Qatar Airways Launches Outrageous New Program That Could Kill First Class

First-class is not dead but it is dying. Even in 2019 the super-rich were opting more for private jets, while the leaps and bounds made in business class enticed wealthy leisure travellers to walk deeper into the plane.

Of course, as a pandemic swept the globe at the start of 2020, all airlines faced a harsh reality check. Carriers cut operations substantially and even now, as we begin the bumpy road to recovery, only some have the financial and geopolitical heft to keep operating international flights in the face of such limited demand.

Qatar Airways is one of them.

Not only is Qatar Airways servicing more than 40 destinations from its Doha hub, but Qatar Executive, a luxurious subsidiary of Qatar Airways, has now launched a program that could see even more eyes wander from first class.

 

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Qatar Executive is a fleet of first class jets, created in 2009, which caters to global business travellers. Yesterday Qatar introduced a new feature to this Executive program, which it calls The Diamond Agreement.

An "Unparalleled Private Jet Travel Programme," Qatar Executive’s new Diamond Agreement claims to offer maximum flexibility at industry leading pricing. How? Customers are now able to pre-purchase flight time at fixed-hourly rates on state-of-the-art long-range and ultra-long-range private jets.

"The Diamond Agreement is precisely tailored to the individual customer’s needs and requirements, offering a truly unique flying experience."

To join this program, customers purchase a minimum of 50 hours flight time, without any associated membership fees. The all-inclusive and fixed-hourly rates cover both flight hours and taxi time.

Designed to simplify private jet travel, pre-purchased Diamond Agreement hours have no minimum annual usage and no maximum carry-over, making the Diamond Agreement program unrivalled in terms of its flexibility. Qatar Executive’s customers are also offered guaranteed availability for reservations booked from just 72 hours in advance.

Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, said: “As part of Qatar Airways Group, Qatar Executive offers an exceptional travel experience for private jet customers. With the Diamond Agreement, we can now offer even more flexible and bespoke travel options for Qatar Executive passengers, who can continue to expect our high levels of service and safety onboard our state-of-the-art aircraft.”

Qatar Executive’s Acting Executive Vice President, Mark Hardman, said: “We are truly delighted to launch our bespoke Diamond Agreement, which is tailored to suit the exact travel profile of both corporate and private clients. The programme offers the ultimate in flexibility at a fixed price. Furthermore, we understand that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, clients are looking for versatile, high-quality services from a reputable and financially secure operator."

“During these unprecedented times, travel requirements often change and as such, our customers can rely on us for a bespoke service, with unused hours being refundable at any time.”

Qatar Executive currently operates a fleet of 18 state-of-the-art private jets and includes Gulfstream G650ERs, Gulfstream G500s, and Global 5000 aircraft. It is the proud launch customer for Gulfstream’s flagship jet, the Gulfstream G700. The new aircraft brings an unprecedented combination of performance, technology and cabin size to Qatar Executive’s fleet.

Qatar Executive says it "has maintained a robust and agile network" over the last few months "despite the challenging operational environment."

Professor Rico Merkert from the USYD Professor of Transport and Supply Chain Management told DMARGE Qatar Airways is still operating in These Challenging Times for two main reasons: to grab market share and to make the most of infrastructure.

"Only airlines such as Qatar have the means do that (grabbing market share but at significant financial losses) in this current environment with the border situation less than certain.”

“Yes, it's great for brand building... It is harder to gain customers than to lose them in this business (once loyalty schemes and a decent product come into play).”

 

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“They also understand the importance of aviation to their economy (as a hub with some pretty new and expensive infrastructure sitting there and lots of competition from the UAE and other places),” Professor Merkert added.

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Experts Reveal Qantas’ Defence Strategy Against Virgin Australia’s Middle Market Push

The travel industry blew a disc in March. As we begin the bumpy recovery, there will be a lot of shaking and moving.

