Emirates vs. Etihad vs. Qatar: What’s the Difference?

Qatar has a slight edge due to its loyalty program, but all three are a great choice for luxurious global travel.
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International globetrotters likely know about the three major airlines in the Middle East: Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. Their swanky premium cabins, excellent service and route network are the talk of the town.

If you’re choosing whether to fly Emirates, Etihad or Qatar airlines, we’ve got the rundown for you on where they fly, loyalty programs and classes of service. Enter the battle of the Middle Eastern carriers: Emirates versus Etihad versus Qatar.

Where they’re based and where they fly

Winner for the number of destinations served: Qatar

Based on the overall footprint of the airlines, Qatar wins this round handily. Additionally, its membership in the Oneworld alliance gives Qatar an even bigger advantage. Neither Emirates nor Etihad are part of a global airline alliance, but Emirates does have a large global presence as well.

Emirates

As you probably can guess by its name, Emirates is based in United Arab Emirates, specifically Dubai, and serves more than 160 destinations worldwide, including 12 U.S. cities:

  • Boston.

  • Chicago-O’Hare.

  • Dallas-Fort Worth.

  • Houston-George Bush.

  • Los Angeles.

  • Miami.

  • New York-JFK.

  • Newark.

  • Orlando.

  • San Francisco.

  • Seattle.

  • Washington-Dulles.

Etihad Airways

Etihad Airways is also based in United Arab Emirates, but in Abu Dhabi, the country’s capital. The airline flies to 60 destinations in Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and North America.

U.S. destinations include:

  • Chicago-O’Hare.

  • New York-JFK.

  • Washington-Dulles.

Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways’ main hub is in Doha, Qatar. The carrier currently serves more than 170 destinations in more than 80 countries.

Qatar flies to the following U.S. cities:

  • Atlanta.

  • Chicago-O’Hare.

  • Dallas-Fort Worth.

  • Houston-George Bush.

  • Los Angeles.

  • New York-JFK.

  • San Francisco.

  • Seattle.

Airline loyalty programs

Winner for ease of miles: Qatar Privilege Club

When you take a look at the loyalty programs of Emirates, Etihad or Qatar airlines, one stands out above the others: Qatar Privilege Club. Not only can you earn the Avios with ease, but also the redemption rates are customer-friendly.

Emirates

The Emirates loyalty program is called Skywards. The number of miles you earn on an Emirates ticket depends on where you fly, fare type and class of service.

Elite flyers earn a bonus on the accumulated miles at the following rates:

  • Blue: 0% bonus.

  • Silver: 30% bonus.

  • Gold: 75% bonus.

  • Platinum: 100% bonus.

So, if you’re flying round trip from New York-JFK to Dubai, you’ll earn the following number of miles as a Blue member (without Skywards status) versus a Platinum member (the top status tier).

Class of Travel

Blue Skywards member

Platinum Skywards member

Economy Special

1,800.

13,800.

Economy Saver

3,600.

15,600.

Economy Flex

9,000.

21,000.

Economy Flex Plus

12,000.

24,000.

Premium Economy Flex Plus

13,200.

25,198.

Business Special

13,200.

25,198.

Business Saver

15,000.

27,000.

Business Flex

21,000.

33,000.

Business Flex Plus

22,800.

34,800.

First Flex

30,000.

42,000.

First Flex Plus

30,000.

42,000.

In terms of redemptions for award flights, Skywards miles aren’t often a great deal.

For example, a round-trip, business-class flight from New York-JFK to Dubai requires 276,000 Skywards miles plus an additional $1,700 in taxes, fees and carrier-imposed charges, which is on the high end.

If you’re based in the United States and need to obtain Emirates miles quickly to book a business-class flight to Dubai or elsewhere, you can transfer the following points to Emirates Skywards:

  • American Express Membership Rewards: 1:1 ratio.

  • Capital One Miles: 1:1 ratio.

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards: 1:1 ratio.

  • Citi ThankYou Points: 1:1 ratio.

  • Bilt Rewards: 1:1 ratio.

  • Brex Rewards: 1:1 ratio.

  • Marriott Bonvoy: 3:1 ratio.

Etihad Airways

Etihad’s loyalty program is called Etihad Guest and offers four elite status tiers:

  • Bronze.

  • Silver.

  • Gold.

  • Platinum.

Every Etihad Guest member who joins the program is a Bronze-level member, so there are technically three elite status tiers. You earn redeemable miles based on the airline you’re flying, the route and the cabin of service.

On the redemption side, a one-way flight in business class from New York-JFK to Abu Dhabi at the GuestSeat rate requires 110,005 miles plus $512.

If you see mileage rates in the range of 700,000 to 1 million miles, those are Choice and ChoicePlus awards that are not considered “saver” rates. In any case, you shouldn’t pay that much for an award flight.

The following transferable points can be converted to Etihad miles:

  • American Express Membership Rewards: 1:1 ratio.

  • Capital One Miles: 1:1 ratio.

  • Citi ThankYou Points: 1:1 ratio.

  • Marriott Bonvoy: 3:1 ratio.

Qatar Airways

Qatar’s loyalty program is called Privilege Club, and it has four elite tiers:

  • Burgundy.

  • Silver.

  • Gold.

  • Platinum.

The Burgundy tier is available to all members once they join the program, and any tangible flight benefits, such as tier bonuses, priority boarding and extra luggage allowance, aren’t available until you reach at least Silver elite level.

The program uses Avios as its currency — the same currency used by Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and Vueling. In fact, you can transfer your Avios among all these programs for free.

