Qatar Airways is joining the oneworld alliance and will take its place alongside Qantas, Cathay Pacific, British Airways and other partner airlines by early 2014.
The deal, long rumoured but only officially announced this morning, will eventually see Qantas travellers able to earn and burn frequent flyer points on Qatar flights, enjoy access to Qatar's decidedly upscale lounges and tap into Qatar's own network to add flexibility to their flight schedule, especially from Melbourne and Perth where the airline currently operates.
British Airways is also said to be in discussions with Qatar Airways about a joint venture on routes between Australia and the UK, taking over from the Qantas-BA alliance which will be dissolved in March 2013.
Qatar is the Gulf region's second largest airline, behind than Emirates but ahead of Etihad, and was most recently the travel news for taking delivery of the first of 30 Boeing 787 Dreamliners (a total shopping bill of A$6 billion at list price).
It's also the first of the three Gulf carriers to join an alliance, with both Emirates and Etihad consistently ruling out such a move.
In Australia, Qatar flies to its hub in Doha from Melbourne daily and Perth thrice weekly, with numerous connections on to Europe and Africa.
As for Sydney, while this might seem an obvious next step, last year the airline's CEO nixed Sydney flights, citing high costs and the overnight curfew as deal-breaking restrictions.
Even so, Qatar's network isn't as much about providing new destinations for Australian travellers as it is a chance to add extra schedule options to your flights while still earning Qantas points, and an alternative to the Qantas-Emirates alliance.
Qatar Privilege vs Qantas Frequent Flyer
Qantas Frequent Flyers will enjoy full "earn and burn" for points plus reciprocal access agreements with Qatar Airways' Privilege Club program.
Privilege Club is a four-tier program, starting at the basic Privilege Club level, and ascending through Burgundy, Silver and Gold – here's how the tiers stack up against Qatar's new oneworld siblings.
- Qatar Gold = Qantas Platinum = oneworld Emerald
- Qatar Silver = Qantas Gold = oneworld Sapphire
- Qatar Burgundy = Qantas Silver = oneworld Ruby
For lounge access, we expect Qantas Platinums to have access to Qatar's Oryx Lounge at Doha, while Qantas Golds will head to the Silver Lounge.
Fully flat beds on the long haul to Doha
Qatar's long-distance A340 and some A330 planes have a three-class first/business/economy layout, while Boeing 777 planes, some A330s and smaller jets carry a two-class (business/economy) configuration.
Business class on the airline's Boeing 777s is a fully flat bed, while angled lie-flat seats are found in business on other planes.
With both Melbourne and Perth flights using Qatar's Boeing 777s, business travellers will find these more appealing than the angled lie-flat seats on Emirates' 777s or Qantas' Airbus A330s – especially when the flight to Doha is a length 14h15 from Melbourne, or 11h25 from Perth.
Need all the details of Emirates' business class offerings to make the comparison? We've got you covered.
Qatar's lounge network around the world is less developed than Emirates', but its home Oryx lounge for first and business passengers in Doha receives rave reviews from travellers.
There's even a Premium Terminal – yes, an entire terminal – exclusively for first and business class travellers with a range of dining options and, naturally, a spa.
First and business travellers stopping over in Doha can take advantage of Qatar's Premium Arrivals lounge.
At London Heathrow, Qatar's Terminal 4 lounge is the first the airline has built for itself outside Doha, and it's certainly dressed to impress.
We'll keep you posted on developments with Qatar Airways, and for the latest news, follow us on Twitter: we're @AusBT.