Gulf Air Falcon Flyer Gold

IMG-20120219-00005For the 2nd year in a row, I’m a Gulf Air Falcon Flyer Gold tier owner. I have been using Gulf Air for the past two years extensively.

This is of course due to traveling for work and also for going from and to Kuwait to see my family and kids. As being a frequent flyer, this post will review the experience of being a Gold tier in Gulf Air frequent flyer program, Falcon Flyer.

It has to be noted that Gulf Air’s program was recently renamed into the Falcon Flyer, where it didn’t have a catchy name like that other airlines before. the reference to the name comes from the Golden Falcon that has been tied to Gulf Air since its early start, when it used to be owned by the GCC countries.

I have climbed my way from blue to silver and to Gold through the past three years and I have to admit that their unique points system is rather strange and no common in the region. For every short-haul trip leg in the region you would take, you would receive 50 “loyalty points”. Reaching a certain number of loyalty points would grant you the next tier. But not that loyalty points expire since they are only valid for a year. So you keep scoring and accumulating points, while the old points keep expiring. It is a race against time to reach the next tier before the expiration of the old points. This system has no relation to the air miles that are being traveled in these legs. Gulf air has decided to divide its regions into zones, where each trip leg would earn you a certain number of points when you travel from/to it.

Let’s talk about the benefits. So far and being a frequent traveler on Gulf Air (a round trip every weekend on short-haul), being on Gold has some advantages but could be labelled as limited when compared to global frequent flyer programs. Being a Gold tier earns you the following:

  • Admission to the exclusive Gulf Air lounge in Bahrain International Airport (BAH), regardless of the class of travel, and a guest provided that he/she is traveling on Gulf Air flight.
  • Admission to associated lounges to Gulf Air globally, when traveling on Gulf Air flights.
  • Excess baggage weight when traveling on Gulf Air.
  • Free change of ticket schedule, up for one time only and depending on the class of ticket and availability.
  • Possibility for upgrade to the next class of travel, upon availability. This has been happening to me only on (KWI-BAH) route and only from KWI side!! this is due to over-selling of tickets for this route! I have never experienced any upgrades at BAH!
  • Possibility for upgrade at business class ticket from C/D to J. The J class ticket is full-fare and the traveler would receive the fully flat seat, which used to be the first class rows in the long-haul trips. Flyers on C and D fares always get the semi-flat business class seats.
  • Priority for services at Gulf Air ticket offices.
  • Priority baggage handling at destination airports.
  • Personal luggage tags for Silver and Gold tiers.

Aside from these benefits, there are margins for improvements for the Gold/Silver tier frequent flyers at Gulf Air. Gulf Air can look into improving their program to be more rewarding such as the following suggestions:

  • Priority for reservations, during blackout and sell-out dates.
  • Redemption of miles for rewards and vouchers.
  • More airlines associations for miles redemption.
  • Modification of their current air miles earning system to be rewarding, rather than depending on class of ticket.

At the end, let me leave you with some snaps at the received package from Gulf Air upon renewal of my Falcon Flyer Golden tier!

IMG-20120219-00006IMG-20120219-00009

 

The Blue bird is to fly again!!

Kuwait Airlines (9)As announced yesterday through the local media, Kuwait Airways has announced that it has awarded a contract to Airbus to provide them with 25 new airplanes at the estimated cost of 3 billion dollars.
Such step has been waited for in the last 10 years since the true decline of Kuwait Airways and its services to patrons.

This news has been received positively locally, after the ongoing re-structuring and improvements of the business model for the national carrier of Kuwait, especially after the decree of transforming it into a local airline business, rather than whole governmental asset and business.

Personally, I can’t wait to try the new planes, provided with the high-class level of service to match the other successful gulf carriers such Emirates, Qatar airways and Etihad.

Aside from the fleet renewal, Kuwait Airways has to work harder on gaining the trust of the local traveling patrons, re-gain the air routes which has been lost to local and regional competition, re-evaluate the the ticket prices and revamp its local flyer program, Oasis Club, into a more dynamic and more-rewarding program.

