On my flight back from Greece this summer, I decided to take advantage of Qatar’s free stopover program, Qatar+. The Qatar+ provides a complimentary (free!) 1 night stay in a hotel and an optional city tour for all passengers on qualifying itineraries with an itinerary longer than 12 hours. This was my second time flying Qatar Airways and I am always impressed by the airline’s high level of service- even for economy travelers like me!
I flew direct from Mykonos to Doha then, after an overnight layover, from Doha direct to Houston (home). Immediately after booking my ticket, I registered for the stopover program on the Discover Qatar website. You can select from a number of hotels on the list depending on your location and hotel chain preference. 80 countries, including the United States, now receive visa-free entry into Qatar.
In Mykonos, I was given both boarding passes and instructed to stop at the stopover desk once I arrived in Doha for my hotel information. There were others on my flight that also took advantage of the program so was a short line at the Stopover gate. The agent asked for my boarding pass and gave me a packet with my hotel information, paperwork for immigration, and instructions on how to find my free hotel transportation. Immigration was fairly straight forward- I presented them my packet and boarding pass and I was not asked any additional questions.Hotel Lobby in Doha
On the Qatar+ website, I had requested a “Souq Waif Boutique Hotel” because I wanted to check out the souq (market) before it got too late but I was assigned a hotel about a mile away. Since my flight arrived in the evening, I was not able to take advantage of the free 3-hour city tour. I was given a spacious room with a plush King sized bed. To my surprise, the hotel room also came with a $50 credit to be spent at the hotel’s restaurant or on 24 hour room service.
My hotel was about a 5 minute drive from the Souq Waif. Doha, for the most part, is a very modern city. The Souq Waif is considered to be the only area of Doha that has retained an authentic Qatari feel. I ordered an Uber for about $3 and he dropped me off at the market entrance. On a Sunday night, the market wasn’t crowded and there were very few tourists wandering about. The main strip featured restaurants with hookah on outdoor patios, souvenir stands, and artisan crafts. I had exchanged my leftover Euros for Qatari Dollars at my hotel so I bought a few small gifts for my family.
The souq is organized by category so each hall sells similar goods. When I say organized, I use the term loosely; once inside, the souq feels more like a maze. Once I wandered “deeper” into the souq, I must have passed the tourist areas and found myself in crowded rooms with Qataris buying dry goods and grocery items. Spices wafted through the air and for the first time I felt like I was firmly in the Middle East.
After fifteen turns, I was lost in the market and I didn’t care. I passed streets selling gold, toys, pearls, candies, spices, and textiles. Now, I turned a corner and found a square overflowing with pet stores. This was the noisiest and busiest section of the market I found; there were children cooing over puppies in a cage, birds squawking at passersby, and men haggling over prices.
Eventually, I found my way back to the main square just as the market was closing. The spices made me hungry so I stopped at a food stall and used my last Qatari Dollars on a snack. Honestly, I’m not sure what I ate; I’m a firm believer in “eat now, ask later”. It was something like a quesadilla made with a salty cheese and naan-style bread. Whatever it was, it was delicious.
Back at the hotel, I realized I still had my $50 room service credit. The room service menu had western favorites like chicken wings, pizza, and spaghetti but I wanted to milk what little time I had in the Middle East for all that I could. I ordered a smattering of Arabic mezze (small dishes) and tasted each one. Once again, I employed my “ask now, eat later” philosophy here. Each pastry was like Russian roulette: I knew one was vegetarian, one was cheese, and at least one had meat. But which was which?
I spent the rest of my time in the hotel aimlessly flipping through channels and napping. I watched about half of Talladega with Arabic subtitles. The next morning, my airport shuttle returned me to the airport promptly at 6am (there was no security line) and I killed a few hours in the Al Maha Transit Lounge.
The next morning, the travel gods smiled upon me for the first time and I was given a free upgrade to first class. Seriously. How did this happen?! I still have no idea. I’ve replayed the moment a million times and I can only guess that the gate agent, who chatted with about having the same name, upgraded me. So, Jamie from Qatar Airways, if you’re out there: THANK YOU AGAIN. Economy on Qatar Airways is already pretty great, but Business Class is truly the gold standard for travel. In addition to lie-down seats, Business class features a European wine menu that would make a sommelier drool, on-demand food service, and Bose headphones. The experience in itself was once-in-a-lifetime and a great ending to my vacation.
Yes, I took a boomerang of my champagne.