Qatar – visiting Doha thanks to Qatar Airways

To be honest, I’ve never thought about visiting Doha. In fact, the whole newly-rich Arab world did not raise my interest nor tickled my fantasy in any extraordinary way, not even Dubai. Then I found myself sitting on a local bus from Hamad International Airport to the West Bay of the city…

 

I was looking for flight tickets to Delhi and after excluding Ukrainian and Italian airlines from my search, I’ve decided for Qatar Airways. Even though I had to pay more for their service, I knew I’d be in good hands and receive a top quality service – and they’ve proved themselves again. Because I was playing with the dates quite a lot, ticket prices were getting higher and higher. I’ve found one very friendly offer though. The only “trouble” was that the time of the return journey was almost 31 hours. But as I thought about it I realised that I could turn this disadvantage quickly to my advantage, so I looked into what’s there to do in Doha, what are the available accommodation options, how safe the city is and what is the visa situation.

During my search I faced some very peculiar information. The 21-hour transit time in Doha entitled me to a 4-star or 5-star hotel stay for that night on behalf of Qatar Airways. For free. There was nothing else to do then a booking with the Qatari airline (the conditions at the time were to make the reservation until the end of 2018) and the long transit time (12+ hours), including the night in Doha.

 

 

Currently the conditions for a free Doha luxury night have changed and you can find out about them on the airline’s website. You should pay attention to it because the conditions are constantly being adjusted. The difference compared to last year is basically in the type of the ticket. While in 2018 it was enough to purchase a return ticket with lay-over in Doha, now the multi-city option should be chosen, which is slightly more expensive than a normal round-trip ticket. A present example:

  • If I booked a flight on Budapest – Delhi – Budapest route with the dates of March 12 – 23 with a lay-over in Doha on the 23rd and continuing back home on the 24th, the price would be around 425 EUR
  • The same route for the same dates and times in multi-city option is around 475 EUR

According to the current situation the free hotel is only valid in case of multi-city booking which is somewhat more expensive. But if, for example, someone would like to stay in Intercontinental – City (this was my choice) hotel, it would cost about 125 EUR for the night (they calculate their fee per room, not per person). In this case for those who’d like to add a Doha sightseeing to their journey and would like to take advantage of the airline’s offer, even for 2 people the multi-city booking is more cost-effective. There is a total of 11 partner hotels to choose from.

 

UPDATE: As of February 1 2019, the above conditions are no longer valid, you can not require the free accommodation. However, hotels still can be booked at very favorable prices in one of the 25 partner hotels. The promotion is valid until the end of 2019,  booking of flight must be completed by December 29th for travel until December 31st.

 

Visa situation

Citizens of 80 countries can enter Qatar within the visa waiver program. Passengers with a passport within the European Union & Swiss passport holders have a 90-day entry permit stamped in their official travel document, entitling them to 1 or more entries. UK and US citizens receive a 30-day permit. The passport has to be valid for another 6 months after arriving back home.

Entry is authorized by the border control officers who carry out the passport control. There is nothing else to do at the airport than walking straight to the passport control from the plane, not stopping until the permit is stamped into our document. The officer only asked me a few questions about my destination and its duration and was curious about my hotel name. After showing all my bookings (including my boarding pass for the next day), he took my fingerprints and my photo and he let me go discover Doha, this newly built city in the Arabian Peninsula.

 

 

 

Checked-in baggage

Because I had a regular return ticket I didn’t have to bother with my checked baggage in Doha, it was flying straight to Budapest. All the important and indispensable things I needed for a night I packed in my hand luggage.

In case the transit time is less than 24-hour, it’s not possible to claim the checked-in baggage, everything you may need during your short stay should  be packed in the hand luggage. This applies for multi-city bookings too!

However, if you have a multi-city booking and the transit time is more than 24 hours, the checked baggage must be picked up on arrival in Doha and then checked-in on departure.

 

Airport transfer

 

Bus:

There are 6 different buses running between the airport and various parts of the city, so almost all of Doha can be reached by public transportation.

The maps of the airport bus routes and all the ground plans of the airport can be downloaded.

I bought the ticket for the public transport directly from the bus driver and paid in local currency (only accepted payment menthod). The 24-hour card costs 20 QAR (4,80 EUR) and has to be validated at the start of the bus journey. According to the latest information the ticket can only be purchased at the Mowasalat information desk (5-6 baggage claim) at the airport. I doubt that the driver wouldn’t sell tickets though. What about the passengers who are getting on the bus at different stops?

I traveled by bus 777 which runs from the airport terminal all the way to The Pearl. It also goes by most of the attractions including Souq Waqif, Museum of Islamic Arts, Corniche, West Bay (with the large skyscrapers) and The Pearl (The Pearl is Doha’s artificial island). In West Bay the bus travels quite strangely, turns right and left and enters the shortest streets. But all this is to approach as many hotels as possible.

  

 

Taxi:

I confess that I didn’t plan on using the taxi service. To get to the airport on time in the morning I got to the bus stop at 5AM and waited for 777. Several taxi drivers stopped and ask me if I wanted a ride, but I refused all of them saying I was waiting for the bus to come. 20 minutes passed, then another 10. I waited. After 40 minutes I started to get a little nervous and after 45 minutes I panicked. Then I hailed a cab. An African man pulled the window down and looked at me with a million-dollar smile, his teeth brightly shining in his mouth. The following conversation took place between us:

  • How much to the airport?
  • I don’t know exactly, the meter will tell.
  • Okay, and can I pay with dollars?
  • Unfortunately not, only in rial.
  • Och my God, I don’t have any rial left, I thought the bus was coming, I got a ticket for that, but I’v been waiting for about 45 minutes and still nothing. Please let me pay with dollars!
  • Ok, no problem, then $ 50.
  • Whaaat??? That’s too much! It’s the last day of my journey, I’m on my way home and only have $ 20 left.
  • Ok, jump in, I’ll take you.

I slid on the back seat, the driver turned off the taximeter putting himself on break, and we were gliding towards the airport in the morning whirl. I would like to point out that this trip normally would cost about 50-60 QAR (12-15 EUR).

 

Taxis in Doha have a light blue colour

 

Lessons learned:

  • The statement that the buses run every 20 or 30 minutes is not true
  • The buses don’t have exact timetables (at least I have never seen them anywhere and I haven’t found it online)
  • For a cab ride you can only pay with local currency…
  • …or with dollars (I think Euros too then). Of course only if we come to an agreement with the driver and he is willing to turn off the taximeter.

 

 

Overall I spent a wonderful day in Doha.

 

 

And the Intercontinental – The City hotel compensated me for everything I was lacking in India (I don’t have too high expectations, cleanliness is my basic requirement when it comes to accommodations). I got a room on the 30th floor  (which I was given by a super friendly receptionist in exchange for some kindness) with the view of the city. I  guess I don’t even have to point out that it was magnificent, the bathroom could fit a smaller kitchen and the bed … the bed was the icing on the cake, the real 5-star experience!

 

 

 

After sightseeing I soaked my tired feet and body in the hotel pool (with a view), and then I ended my 2-week adventure in the hotel’s Cuban-style bar on floor 55 with the most expensive beer I’ve paid for in my life (13 EUR).

 

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