I wish the best of luck for the new Kuwait Airways and hope to see the Blue Bird fly again!!

Kuwait Airways Oasis Club

First post after a long absence due to personal commitments. I have been wanting to write this post for a long time ago. I will review Kuwait Airways’ Oasis Club, the frequent flyer program and add in my personal feelings about it.

Oasis Club has been established since 1995 or 1996, according to their website. Most of the Kuwaiti frequent flyers are enrolled in it. Of course, along with the fall of development of Kuwait Airways fleet, the subsidized budget and loss of professionalism and sales over the years starting from year 2000 till now, it could be argued that most locals find Kuwait Airways not a safe airline due to the age of its fleet and the reduction of premium services on the basis of cutting costs.

My experience with Oasis Club didn’t start until 2008, although I should have enrolled earlier since 1996, where I was traveling from Kuwait to the States during my bachelors study there. If I may remember, I used to see their ads during flights and some of their promos, but it wasn’t well explained to me and I didn’t fully understand what was a frequent flyer program.  I thought it was a program for the elite and enrollment was through connections or selectivity.

Oasis Club has three tiers of membership: Blue, Silver and Gold like many other standard frequent flyer program and is based on the basic rules and regulations of most universal standards of the FF programs around the globe. Simple and regular, it is generally accepted and easy to implement.

Next, come the services and implementation towards its patrons. Now, this is the main issue of this post. Oasis Club has been low-maintained with a very small promotional profile in Kuwait. This is in reflection of the current policies the airline is enforcing to survive. Let me indicate the main objectives a FF program has to attend to in order to maintain service to its customers and see where Oasis Club stands at.

  • Frequent Flyer program recognition: Oasis Club members (whatever tier they are) are not recognized at any sales or service office of Kuwait Airways. The program itself is not even recognized locally in Kuwait, except recently at Sultan Center and Wataniya Telecom through rewards-transfer into FFP air miles . The only recognition that you get is in the airport, where you can check in at the Business/First class counters if you have Silver or Gold tier. Priority is provided at immigration  and security checkpoint only. I can’t exclaim if that’s anymore valid. I have flown for a whole year (2008) using Kuwait Airways and each time I would quote my FFP number at the check-in desk or hand in my card and they would register it, just to find out in the next year that none of my flights are rewarded because (according to the Oasis Club staff whom I had a major argument with) that Kuwait Airways airport system is not linked with Oasis Club system. What kind of nonsense was this? I have lost over 10 flights worth of segments and miles because the airline didn’t connect its airport system to its frequent flyer database? I was going to be a sure Silver!! That was the beginning of the end for me to use this airline or even trust it.
  • Benefits: Oasis Club members are not granted any virtual benefits according to the program itself anymore. Oasis Club Luggage tags that would indicate priority handling and arrival are not recognized locally or even dealt with in that manner. Online upgrades, miles claiming, and more services of using your miles can’t be done online. You have to go to their main office during office hours to do all the paperwork. Talk about being updated. Another benefit was taken away from the members was the usage of the airport limo. Gold/Silver and First/Business class travelers are given a ride to and from the airport through calling in a dedicated number for setting appointment. And when you arrive, you can show them your card or ticket, and they would surly take you home. I have been dependent on that during the times when I was flying with Kuwait Airways. Till one time, when I have arrived to find the dedicated office in the Arrivals in KWI, empty and vacant. Upon asking, I have found out that the service is terminated without any prior notice. That was truly unappreciated as I had to find a taxi to head out home.
  • Communications: Oasis Club has set up a website where you can log in and check out your statements. Only. no other simple web-based services are even provided. No mileage calculator, just a simple chart. I don’t see any strong affiliations to international chains with good promos for earning miles. Upon registration, I didn’t receive my FFP card. Upon many calls to their hotline, I was asked to come and pick it up. Upon arrival and waiting for my turn and after much wait, I was plainly handed in my card and two luggage tags without any welcoming envelope or any kind of kit. I a bit shocked but figured “what the hell?”. For the sake of truth, I have to mention that Kuwait Airways did maintain a bit of quarterly communication through postal mail (which is another disaster in Kuwait) with a newsletter about their promos and offers for miles. I think the last issue was released somewhere in 2010 or 2011. No monthly email statements or communications are in service or even maintained periodically.

