There’s an old joke that British Airways has the world’s best business class – it’s called First. Having flown BA, Cathay, Emirates, Etihad, JAL, Qatar, Qantas and Swiss first class I can understand where that comes from. There are no fancy suites, caviar, or showers on BA First for a start. But in the pre-Covid days it was not unusual to pick up a First fare of under £2000 to New York fairly regularly. You won’t be doing that with any others except Swiss on a companion ticket!
Yesterday I published a reader review of BA First, and one of the questions was how does it compare with Qatar QSuites. Prior to Covid, I was also asking the question, is First worth it when you can get the new BA Club Suite, but unless you don’t plan to eat on board, at the moment First is way above the meagre one tray offering in Club.
So here is a comparison.
Price including Avios
I picked a route that is another “unicorn Avios route” London-Singapore in First on BA. For BA, the cheapest first price I found was £7142! If we look at Qatar business class the cost is £3665. BA First is definitely not worth the extra on a cash ticket!
With Avios, it is a different story due to being able to use an upgrade voucher (Gold Upgrade) or a companion voucher when flying BA First. This could take the cost down to 119,000 Avios per person on a companion voucher or 175,000 per person with an upgrade voucher plus taxes and charges of around £700. Without a voucher, it would be 238,000 Avios off peak. Qatar would be 150,000 Avios in business class if you booked through Qatar. So if you have a companion voucher, I’d view BA First as the winner. With an upgrade voucher, there is not a lot in it, so it all depends on how you plan to spend the flight and what is important.
When you fly with BA you get access to You First, which is exclusively for First customers and means you should not have issues getting through to BA. You can email or call them. With Qatar in business you would just have the usual Qatar customer service. Generally, I find them pretty good and have managed to get through to them during Covid. However, when things go wrong, they have a reputation for not often not being particularly helpful, particularly their ground staff. This is not something I have experienced, but it’s worth bearing in mind.
If we look solely at the home lounge, for me, there is no comparison between Qatar’s business class lounge, Al Mourjan and BA’s Concorde room. It’s sad that some of BA’s bells and whistles have gone from the CCR (Concorde Room), such as the cabanas and the spa. However, the food, drink, atmosphere and service are far superior in the CCR.
Qatar Al Mourjan
This is a huge lounge with a sandwich bar, showers, a restaurant area and a rest area where you can sleep (if you enjoy listening to people snoring loudly). It is a beautiful lounge with its central reflecting pool but it is a bit souless being so huge.
The choice of champagne varies greatly but is definitely not at the level of BA’s Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle. The food in the restaurant is normally a buffet, although they do have waiter service for the drinks. The sandwich bar is a nice addition and this is waiter service. I don’t like that you can’t easily see what drinks they have available when you are downstairs. The showers are nicely done but always very hot so you end up sweaty again when you get out!
BA Concorde Room
This is a much more intimate space with a terrace area that’s not actually “outside” but out in the terminal. Service is all waiter service unless you want to go to the bar. One of the things I like about the CCR is the fact that if you are a regular they remember you. The barman Charlie is a real asset to BA. He will make any cocktail you’d like if he has the ingredients or invent something for you if you like. Sitting at the bar and chatting to Charlie when he has time is a great way to start your trip and is completely different from the vast impersonal Qatar lounge.
There are bar snacks as well as a full menu which you can eat in the restaurant area or in the lounge. The food is a bit up and down in terms of quality and did go through a somewhat “fast food” era a while ago. However, most of the time now it has a choice of starters, mains, dessert or cheese and a decent wine list. Their signature champagne is Laurent Perrier Gran Siecle which I am quite partial to and better than any of the champagnes we see regularly in Qatar’s lounge. They also generally have a few fine wines and XO brandy as well as plenty of cocktails.
Showers and sleep pods are available too.
You can read more about the Concorde room in this review.
Winner: BA First
The seats and cabin
Although this is a direct comparison between Qatar QSuite and BA, it’s worth remembering the Qatar still have some old 2-2-2 business class, as well as lots of non-QSuites and aircraft swaps do happen. With BA the first seats are all pretty good so it would only be if the route stopped having First or the aircraft went tech and was replaced with a 3 class aircraft that you would need to worry about.
There is no comparison in cabins as BA First only has 8-14 seats which is much more personal and a different world to a cabin full of QSuites.
BA First has three main types of seats. The B777/A380 seats which come with buddy dining seats, the B787 seats which are the most modern but have no buddy seat and the new suites which have a door.
The Qsuites are a good size for business class and very private with a door. However, they don’t have the wardrobe space that BA First does and they are quite hard. Even with the mattress topper they are still on the hard side whereas I find all of BA’s First seats much more comfortable for sleeping. The QSuites also alternately face backwards which some people don’t like.