The mileage earning rates depend on multiple factors, such as class of service, the airline you’re flying and your membership tier. To determine how many Avios you’ll earn on a specific flight, use Qatar’s mileage calculator.

Here’s how many Avios you can expect to earn on a round-trip flight from Doha to New York-JFK as an entry-level Burgundy member and as a top-tier Platinum member of the Privilege Club program.

Class of Travel

Blue Skywards member

Platinum Skywards member

Economy Economy Lite

3,348.

16,740.

Economy Group & Tours

6,696.

20,008.

Economy Classic

6,696.

20,008.

Economy Convenience

10,044.

23,436.

Economy Comfort

13,392.

26,784.

Business BUSLITE

10,044.

23,436.

Business Classic

16,740.

30,132.

Business Comfort

23,436.

36,828.

Business Elite

26,784.

40,176.

First Elite

40,176.

53,568.

As far as mileage redemptions go, the program charges a reasonable number of miles and taxes on its flights. For example, a flight from New York-JFK to Doha in business class can cost 70,000 Avios plus $98.75.

It’s a much better option when you compare it with Emirates’ fuel surcharges and Etihad’s redemption rates pushing a million miles.

The following flexible points can be transferred to Qatar Privilege Club:

  • Citi ThankYou Points: 1:1 ratio.

  • Marriott Bonvoy: 3:1 ratio.

Additionally, you can transfer Avios from your British Airways Executive Club to Qatar Privilege Club, another avenue for garnering Qatar Avios.

The points listed below can be transferred to British Airways Executive Club:

  • American Express Membership Rewards: 1:1 ratio.

  • Capital One Miles: 1:1 ratio.

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards: 1:1 ratio.

  • Marriott Bonvoy: 3:1 ratio.

Classes of service

Winner for premium seating classes: Etihad

All three airlines offer first and business class, but Etihad takes the lead in this category with its crème de la crème first-class suites and top-notch service.

Emirates

Emirates retrofits its Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 aircraft on international flights with four cabins: economy, premium economy, business class and first class.

Expect to find comfortable lie-flat seats, soft leather fabric and gourmet meals when flying Emirates business class. If you’re flying in a premium cabin on the A380, feel free to order a drink or two at an onboard cocktail lounge.

First-class passengers fly in a fully enclosed, private suite available on both types of planes. An on-demand fine dining service, vintage Champagne, a shower spa and a lounge bar at 40,000 feet, as well as free transfers between your flights by a chauffeur service are what dreams are made of. If treating yourself is what you’re after, you can’t go wrong with Emirates first class.

Etihad

Etihad is no stranger to luxury in the sky, and The Residence and The First Class Apartment suites are proof of that. Unfortunately for many, Etihad grounded its Airbus A380 planes equipped with these ultra-luxurious suites when the pandemic hit. Fortunately, the carrier announced it would bring the fancy back in 2023.

The Residence aboard an A380 aircraft consists of a three-room suite designed for a maximum of two passengers. Needless to say, the ticket comes with all the bells and whistles you can expect, including a private chauffeur pickup service from your hotel in Abu Dhabi, an airline representative to ensure your airport experience goes smoothly and a private airport lounge suite along with a dedicated team catering to your needs.

Onboard experience includes gourmet cuisine, a double bed with luxury bedding, a warm shower right in your suite and impeccable service during your flight.

And The Apartment is “only” a 39-square-foot, one-bedroom suite. This cabin class also includes chauffeur service, access to the Etihad Airways First Class Lounge, on-demand à la carte fine dining and in-flight showers.

Qatar Airways

If you’re flying Qatar’s Airbus A380, it’ll have economy, business and first class, which features ultra-wide lie-flat seats, on-demand à la carte menu and access to Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Lounge at Hamad International Airport in Doha. On board, you’ll find a bar lounge, but no showers. Long-haul flights also include pajamas from White Company.

In terms of food offerings, bedding and amenity kits, Qatar’s first class is the same as its renowned Qsuites business class but with better service and caviar. This doesn’t say that first class isn’t luxurious but says a lot about how nice Qatar business class is.

Extra fees

Winner for lowest fees: Tie

No matter how you slice it, each of these airlines charges fees for one thing or another, so be prepared if you need additional services.

Emirates

  • Extra baggage allowance per kilogram: $15 to $50.

  • Additional piece of luggage: $100 to $250. 

  • Regular seat selection: $15 to $40.

  • Preferred seat: $25 to $100.

  • Twin seat: $35 to $135.

  • Extra legroom seat: $55 to $250.

Etihad Airways

  • Extra baggage allowance per kilogram: $24 to $54.

  • Additional piece of luggage: $324 to $396.

  • Unaccompanied minor service: $100 to $150. 

  • Regular seat selection: $0 for Etihad Guest members.

  • Economy Space seat selection: $0 for Etihad Guest Platinum members.

  • New bookings, ticket changes and refund service fee: $30.

Qatar Airways

  • Extra baggage allowance per kilogram: $8 to $55.

  • Additional piece of luggage: $150 to $350. 

  • Seat selection: $0 for Qatar Privilege Club Platinum and Gold members. Otherwise, $9 to $220, depending on the seat type.

  • Tickets purchased by phone: $25 service fee.

Etihad vs. Emirates vs. Qatar recapped

When talking about these Middle East giants, all of them have their strengths.

While Qatar has the best and the most user-friendly loyalty program, Emirates and Etihad offer amazing first-class service to passengers. Qatar and Emirates also offer quite a bit of global coverage for the most intrepid travelers. In terms of flight experience, you’ll find all three airlines enjoyable.


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