Gulf Air Falconflyer Program Review

Gulf Air Falconflyer Program Review

For North American flyers, its easy to be confused by all the luxurious Middle Eastern carriers and their provenance.

Gulf Air could be easily taken for a regional carrier if you look just at the name. But it’s the flag carrier of the country of Bahrain, an island nation in the middle of the Persian Gulf that has a fascinating history but has not yet made it on the international tourist radar in the same way as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the other cities of the nearby United Arab Emirates.

Gulf Airs distinctive product has become known among savvy frequent flyers for its high level of service and earning opportunities, a category for which it almost won a Freddie (the Oscars of frequent flyer programs) in 2012.

Without a co-branded credit card, it seems like it might be hard to accumulate Falconflyer miles. But with earning partnerships with American Express Membership Rewards and IHG, Hilton and Radisson hotels, as well as frequent high-value promotions, miles are surprisingly easy to rack up through transfers. You can also earn two miles per dollar on hotels booked through gulfair.com.

Despite the relatively small population of the 34-mile-long island, the program which initially launched in 1994 and relaunched recently in 2011, hit the million-member milestone in fall 2013. The world-renowned Etihad grew out of Gulf Air, so its little surprise that Gulf Air’s Falconflyer program has so many happy members.

Hub:

Bahrain International Airport

How Can You Use Gulf Air Falconflyer Miles?

Award flights on Gulf Air-operated routes begin at 3,000 miles in economy and 6,000 miles in first class each way for destinations in zone one, the Middle East. One-ways to Western Europe and Southeast Asia are 24,000 miles in economy and 48,000 miles in first.

zone-based-chart

If you keep your eye on the Gulf Air promotions page (or our Earn section here at RewardExpert), you can also sometimes snag flights, including business class, at 50 percent of the usual award pricing.

Gulf Air uses three separate partner charts for its three redemption partners, American Airlines, Jet Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Gulf Air prices awards on American and Jet according to a distance-based system, with flights up to 500 miles costing 9,000 miles and up on American and flights up to 250 miles costing 3,000 miles or more on Jet Airways.

Flights booked through Gulf Air on Virgin Atlantic, however, are ticketed according to a zone-based award chart, with flights from the eastern U.S. to London beginning at 35,000 miles one way in economy and 80,000 miles in upper class.

Gulf Air also offers a variety of flight-related ways to use your miles, including lounge access and paying for extra baggage, in addition to the usual flight and upgrade awards.

Program Perks:

  • High number of award seats available
  • Short flights earn a minimum of 300 miles
  • Family pooling for up to nine people
  • Miles expire three years after they are credited
  • Status promotions take place immediately and are valid for two years at the Gold level
  • Award flights can be booked 11 months in advance
  • Miles can be redeemed for baggage
Gulf-Air-lounges
  • Lounge access available for 3,000 to 5,000 miles, depending on the airport, with separate bedrooms available for an additional 3,000 miles
  • 250 bonus miles for online bookings
  • Earn up to 300 percent of miles flown in first class
  • Miles from a no-show are not completely forfeited; they can be redeposited for a fee

Booking Quirks:

  • Additional members on family accounts only earn 70 percent of the usual mileage
  • $20 or 3,000 mile last-minute booking fee for flights booked 14 days or less before departure
  • Earn as low as 25 percent of miles flown on discount economy fares
  • $40 or 6,000 mile change or cancellation fee
  • Partner awards on Virgin Atlantic must be booked a minimum of 72 hours before departure
  • Award availability can only be viewed if you already have enough miles in your account for the booking

Best Value Awards:

Unlike other Middle Eastern carriers that charge an unbelievable number of points to book their own flights with their own miles, you can get great redemptions on Gulf Air flights with Falconflyer miles.

These are particularly great in upper class, where you’ll never pay more than 96,000 miles roundtrip on the longest routes that Gulf Air flies, and you can get around the region in first class for just 6,000 per flight.

Worst Value Awards:

While it can often make sense to use American Airlines to book Gulf Air flights, the reverse is rarely ever true. Gulf Airs distance-based redemption chart for American typically charges twice what you would pay booking AA through their other main distance-based partner, British Airways. You’ll also typically get better rates simply booking directly with AAdvantage miles.

The Good Stuff: Upgrades and Elite Status

Rates to upgrade with miles depend on the fare class in which you originally booked. Full-fare tickets require 100 percent of the miles required for an award ticket to upgrade (i.e., if an economy award between London and Bahrain is 24,000 miles one way, you’ll need 24,000 miles to upgrade to the next class), and discount fares require 150 percent of the miles.

Gulf-Air-upgrade

Falconflyer Elite Levels and Perks

Once you have achieved elite status, fewer points are required to retain your status in subsequent years.

Each subsequent level includes the perks of the previous level, unless stated otherwise.

  • Silver: 15 kg extra baggage allowance, 25 percent  bonus miles, guaranteed seat on fully booked economy flights, Gold check-in, Falcon Gold lounge access, priority baggage handling
  • Gold: 20 kg extra baggage allowance, 50 percent bonus miles, two-year validity as of  July 1, 2014, Falcon Gold lounge for member and one companion

Associated Credit Cards

Gulf Air offers three co-branded credit cards, but they are only available to Bahrain residents.