Some may say that this post is a harsh critique about Kuwait Airways and its services, but let me say that this is only a glimpse of reality. You can always read reviews about the airlines services here by actual travelers. For the meantime, I don’t even know what to do with those air miles since I don’t plan on using Kuwait Airways for any of my traveling.

The Rise and Fall of Wataniya Airways

Almost a week ago, Wataniya Airways posted on its main website that it’s suspending all its flights starting from March 16th, 2011 due to heavy losses and an immediate call for the board to look into the future of the company. This news hit me hard, as a big fan of Wataniya Airways. I’ve enjoyed the growth of this airline through expansion and launching a frequent flyer program, but nonetheless it should be noted that everyone had major objections on how the company was running its business. Unfortunately, some of what I’m going to say could be true but it’s summarized from lots of global frequent flyers who looked into the issue of the Rise and fall of Wataniya Airways. I would like to mention some that I feel related to and believe in.

  • The airline started as a premium luxury airline, then shifted into the round-the-clock promo offers just to sell off seats. None knew the actual state of the Wataniya Airways, was it still a premium or shifted into the cheap jet services?
  • Very weird set of destinations. Started off with some luxury spots in the Middle East, ignored South-West Asia and set their eyes on Europe, very bad move. They should have focused their eyes on getting all the routes for the GCC countries, the Middle East to establish good customer base and make up for the annual losses.
  • Code-share with Austrian Airlines was very pricey, since a lot preferred to take on Emirates, Qatar Airways rather than have the connection at VIE airport in Austria.
  • Cancellation of important routes, majorly the BAH which is sold daily for businessmen and Kuwaiti students. Very bad move.
  • Late introduction of the business class, when it should have been done in the beginning. They had only First and economy and F class wasn’t really first, it was truly J class. So, to let businessmen travel on J class, they had to late introduce such and cancel the F class. Amateur move and very late.
  • The Silver/Gold Diwan members or F class ticket holders enjoyed the distinguished services only at Sheikh Saad Airport in KWI and some other airports, meanwhile you get nothing for example in Turkey. My cousin wasn’t even allowed to enter the lounge in Sabiha Gokcen International Airport SAW because Wataniya Airways didn’t get into arrangement to share the lounge with Turkish Airlines.

In the end, I just hope that they would recover from this mishap and learn from their mistakes and I’d love to see them back in the blue skies once again! All the best wishes for Wataniya Airways to rise like a phoenix from the ashes!

PS: here are some of my earlier related posts about Wataniya Airways, its experience and Wataniya Diwan Frequent Flyer Program

Gulf Air Business Class KWI-BAH-DXB

On Sept. 30th, 2010, I’ve decided go for a mini-trip to Dubai, solo style. During the last days of Ramdan, Gulf Air announced their 30% online discount sale on all fares within the GCC region and some south eastern countries. I felt that I should go for it, regardless of whatever shows up later on. Gulf Air made some restrictions on applying the web discount code on the traveling classes and fares. So to apply this far, you couldn’t go for the promo fares because they are already discounted and the code wouldn’t apply. I had to choose the regular economy and applied the code. Upon checking out and purchasing the ticket, I was given the option of upgrading to Falcon Gold class. I upgraded it, then somehow though about re-applying the discount code again. It Worked!! I was discounted twice to a total of 60% off!!! The original ticket when upgraded should be around 162-165 KDs and know how much I paid for it? 117 KDs!! Talk about a real catch!!! I know some would wave off  it because to go to Dubai from Kuwait with Gulf Air, you would have to make a transit connection in Bahrain. I didn’t mind at all since I’ve wanted to try out the Gulf Air First/Business Class Lounge in BAH to review it, and this was a really good chance to.

