought of taking away your ARC/IATA appointment…hardly


  8. If the airline is doing bad things to a travel agency, is that airline ever really “what’s best for the client?” This line of thinking could lead to insolvency.

    1. FrequentWanderer – Well, if someone is flying to Doha or connecting from somewhere like, say Philly to India, or something where Qatar has a good option and others don’t, then yeah. But there are plenty of times where we can suggest other airlines that would be better.

  9. Thanks (I think) for the alert to Qatar’s REAL attitude towards its customers. I’m flying them in business class to Africa in November (ORD-DOH-JRO outbound, ZNZ-DOH-ORD returning). Single PNR, booked directly with them so I don’t expect this exact problem.

    Even three months out, I have already observed some, uh, customer disdain. They changed the DOH-JRO leg from an A330-200 to a 787-9 (a vast improvement). But they didn’t notify me. Just change the equipment and change my seat.

    Fortunately, I had already noticed out that they had been using a 789 until my travel week, and had set up an equipment change alert in Expert Flyer. When I logged in to change the seat from one arbitrarily assigned to one I actually wanted — surprise!. “Your seat has been confirmed. No change is possible.”

    I phoned, and the rep nicely (but wrongheadedly) explained that, well, I had a “J” seat before and still did. Never mind that the 332 was ancient angle-flat seats arranged AB EF JK, and the 789 is proper flat beds A EF K. That’s right — they had assigned a nonexistent seat.

    I didn’t bother pointing that out, and just politely said that on this aircraft, I preferred a “K” seat and she made the change. I also made sure to hang on the phone until the new seat showed on line.

    Possibly all of this is just a matter of clueless management and poor staff training. Certainly, buying the ticket on their web site was a multi-step adventure (and exercise in frustration).

    And possibly not.

    I don’t think I would have booked a different airline had I known all this in advance. QR had both the best schedule and the lowest business class fare for my dates. But it shouldn’t be the customer’s responsibility to monitor all of this.

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