In terms of the dimensions of the seats, there is not a lot in it with Qatar’s seats being an inch longer but half an inch narrower.
Winner: The clear winner here is BA for me.
Food and drink
This is an area that BA could definitely improve in compared to the competition. However, if we look at yesterday’s review, then I would have been pretty happy with the food options.
On both Qatar and BA there is a glass of champagne when you first board although Qatar are more willing to bring other drinks usually. Plus if you are tee-total or fancy a break there is the refreshing lemon mint signature drink.
There is more of a chance of personalisation with a choice of sides, although the crew just bring a selection if you don’t specify.
The canapes to start are one of the things I most enjoy on BA First. With Qatar, you get an amuse bouche instead.
I adore Qatar’s mezze which is plentiful and filling. They usually have a slightly less fancy menu than BA as it’s quite normal to see things like scallops or lobster on BA’s First (now we are back to pre-Covid standards) whereas this is less common on Qatar.
BA’s snacks are somewhat lacking, but Qatar offers some pick and mix nibbles that are proper food, and on short night flights, they do a good one tray “tapas” type meal. Qatar also has a light meal selection which has things like burgers or afternoon tea.
Both offer “dine on demand”.
Qatar’s champagne offering are usually very good, with Laurent Perrier Brut and Rose being featured regularly along with some other good champagnes. They do have the odd hiccup, though – I remember a particularly bad rosé champagne once that was barely drinkable. BA however have a much better offering with their Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle champagne which is superior to anything Qatar offers in business. BA also have the Hattingley Valley English Sparkling which is excellent.
For other wines, there is surprisingly little difference. Both regularly offer a Bordeaux grand cru red, although it is more usual to see a good Burgundy white on BA than Qatar. Both offer a dessert wine which is great for Qatar’s business class. For me, I would not choose BA just for the champagne.
The official result was 4 to BA vs 2 to Qatar’s QSuite. If it was a competition between Qatar QSuite and BA Club Suite, then Qatar would win in every category except customer service (tie) and the hardness of the seat.
As always, it is really down the price. If you are travelling on Avios then for me I would rather go with BA First class if I had a voucher to use. With such a small cabin, it’s a much more personal service. Without a voucher, I would probably only go for BA First for a special occasion or if it was a better journey time.
BA has the advantage of flying direct, which means less hassle and better sleep usually. However, that also means fewer tier points if you were on a cash ticket.
What do you think? Would you choose British Airways First class or Qatar Business class QSuite for the prices?
You can’t use a Barclays / Barclaycard upgrade voucher to upgrade to First.
Ah yes had forgotten that! Thank you.
Interesting read, although not one of your most balanced pieces. As you mention, the key thing you are evaluating here is value for money of BA First vs Qatar Business (especially given the route chosen is notoriously impossible to get Avios redemptions on.)
BA is DOUBLE the cost of Qatar in £. (Therefore giving BA an extra point because there’s a You First telephone line you’ll probably never call is crazy!)
I won’t disagree that the Concorde Room is better than the lounge in Qatar (albeit you get the Qatar lounge on both directions vs just one way) and BA’s First seat may be ever so slightly better than Qatar’s business seat, BUT you are comparing FIRST to Business, and a ticket that is DOUBLE the price. So it feels like the conclusion (notwithstanding the Avios point) should be Qatar wins every day of the week given the ticket price as BA cannot be worth the extra money?
Only if you view it as a cash ticket. If you view it as Avios then BA could be better value with a voucher. I assessed each section separately as different things are important to different people. That way people can draw their own conclusion.
I think the “BA First is the World’s best business class” myth has emerged as on some routes the F fare can be not much greater than the J. Throw in sales and upgrades and the cash difference maybe negligible or non- existent. However, next time you fly F peer round the curtain at the masses being force-fed in their stalls and you’ll realise what the difference is!
So have the cabanas definitely gone from the CR Michele? I really liked them even though they had seen better days. We flew F to SIN on BA and J back from SYD with QR. The Q Seat and catering were both far superior to BA in my humble opinion. I had the best sleep I’ve ever had on QR. The QR mezzo has become an iconic dish for me. Strange how something so simple, (inexpensive I would have thought) but done so well can be a highlight. The catering overall on QR was better. BA win hands down on crew- QR are pretty “stiff” and formal, presumably living in fear of Al Baker. I just think BA don’t innovate anymore. Remember they brought us the “Cradle Seat” and the first fully flat bed in J I believe. Another runway at LHR will be the death knell for BA; they have an oligopoly at LHR.