Enter: Virgin Australia. Though its purple disco was cut short when, struggling with long-term debt (AU $5 billion, to be precise), it sank into voluntary administration in April, it is now, with an injection of cash from new US owner Bain Capital, thinking about sending invitations again.

Bain aims to help Virgin Australia re-emerge as a mid-market carrier.

This means, Virgin Australia, moving forward, will not attempt to operate like a full-service airline (a la Qantas), nor slim to the waistline of a low-budget airline like Jetstar.

Instead, it's going after the middle market, operating a much smaller fleet, flying mainly domestic routes and short-range international flights to countries such as New Zealand.

Qantas has repeatedly said it welcomes the competition, so long as it's fair. However, it's hard to imagine The Flying Kangaroo not making moves to protect its market share, in anticipation of how its closest competitor's product is set to change.

With both Qantas and Virgin Australia likely to see pent up demand – if and when state borders all open again – an interesting new in-air dynamic may soon emerge.

To understand what it could look like, and to ask what moves Qantas will make to protect its middle-market share, DMARGE got in touch with Professor Rico Merkert, Chair in Transport and Supply Chain Management at the University of Sydney.

"Qantas will defend their market share and use their loyalty program even more to keep customers flying with them," Professor Merkert told DMARGE exclusively. "They will also combine the international and domestic offering in a better way than Virgin will be able to (unless Virgin enters a number of new alliances now that they don't have SIA, EY and HNA at their board table pulling the strings anymore)."

Aviation blogger, prolific frequent flyer and owner of Flight Hacks Immanuel Debeer made similar comments.

"If the predictions are right and Virgin Australia goes for a 'mid market' approach, I can definitely imagine Qantas will jump on the opportunity to poach customers where they can," Debeer told DMARGE.

Debeer also said it's important, for The Pointy End demographic, Virgin Australia don't go too cheap: "low-cost carriers don't demand loyalty and considering Virgin Australia 2.0 might scrap all their A330's which feature an amazing business class product, frequent flyers will be left wondering what the point of Velocity status means to them."

As for Virgin's fiscal and marketing plans, Professor Merkert said, "Virgin will focus on the domestic market and as Bain is a private equity company, they will have an interest to present and dress Virgin as an entity that can generate a return on investment."

This means, despite Qantas' recent culling of international flights well into next year, there is scant opportunity for Virgin Australia to move in and play the early mover ("with the borders being closed, why would they offer international flights?").

"Only airlines such as Qatar have the means do that (grabbing market share but at significant financial losses) in this current environment with the border situation less than certain."

"If the borders open tomorrow (which they won't), it will be Qantas who will react first in addition to the code share agreements that they have in place in any case today (i.e. with Emirates and American, and both generate revenues without having the risk to fly Qantas' own metal)," Professor Merkert added.

We then asked Professor Merkert whether Virgin Australia moving their Sydney HQ out of the inner city (something many keyboard warriors have suggested is reflective of the company's attitude to money) to somewhere cheaper like Mascot (where Qantas has their office) could help Virgin Australia make a start at righting its financials.

It's a no from Professor Merkert: [This wouldn't do] much, as Virgin's main head office is in Brisbane and the [VA] Sydney office is not that big."

"How to strip out cost other than focusing on one aircraft type and closing a lot of the lounges is the $1 billion question. It will be interesting to see what they will do marketing wise," he added.

"Something to look forward to as a customer... is... they will have to come up with something good and innovative in order to be competitive."

Only time (and ticket sales) will tell.

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Creepy Catch Behind Saudi Arabia’s Luxe ‘Mirage Inspired’ New Airport

Saudi Arabia is known for oil, Mecca, sand and arresting journalists. In recent years, however, it has begun a campaign to attract tourists, to the point where they hired a bunch of influencers (in 2019) to come and, quite literally, whitewash their reputation.

Further adding to the sheen, the nation's rulers have signed off on the construction of a shiny new airport, the designs of which, we'd argue, wouldn't look out of place next to Bond villain Franz Oberhauser's Saharan Crater Facility.