After checking-in in KWI, I’ve headed to Damsan Lounge (my 2nd visit) since Gulf Air business class travelers and Gold/Silver members are entitled only to be admitted at Dasman Lounge. Upon call for boarding, I’ve headed to gate 20, which is by far the worst gate in KWI. It’s the last gate on the right hand side after the smoking room. A couple of seats for waiting and it was crowded as hell. I don’t know when KWI would start making special entrance for First/Business travelers for reach gate, which is the norm in every country on this planet. Upon boarding, the plane was packed!! Earlier, I have checked-in online to reserve my seat (2A) according to recommendations from SeatGuru and there it was. Most of the plane was packed with Kuwaiti students going to Bahrain to taking examinations for their suspicious commercial diplomas. I’ve turned down the offer of breakfast since I’ve had mine at the lounge. I didn’t bother taking snaps here because there was nothing remarkable about the plane to shoot. The typical large business seats, old and overused.

For connecting flights, it’s very normal in worldwide airports that the check-in counter would print you a boarding pass in case the amount of time between the flights is limited. In KWI, they did that for me. In DXB, it was something else that I would mention later on.

Upon arrival in BAH, I’ve wanted to lounge-hub the Gulf Air Lounge, but I only had one hour to board the plane. And there’s this stupid thing going on in BAH airport about banning all Gulf Air departures announcements in the lounge. A couple of months ago, lounge staff would walk around and gently announce the boarding announcement to lounge users. That has been discontinued in Dilmun Lounge and Gulf Air Lounge due to the large number of Gulf Air flights around the clock. And mainly, updates for flights in BAH is shitty as hell. One minute a flight gate is declared open, a couple of minutes later ”Last Call” is displayed for all travelers. I swear to God, the last two trips from BAH didn’t have any update at all, it started with “”Last Call” !!! So, summing all of the above mentioned reasons, I gave up and headed directly to my gate. Upon boarding, it was the same class of airplane A320, and no sleeper seats. We arrived in DXB safe and sound.

Here’s some snaps of the flight back from DXB

Now, let me talk about my return trip from DXB. Upon arrival to DXB terminal 1, I’ve searched for Gulf Air counter just to be told that it has been moved to Area F, which is located outside of the main counters area to the far left side of the terminal. I took my bag and dragged it outside just to find that Gulf Air, Middle East Airlines, Saudi Arabia Airlines and some I can’t remember have been tossed to a lonely area I’ve never seen before. Upon checking-in, I was told that I can’t receive my 2nd boarding pass for BAH-KWI because DXB pass system is not compatible with BAH and Gulf Air. So? it meant that I had to arrive in BAH and go to the transit counter and ask for my connecting boarding pass. I didn’t digest that one. I asked my bag to be shipped all the way to Kuwait. Leaving the security area, I headed to Gulf Air Lounge located near gate 122, which is the main gate for Gulf Air flights. The next post would be about my visit to this lounge.

Upon entering the gate, a security personnel asked to keep my stump of boarding pass because he was trying to print me the 2nd connecting pass and I thanked him for the effort. After waiting for 30 minutes, I’ve checked again with him just to find out that it was impossible. I gave up and headed to the plane entrance. Now here comes the best part of this trip. We got the sleeper seats. I sat down and started screwing around with the mechanism of the seat, trying to see how long it can stand my continuous changes. It was alright. Again, I turned down the food because I had a good mini-meal at the lounge. Upon arrival in BAH, I went around and started asking about how to get a connecting pass since all of the provided counters for other airlines. After here and there, I was ”sneaked” into the first of the line just to get my boarding printed. There, I headed down to Gulf Air Lounge for short time before departure of my flight back to Kuwait. On my last flight, we also got the sleeper seats and the bad luck to be seated next to a horny-swinger-married lady who kept making phone calls and messages to multiple dudes, one after the other. Thank God she changed her seat afterward.