I’ve heard conflicting information on the cabanas. I would expect them to return at some point but they badly needed renovation before so I suspect that BA don’t want to spend the money doing that or on the staff to clean them in between visitors.
Thank you for such an interesting article Michelle.
With regard to using Avios / companion ticket for the best deal for BA first to Sydney, I have been checking the BA Sydney route for a while now and have never seen First seats available. Do you have any tips to finding these?
You have to call up at midnight/1am on the day they are released 355 days before departure.
Ohhhh tough one. Having flown both, when BA crew are on point and assuming you have a relatively newer First seat, then surely BA wins. Saying that. Given their inconsistency and Qatars high level consistency with a very good, newer and cleaner Q Suite it makes it a very tough call. Gun to my head I am voting BA for the convenience.
Interesting comparison… John, what you forgot about the “masses being force-fed in their stalls” is that they are the ones Ba need to make a profit! 😉
Availability in F for Avios is very poor – all destinations. Tried several times very well in advance. There is absolutely no point to pay with cash as BA product is very overpriced and does not give true first class experience. Personally I try to find alternative to BA with ANY other decent airline. Despite of being Gold Member for years my loyalty is gone
Thank you I have often mulled over this question. There is also the all important 420/480 tier points for a BA F ticket and for me, the satisfaction of sitting at the front not in the middle of the plane occasionally wishing you were behind the next curtain. BA does have an old school charm that we love, but as leisure not business travellers. Maybe if you are staring at your lap top changing the world and being important you would appreciate the Germanic efficiency of Qatar.
This was indeed a very interesting piece, but I’m afraid that I’m going to disagree with Michele. Middle Eastern employment law is nothing like that in the UK, which may be why I’ve always found QR’s staff so helpful and eager to please. I’m looking forward to my first flight in the new BA Club World seats, but even QR’s 2-2-2 seats on a run such as DOH-KTM are better than BA’s ying-yang seats, which are still far too prevalent. Unfortunately my first upgrade to F on QR was on the DOH-BKK leg when I had showered and cleaned my teeth at DOH, intending only to sleep. The superb purser persuaded me that I really needed to try QR’s F champagne. A sad reflection on BA’s quality was that when my wife and I were upgraded to F on an LHR-SEA flight in a 747 (in 2019) I asked which seats were on offer, because I had secured 61J/K in Club World and wouldn’t trade them for 4C/D in F. There was a rather surprised look, then I was offered 5A/C. The rocket from No 1 Wife (still the only one) took me as far as the Irish coast.
For those without huge numbers of avoid or companion vouchers and what direct flights then I GUESS BA ESPECIALLY AS AM SICK OF FOOD ETC IN BUSINESS WHERE YOU PAY FOR BUSINESS BUT GET ECONOMY!
arghhhh. avios and want *
see what business class brings out in me …lol
“Middle Eastern employment law is nothing like that in the UK, which may be why I’ve always found QR’s staff so helpful and eager to please.”
Interesting comment lol
I am not sure if I am reading this wrong but is it a case of ‘because a middle eastern airline can get rid of a staff member with the click of a finger they come to work in fear of upsetting a passenger so will literally walk on egg shells around them’?
That is definitely the reality at QATAR. Which is why you will hardly ever find any crew from western europe, australia, US etc working for them unlike say, EK. QATAR are notorious for treating their expat staff very strictly, even making quite extreme demands on their own free time with curfews on days off, rules around smoking and dating in their own time.
This is the VERY reason why the QR service style is NOT for me. I never sense a feeling of genuinely happy to be there, of letting their individual personality shine through. Everything seems to be from a script and I just find it all very forced. Of course the upside of this is consistency. Yet it can also appear robotic and in-personal. I know i’m a weirdo when I say some of the BEST crew i’ve ever encountered have been at the likes of AA (also absolutely, the worst). Some of the ‘characters’ i’ve encountered at AA (or BA) have made my flying so memorable – sometimes not in a great way. But often in the very best of ways.
Just a add a few points in QR’s defence:
On fares and convenience, the Avios/companion/upgrade really are unicorns or hen’s teeth to Asia. Doesn’t help that BA has cut back its Asian route map so much: BKK, KUL, HKG, ICN etc all gone. To make the F (and even BA J) fares more palatable, you’d have to ex-EU, which puts convenience on a par with QR IMHO! OK, QR’s best fares are ex-EU too, but that’s 6 segments to get to SIN or HKT or DPS, say, vs 6 on BA to get to SIN, ex-DUS or ex-LIN, or 8 if you want to go anywhere other than SIN (and BA won’t check through bags on separate tickets, unlike QR)
On flexibility, ok, sure QR isn’t great at IRROPS, but any schedule change (and there are many!) gets you a free re-route/date-change anywhere within 400 miles. No such luck on BA!
