When you add up the PR value for Qatar as well as the good will it engenders among travelers (especially those adding to their oneworld alliance point totals), the snafu was a smart move.
In a year full of amazing, low-cost, international, premium airfare sales, Qatar Airways may have taken the cake last week with a special fare that it launched for flights out of Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam. For just over $700, travelers could fly round trip from the former capital of South Vietnam through Doha and onward to the United States in business class, a price that would be a steal in economy, let alone in Qatar’s award-winning premium cabin.
News of the sale fare went viral. Within hours, thousands had booked tickets from Saigon to Chicago, New York, and San Francisco — with supplemental “positioning” flights to and from Vietnam just to take the journey on Qatar Airways. The only problem was that the pricing was a mistake. Overnight, Qatar pulled the erroneous fares and in a flash, the deal of the year was gone.
At this point, Qatar could have taken the route that many carriers choose when an error fare is published: cancel all of the booked and on-hold tickets, issue an apology, and deal with the ire of a few, angry customers. Instead, the airline chose to honor the fares, going so far as to reinstate any bookings that were on hold and automatically canceled overnight.
Impressed by the generosity, many took to public forums to laud Qatar. “Great news,” said one commenter on the blog One Mile at a Time. “Kudos on Qatar for fully honouring this fare. I’m sure many will be impressed by their onboard product and service, too. [American Airlines]: take note on how [Qatar Airways] handled this, compared to you!”
Similar praise for the airline echoed through the web, creating a wave of positive sentiment for the carrier.
Beyond the temporary praise, however, what Qatar was able to accomplish was wider public support at a time of great importance. Right now, Qatar and its national airline are in full crisis mode as neighboring Gulf states pressure the country to better oversee its funding of potential terrorist states. Much of the neighboring air space around Qatar is currently closed because of that ordeal.
On top of the regional issues, Qatar and other Gulf Carriers are still wrestling with U.S. carriers over Open Skies agreements and plans that the Middle East airlines have for expansion in the west. That campaign has led to great deal of negativity on both sides of the aisle (Qatar’s CEO recently called U.S. flight attendants grandmothers — he later apologized) with passengers caught in the middle of the bickering.
In the midst of all of this turmoil, one of the best things that Qatar Airways do is get public opinion on its side and continue to woo customers. And even though the airline may have had to eat millions of dollars in lost bookings that could have been made in business class, winning the loyalty of a few customers and getting more credit in the court of public opinion may have been worth the investment.
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Photo credit: The new Qatar Airways seat can accommodate a family of four in one pod. Qatar Airways