As ESCAPE reports, "Designs have been revealed for a new airport in Saudi Arabia, inspired by the optical illusion of a desert mirage."

"The new airport will be built on Saudi Arabia’s northwestern coast, the site of a new ultra-luxury man-made holiday destination, to be named AMAALA."

“A gateway to AMAALA, visitors will be greeted by personalised experiences from the moment they step off the plane. From design to personalisation, this will be no ordinary airport. Immersed in the spirit of AMAALA, the airport will create an environment that embodies the philosophy of the destination beyond,” AMAALA CEO Nicholas Naples told media.

“This will be a unique space that personifies luxury and marks the start of memorable experiences for the world’s most discerning guests. We are delighted to work with Foster + Partners and Egis on this project.”

 

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The irony is, despite their country having a reputation for being ideological worlds away from Instagram, Hollywood, etc. the Saudi Arabian tourism board appears to be incredibly social media savvy.

When travel restrictions lift, visitors are set to see land art (specifically designed to be seen from the air). In addition, when entering the terminal, passengers will be met with a sleek mirrored edifice rising from the desert (the airport).

According to ESCAPE, "The structure takes its inspiration from the surrounding environment, resulting in a mesmerising mirage effect. A spacious courtyard will anchor the terminal and will be complemented by contemporary interiors complete with unique artwork and tailored experiences."

"Among the list of amenities provided by the airport are climate-controlled hangars that will be available for private jets as well as a ground transfer service that is accessible from inside the arrival hangar," (ESCAPE).

[caption id="attachment_262441" align="alignnone" width="920"] Image: Bond 007, Spectre's Saharan Crater Facility[/caption]

“Responding to the surrounding landscape, the terminal building will form an exclusive gateway to the AMAALA resort. The passenger experience through the entire building will be akin to a private members club – luxurious and relaxing. Focusing on the themes of art, wellbeing and sport, the design seeks to establish a new model for private terminals that provides a seamless experience from resort to aeroplane,” Foster + Partners’ senior executive partner, Gerard Evenden told media.

AMAALA construction is expected to begin in 2020, with all phases completed by 2028.

The airport is set to be compled in 2023, and is estimated to see one million travellers per year go through it once it officially opens.

Also worthy of note is that the airport's terminal and control tower, and the airport master plan were designed by two different entities.

As Traveller reports, "The terminal and control tower design was developed by UK-based architectural and design firm Foster + Partners, while the airport master plan was overseen by international consultancy and engineering group Egis."

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Insane Photos Show What It Takes To Be New York’s Best Hotel

Questroyal fine art. Dining at JoJo. Shopping at Louboutin. Bird watching in Central Park. There's a lot you can do in the heart of Manhattan. Then there's the Mark Hotel.

Located at Madison Avenue, 77th street, this iconic institution stirred back to life after lockdown on June the 15th, and has now been ranked #1 City Hotel in the Continental United States and #1 Hotel in New York City by Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards for 2020.

Photos provided by Travel + Leisure show what it takes to achieve this milestone.

[caption id="attachment_262283" align="alignnone" width="920"] Who needs Paris when you've got this? The Mark's Master Suite Terrace in full bloom.[/caption]

The accolade follows a long list of awards. The Mark has received various ~official~ back pats since its reopening 10 years ago after the property, located in one of Manhattan’s most elegant and discreet neighborhoods in the heart of the Upper East Side, was reimagined by a team led by Izak Senbahar.

The place quickly became the hotel of choice for a clientele of global power brokers after a bold renovation by French interior designer Jacques Grange.

Of the latest award Izak Senbahar said, “We are doubly honored to receive two major awards, namely - Best Hotel in New York and Best City Hotel in the US - by Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards for 2020. The Mark Hotel is the product of the continuous effort of many creative people and the daily hard work of our professional, dedicated and most caring staff."