On Lounge, sure Al Mourjan (and Plat or Gold lounge on P fares) are nothing special, but the LHR QR Premium lounge (also SIN) is as good as the CCR, with a la carte dining room, barman, cocktails, etc. And you can buy up to Al Safwa for around £100 – vintage champagne, hotel rooms and spa pool included
On catering, as well as extensive dine-on-demand, which isn’t really available in practice on busy BA flights, QR has pretty much restored pre-pandemic menus (albeit trays still on all routes except LHR). There’s been either lobster, crab or scallop on *all* of my QR menus lately (often the starter, as mezze is not to my taste). BA F is all a bit predictable: chicken, beef, curry
On seat, the most common reverse herringbone on QR’s 787s, A380s, some A350s basically has the same footprint as BA F… I actually prefer it to the QSuite as it’s more open and airy. And the bedding, quilts, multiple pillows etc, are just as good on QR
Finally, no mention of amenities. The latest QR Diptique amenity kit is as good as BA F, and you get two of them on every flight – in the box to DOH, in the bag ex-DOH. Plus pyjamas and slippers on QR – OK they’re scratchy and cheap, but so are the BA F ones! QR toilets also generally cleaner and much better kept than BA ones – full size toothbrushes and razors – none of that toytown stuff in the BA bags
Net-net, I just find it hard to justify stressing over, say, the ex-DUS F fare that’s floating around at the moment – QR is *still* cheaper ex-LHR, gets me to somewhere other than SIN, gets more TPs, and just so much more bang for my buck to be honest!
Yhought there was never much in it for years now. Since then, we have often cancelled our ba 241 in f to kul to buy a QR J sales ex scandi. Love the huge space around those flat beds. Q suites good also. Last F from SIN November 21. Can’t find F seats at all. Now BA stopped KUL, v limited to Asia. But ba suites will be good once all rolled out. Hate climbing over folks. Need a new ex EU QR J sale soon please…
Eugene and Jason make very good points; is there a moral element to any choice in view of Qatar (the country’s) ambivalence on human rights? But then QR owns a huge chunk of BA, and might buy IAG outright soon anyway, if the share price stays in the doldrums.
Qatar Airways cabin staff are infinitely superior to BA because they have the world to choose from and they travel the world to find good people.
British Airways cabin staff are picked from whoever is able to get to Waterside for an interview and checks the right boxes. The good are good, the rest are indifferent but TLFL has mentioned in other places BA complete lack of commitment to ensuring their product is shored up utilizing employee skills in the right places and not operating a whoever-does-it approach on the day.
Before one rushes out to point fingers at middle eastern employment laws, it is advisable to review some of the cheapest conditions on a UK cabin crew contract which is not limited to, but heavily exploited by British Airways and also reflected in their products in First and Club World. Inconsistency is the only thing BA does with dedicated consistency. This forum has already talked often about BA method of deploying crew on a flight which leaves it wide open to discrepancy. I understand TLFL is focussed on the mileage/avios spend and that is the only thing that balances this article for me. I use BA First when my client makes the same trip with me and she/he is more limited by cost otherwise I avoid it at – literally – all costs. You First is a joke. They can find you a personal shopper but don’t expect anything in the way of help when things go wrong that really matter.
Jason D picked up on my comment about employment law and yes, airlines like QR can sack staff easily. But as someone who likes to engage with flight crew, I’ve never detected any fear amongst any QR staff to whom I’ve talked. They tend to be very well educated and are earning a great deal more than they could in the very wide range of countries from which they come. I’ve had some fascinating middle of the night conversations. It may be a Faustian bargain, but it seems to work for those with whom I’ve talked. But I come back to the fact that BA should learn from its largest shareholder how to look after premium passengers, which I’m afraid that QR does far, far better. And one can often get twice as many Tier Points, admittedly by changing at DOH, where if one is ‘bussed there is a J Class ‘bus. Imagine that at Gate 10 at T5 – where BA’s policy is to board Group 1 on the ‘bus first, then try to squeeze Groups 5 and 6 aboard as well.
I’ve flown QSuites a couple of times plus the older QR 1-2-1 and always been very impressed with the whole product and of course you can’t beat the bar on the A380! I’ve flown the BA Ying-Yang set up & in my opinion it’s nowhere near as good in any sense, therefore I wouldn’t choose to do it again. Never flown BA F but will be early 2023 so I’ll be interested to make the comparison myself. Having read that LON-SIN is a “Unicorn Avios route” I’m happy to have bagged 2 x return BA First LHR-SIN utilising a Companion Voucher at £1,344 + 259k Avios.
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