The whole experience here was ruined when we arrived at KWI. Multiple planes arrived at the same time. My bag, along with some others, is nowhere to be found. The shutter for the baggage belt shutdown and all airport staff announced that ”that’s it”! I went crazy. My buddies are waiting outside to pick me up. I went from one baggage lane to another searching for my one and only bag. Its tagged with ”Golden Falcon” priority strap, meaning it should be handled among the first with care. No bag in sight. I was told to go the missing baggage claim office where I filed for it. The whole filing process took me like 30 minutes due to the retarded way the airport staff are dealing with travelers. I was called in the next day and been notified to come and pick it up at the Civil Aviation Main Building. It turns out that Gulf Air didn’t ship it along with us upon departure to Kuwait. So, they sent it on the first early flight from BAH. I swore at that time that I would never check-in my small luggage if it’s a transit connection in BAH!

Lufthansa Business Class KWI-FRA

Since I’ve been assigned to be part of the team conducting the FAT tests (Factory Acceptance test) for a huge Siemens product, I’ve been given a two weeks mission to Vienna, Austria to conduct such tests. My ticket is business class and I’m staying in Vienna Marriott Hotel for 13 nights. The first snap shows that I was the first in line waiting for the counter to open. Of course, one disaster after another started occurring. The long-ass line for the economy class started piling up. The counters delayed in opening. The checking-in system crashed. The Airlines staff restarted it like 3 times, and had to go every 15 minutes assuring people that the counters would open soon and to be patient. It reached a point where they gave up and started gathering everyone’s passports for manual entry by writing boarding passes! After all the delay, the Kuwait Airport customs made a big fuss about not accepting such boarding passes and calling in the shift manager for Lufthansa to cite what’s going on. Everything seemed OK, till I met my colleagues in the Pearl Lounge (My next review) and told me that they got the electronic passes and also their connecting passes for our connecting flight from Frankfort to Vienna. I got mad! I was the first to show up, I got delayed and now they didn’t present me any connecting boarding pass! After I checked with them, they promised to issue me another one after boarding this flight.

Anyway, The business class is really awesome in the Lufthansa. You have wired remote control, to control your seat, all the way down to a sleeping position. You can watch TV and play games using it. Their shopping catalogue seemed really good for prices (I’m grabbing that Mont Blanc passport wallet!) and the food was halal and tasty too!

Wataniya Diwan

Since Wataniya Airways started almost a year ago, and I’ve been noting their progress in the market. They’ve been going steady in reaching out to everyone, amazingly getting more patrons with their one-year celebration price drops promo. Before that, being the 3rd local Kuwaiti airlines in Kuwait, Wataniya Airways is the 2nd after Kuwait Airways to introduce a frequent flyer program, Wataniya Diwan. Although their destination are still limited to some GCC countries and a part of the Middle East, I’ve heard that they’re planning for expansion and including more routes in the future. With their excellent treatment that I’ve received on my way to Beirut last week, a delicious Chicken Biryani dish that is the first meal in almost a century to be finished totally by me and their choice of chocolate offered after lunch. My wife loved it so much that she asked about where they got it and its labeled ”Gharawi” and is sold in the Avenues. A few minutes later, the air hostess came in with a little paper bag filled with that chocolate. I was in awe. I’ve never seen such care and dedication towards patrons in a very long time. Coming back from work, I was surprised to find this envelope containing my Wataniya Diwan card and their FFP guide and a welcoming letter.After a quick examination, their program is very straightforward and typical according to many global standards and rules for Frequent flyer programs. In a later post, I will talk about the 1st FFP in Kuwait and my experience with it.

Wataniya Airways and Wataniya Diwan, Wish you the best of luck and keep on the good work!!