[caption id="attachment_262282" align="alignnone" width="920"] The Mark Master Suite Bedroom.[/caption]

“A special thanks goes to Jacques Grange and a large team of artists and artisans, curated by Pierre Passebon, who helped us design and create this timeless, iconic hotel. Our management team, staff, creative team, and collaborators, including Michelin star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, beauty entrepreneur Frédéric Fekkai and master perfumer Frédéric Malle, are the very reason for our success. We also thank Travel + Leisure readers for selecting The Mark as the Best Hotel in New York and the United States.”

2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards, whose winners are selected every year through a reader’s survey that asks respondents to vote for their favorite travel experiences.

For those keen to live vicariously (especially as international leisure travel will be, for most, off the cards for some time), The Mark Hotel is located in New York’s Upper East Side, a hotdog's throw from Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

[caption id="attachment_262284" align="alignnone" width="920"] The Mark Penthouse's Ice Skating Rink.[/caption]

The Mark combines avant-garde design with the latest technology and old-world comfort, drawing upon the expertise of an extraordinary group of talents. This includes Michelin-star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, beauty entrepreneur Frédéric Fekkai, master perfumer Frédéric Malle, and legendary French designer Jacques Grange, who commissioned an international group of artists and artisans to create bespoke artworks and furniture for the property, including Ron Arad, Mattia Bonetti, Guy de Rougemont, Vladimir Kagan, Eric Schmitt, and Paul Mathieu, to name a few.

The Mark is known worldwide for an extraordinary level of personal service and an unprecedented list of amenities, including 24/7 check-in, 24/7 room service, 24/7 shopping at Bergdorf Goodman, The Mark Hot Dog Stand, The Mark Pedicabs and The Mark Flower Cart, as well as access to The Mark Sailboat, a 70-foot historic Herreshoff available to sail around the New York harbor, among many other outstanding amenities.

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Chris Hemsworth & Elsa Pataky Reveal ‘Lost Travel Art’ Every Couple Needs To Try

Chris Hemsworth goes on holiday. Chris Hemsworth gets a haircut. Chris Hemsworth rubs his tummy after lunch. Every time Chris Hemsworth steps outside, Australia's culture shifts (if the tabloids are to be believed).

But, for once, with the country's lockdown in various stages of undress, and as the nation's perception of ~travel~ changes perhaps irreversibly, Chris Hemsworth's latest jaunt up the coast reveals more than just his abs.

Chris Hemsworth and his family's latest holiday destination, and their choice to keep it under wraps, besides providing a damning indictment on the Byron paparazzi, demonstrates a lost holiday art every Australian couple (whether you've got kids or not) can learn from.

The art of losing touch. Also: the humble road trip.

Forget soaring Amalfi Coast views and Portofino prosecco, a nondescript stretch of east (or west) coast sand could be the key to switching off your brain box; less bills, less flights, less hassle.

 

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Once there, your second key to a truly refreshing holiday is as follows: leave your phone alone. As DMARGE reported last year, study after study shows the benefits of disconnecting – especially when travelling.

On top of that, numerous (see here and here) professional backpackers say ‘losing touch’ is a feature – not a bug – of the travel experience.

Put another way: unless you’re someone that can have their Instagram and eat it too, if you stay in the loop while away you’ll find yourself taking photos when you should be inhaling, posing when you should be basking and curating when you should be doing.

It seems Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky have realised this. As news.com.au reports, since racing north for a Queensland getaway once the state border reopened last Friday, "they [Chris, brother Liam and Elsa] haven’t posted a single happy snap to their 60 million-odd combined Instagram following."

That said, "a couple of their less famous friends have kept fans updated."

 

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"Also present on the low-key family trip to Rainbow Beach north of Noosa were Hemsworth family friends April and Luke Munro and their kids," news.com.au reports.

"April posted pics from the getaway to her Instagram account – with cameos from a few A-list faces."

But hey: as long as someone else is doing the shutter bugging, the holiday is yours to enjoy.

Take note, Australia.

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