Advertiser Disclosure

Review: Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge, Doha

Oct. 2, 2019
Travel, Vacations & Trip Planning
Al Safwa First Class Lounge, Doha
At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Airport lounges invariably promise free food and a respite from crowds, but let’s be real: These days, a lot of lounges feel every bit as busy as the terminal, and depending on when you visit, you may be jostling with your fellow frequent flyers for cookie crumbs.

You’ll have no such first-world problems at Qatar Airways’ enormous first class lounge at its hub in Doha, which is best described as museum-like — both in its aesthetics and in its hush-hush noise factor. (In my entire six hours there, I saw a grand total of one other passenger.) As overnight layovers in the Middle East go, there are worse places you could spend your time.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

How I got in

As a business class passenger transiting through Doha on an award ticket, I was able to purchase “upgraded” access to the first class lounge for roughly the equivalent of $170. (NerdWallet comped my payment for the purposes of this review.) I had flown in from the Maldives that evening and was looking to take advantage of one of the lounge’s private bedrooms to get a few hours of rest before my morning flight to Los Angeles.

All Qatar Airways business class passengers are entitled to free access to the similarly massive but much more crowded Al Mourjan business class lounge, which offers some of the same perks as this lounge but has no dedicated sleeping rooms.

» Lounge review: Etihad Airways first class lounge, Abu Dhabi

The layout

The Al Safwa lounge is on the top level of the terminal, accessed via a soaring escalator. If you’re on a layover in Doha, once you exit transit security follow signs across the main terminal entry hall to access the lounge (it’s about a five-minute walk).

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

If you’re originating in Doha, you can enter the lounge directly from the separate first class security area.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

I presented my business class ticket and was told I could pay 600 Qatari riyals — roughly $170 — for six hours of access to the first class lounge. It was 9:15 p.m. when I entered; the attendant said she’d come get me at 3:30 a.m. My onward flight boarded at 7 a.m., so while I would have liked to stay a bit longer, I was grateful for even a bonus 15 minutes.

The “spine” of the lounge is its cavernous main hall, from which the various sections branched out on either the left or the right-hand side.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

Though the lounge takes up a lot of square footage, it’s incredibly easy to navigate, with wayfinding signs all along the main hall.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

Scattered along the main hall are various art installations; according to Qatar’s website, these pieces are on loan from the Museum of Islamic Art.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

Water is a prevalent theme here, with a floor-to-ceiling waterfall built into the side of the main hall as well as this central water installation:

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

Tucked off along the sides of the main hall are the seating areas. There are separate screens at each seat that allow you to keep tabs on when your flight is boarding, which is useful since there are no announcements in the lounge.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

Seats generally come equipped with power outlets that are capable of handling U.S. plugs (no adapter needed).

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

There’s an area of the lounge set aside specifically for families, with several playrooms and a handful of adjacent private rooms where adults can relax while the kids are at play.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

If none of the lounge’s dedicated sleep rooms are available (hard to imagine!), the “adult” rooms adjacent to the play areas wouldn’t be a bad place to come doze for a bit. They’re plenty dark enough for it.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

As is typical with Middle Eastern lounges, there’s a separate “smoking room” for those who wish to partake …

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

… along with a prayer room.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

Several mini-newsstands are scattered throughout the lounge, with English- and Arabic-language papers.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

A large bank of his-and-hers restrooms are stocked with fresh washcloths, along with fully enclosed stalls for maximum privacy.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

You know you’re in a fancy lounge when they keep the toilet paper folded.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

The spa

One of the larger areas of the lounge in terms of square footage is the spa area. (Note that unlike some first class lounges, spa treatments are not included, even for a short period of time. Ask the spa attendant for pricing.)

The spa includes several private treatment rooms …

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

… and even a whirlpool spa, with room enough for two.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

Business, shopping and entertainment

For more productive pursuits, a small business center is provided, with several workstations all separated into small private offices. A Mac or a PC is available at each station.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

There’s a small media room off the main hall, with comfy chairs and CNN playing on a big-screen TV.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

The lounge even has its own duty-free shop, the first time I’ve seen such an arrangement inside a lounge.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

The food

There are two dining areas in the lounge. One was stocked with sushi and various snacks.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

This area has a fair amount of seating, though not as much as in the main dining room.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

Behind the counter is a small station with tea, coffee and alcohol.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

The second dining area, the main restaurant, was the only place in the whole lounge where I saw another passenger — and it was just that. One other person. The restaurant has an enormous main bar as its center showpiece …

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

… along with several “mini”-dining areas separated by walls and an open kitchen, creating a more intimate feeling.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

 

Although the clock was ticking on my six hours with access to a bed, I had to give the restaurant a try, as once you’re in the lounge, all food is free. This was the menu on offer at roughly 10 p.m. (Given the lack of customers, I was surprised to get such a well-worn menu, though I also managed to take the world’s blurriest photo.)

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

I ordered the seafood bisque to start, which was delivered with a tasty amuse-bouche.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

Following my usual routine of ordering the thing I’m least knowledgeable about on a menu when I’m in a foreign country, I ordered the beef sambusak as an appetizer, followed by the chicken machboos as a main course. Neither was terribly photo-worthy, but both were tasty.

For dessert, I tried both of the Arabic offerings.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

I’d requested a relatively fast pacing and was grateful to receive it. The food, while consistently good, was roughly on par with what I was served in business class on the flights themselves — which perhaps speaks more to the quality of Qatar Airways’ onboard catering than anything else.

The sleep pods

About 30 minutes after I sat down to eat, it was time to head to my sleep pod.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

There looked to be at least a dozen rooms, each with its own private door, en suite restroom and shower.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

The room came stocked with water and a handy bedside panel from which you can control the lighting and room temperature.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

The bed itself was incredibly comfortable, owing in part to the large mattress pad included. I fell asleep more or less immediately.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

Though I had been hoping the staff would “forget” about my six-hour limit, that was not to be: At 3:30 a.m. on the dot, an attendant knocked softly on the door to wake me, and it was time to go. (I was able to take an extra 10 minutes or so to freshen up, so they weren’t too draconian about the time limit, at least.)

I was grateful to have even had a few hours with this level of comfort. Other lounges have rest areas, but these hotel-style sleep pods are truly in a league of their own.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

From here, I headed to the much more crowded Al Mourjan business class lounge for the final three hours or so before my flight to Los Angeles boarded. (Speaking of that flight: You could do a lot worse with 70,000 American Airlines miles than use them to fly 16 hours in Qatar’s revolutionary Qsuites business class.)

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge, Doha

» Learn more: American Airlines AAdvantage program: The complete guide

The bottom line

Thanks to the popularity of credit cards that confer Priority Pass access, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, plenty of lounges offer only a modest respite from airport crowds. This lounge, however, is true luxury — and if you feel like the only passenger in the whole lounge, it might be because you are.

If you’re a first class passenger on Qatar Airways, congratulations: You’re in for free. Otherwise, you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth ponying up $170 for a meal and a bed for a few hours. Given that the airport hotel could cost quite a bit more without free food and drink, this might be a bargain in comparison.

Photos by Brad Walters.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2019, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Chase Sapphire Reserve review: A first-class premium travel card
Find the best travel credit card for you
How to use travel rewards to afford first class

About the author