In light of Qatar being selected as the 2022 World Cup host, I thought it was appropriate to share my long overdue post on how I ended up in a 5-star hotel in Qatar… as a backpacker… for free.
During my around the world trip I had three overnight layovers in random countries due to flight schedules. The second of these was when I flew from Jordan to Kenya with Qatar Airways. I had a scheduled overnight layover in its hub city Doha. A friend of mine that I met in Jordan told me that when she had a layover like this with Qatar Airways, they had put her up in a hotel. I had never heard of such a thing and just assumed she got it from booking through a travel agency. So, when I got to Doha my plan was just to hang out at the airport.
Customs Chaos & Qatar Rewards
I landed in Qatar at 9pm, and the customs area was insane! I wish I had taken a photo but I felt like cattle being herded through the lines. People were shoving, and it was mayhem. Most of the tension was due to the fact that a good chunk of the people were about to miss a connecting flight to India. As we were shoving into lines, I snapped a photo of this swine flu poster. I love how it asks you to inform customs if you have any symptoms. Who’s going to walk up to the counter and say, ‘Yes, please quarantine me.’ On top of that, it discusses symptoms of coughing and a sore throat. I had swine flu and it felt like death, but I didn’t have any cold symptoms. Anyhow, I stood in line for a good half hour before finally clearing customs. I saw a Qatar Airways representative and inquired about a hotel stay for my overnight layover. She responded that I was not eligible.
So, I went to the Qatar Airways information desk. My plan was to fork over the money for their lounge so that I could use the internet, then get some sleep and maybe a shower. However, their rules state that the lounge has a 6 hour limit. And, since I didn’t want to pay $40 unless they would accommodate me the entire night, I asked if their was any wiggle room in this rule. The representative said that he didn’t think so but that he would call a supervisor. I asked again about the complimentary hotel stay, he looked at my ticket, and shook his head. As he handed my ticket back to me, he said, “Well, let me just take a look. Oh! Yes, it looks like you are eligible for a hotel stay. Take your bags and go back downstairs.” I wasn’t really sure how this worked so I asked, “How does this work? I have no money on me. Will I have to pay for transport?” As it turns out, my visa, transport, food, and accommodation would all be taken care of. Awesome!
Hotel? Yes please!
I headed downstairs in my North Face pants and a tshirt, carrying my scruffy but reliable little LL Bean backpack. When I went up to the counter, the representative filled out a quick sheet of paper, explained the basics, and sent me to the visa counter. After getting my visa, I was supposed to find my hotel’s stall but there were loads of hotels. I was assigned to the Grand Regency. The name sounded nice but I’m a backpacker, and I forgot for a moment that I was in Qatar where everything is over the top. Combine that with the fact that before taxes I paid $250 for both flights, well, I just assumed I would be put up in a basic hotel. I was so wrong.
Arriving at Grand Regency
I found the Grand Regency counter and was greeted by a tall, clean cut guy in a tux, who I soon found out was from Nigeria. He walked me outside where loads of other people were waiting to be picked up by hotel shuttles. The nice hotel representative waited with me and we chatted about Africa and about life in Doha. When my shuttle arrived he made sure that I got on it. As we rode to the hotel, I was fascinated by how modern and cutting edge Doha is. Of course it was night time but I watched as we drove by the lit up city. And then we arrived at the Grand Regency.
Wowzas. Marble inlay tile, men in fancy uniforms. Where am I and who paid for this? I am escorted to a desk where I am asked to sit down. You don’t just check in at a counter, you sit down. I signed on the dotted lines was told what floor I would find dinner and then was handed over to someone else. My escort showed me to my room. When he opened the door, there was music playing. It’s all feeling a bit surreal. I mean, it’s great, but I feel out of place. I’m scrubby looking and feel like I have to be on my best behavior. I head up to grab dinner and was flabbergasted. It’s a $30 buffet (that I don’t have to pay for). There was an entire table dedicated to meats, several tables of veggies and sides, and a beautiful looking dessert table. Everything was delicious.
I was supposed to contact my family from the airport and decided it was best to shoot them an email so they knew where I was. It of course costs to use the internet but they kindly open up the business center and allow me to pay in US dollars. When I am finished, the young man helping me realizes he doesn’t have change and tells me he will bring it up to my room in just a few minutes. He delivers my change promptly, and then the hotel manager calls to ensure that I received my change. So this is why people pay to stay in places like this? The hospitality was amazing. I’m beginning to feel spoiled…
Oh, this is luxury.
After dinner, I decided to indulge in a bubble bath since they offered all sorts of complimentary bath products. I then slipped into my robe and begin to feel very prima donna. I went from budget, crappy hole-in-the-wall places in Jordan to 5 stars overnight. As I crawled in bed that night, I laid down on high-quality pillows, buried myself in down comforters, and appreciated the air conditioning.
When my wake-up call came the following morning, it was a wake-up call to reality. Time to say goodbye to my short stint in 5-star luxury and head to a rural village in Kenya. Goodbye bubble baths, hello long-drop toilets and bucket bathing.