One of the highlights of pre-pandemic flying was the ability to put together really convoluted routings, the kind involving positioning flights, backtracking, multiple stopovers, and annoying Greta Thunberg.
This might be part of a mileage run, or to maximise the enjoyment of a particular cabin product, or to take advantage of a mistake fare. Who can forget the mad rush to book First Class tickets out of Vietnam during Cathay Pacific’s New Year bonanza? Or Qatar Airways’ fat finger fares to the USA back in 2017 (also out of Vietnam, incidentally)?
But with COVID-19 and a tapestry of testing and quarantine requirements to navigate, booking anything other than point-to-point flights was just asking for trouble (even routine transits aren’t a sure thing, as seen from Hong Kong’s transit ban earlier this year).
Thankfully we’ve largely moved past that, and with Singapore reopening its borders under the Vaccinated Travel Framework, I figured it’d be a good time to fly from Singapore to Bangkok, and then back to Singapore….via Singapore and Bahrain.
|🇧🇭 The Long Way to Singapore
Back in April, MileLion community member CG shared a blockbuster fare on Gulf Air Business Class from BKK-SIN-BAH-SIN that cost just below S$390. You can find the details in the Telegram chat, suffice to say (1) it’s not bookable anymore and (2) people have already reported flying it successfully.
I bagged one of these via the AMEX Travel Portal as soon as I could (almost wishing the fare was slightly higher so I could burn my air travel credit), but in reality there was no big rush- unlike other deals which get yanked in hours (or minutes), this remained bookable for more than a week.
I’d have to position myself to Bangkok to start the journey, but that’s hardly a big deal, given that Thailand has scrapped all pre-departure/on-arrival testing and simplified the Thailand Pass application process considerably (which is only a concern if you wish to stay the night in Bangkok; it’s not required for transit passengers).
Even better, Bahrain has dropped all testing and quarantine requirements, regardless of vaccination status. There’s no mandatory insurance or health declarations to complete, and Singapore passport holders are eligible for a visa on arrival (5 BD, ~S$18).
It’s pack your bags and go, just like the good old days.
|✈ The Long Way to Singapore: Flights
Arrive: 0015 (+1)
Arrive: 1240 (+1)
To get from Singapore to Bangkok, I redeemed 12,500 miles + S$54.30 for a one-way Economy Class ticket on SQ710 (and before you ask “why not Scoot”, the timings didn’t work out and I’d be paying more than S$200).
This gets me into Bangkok at 2.20 p.m, with plenty of time to connect to GF166 at 4.50 p.m. I don’t plan to check a bag (although SQ/GF do interline, in case you were curious), and I’m not clearing immigration in Thailand so a Thailand Pass is unnecessary (though I’ve applied for one just in case, since I’m travelling on separate tickets).
Here’s where the real fun begins. All my Gulf Air flights are operated by B787-9 aircraft, which the airline introduced in 2018 to replace its ageing A330s. These are equipped with 26 Apex Suites in Business Class (which Gulf Air calls “Falcon Gold”), the same product you’ll find on Japan Airlines, Korean Air and Oman Air.
Don’t let the 2-2-2 configuration fool you, because every seat has direct aisle access. That’s thanks to the clever staggered arrangement of the Apex Suites, which allows the window passenger to access the aisle via a small passageway. No cowboy stepping required here!
Business Class seats are 36 inches wide with 83 inches of pitch, converting into full-flat beds. Assuming you’re not claustrophobic, the extremely private window seats would be my pick of the lot. Once you raise the privacy divider, you’re virtually invisible to anyone in the aisle.
Business Class passengers enjoy cuisine prepared and plated up by dedicated inflight chefs, turndown service with mattress pads and pyjamas, and amenities kits with THANN skincare products. There’s Wi-Fi connectivity by Panasonic Avionics (fingers crossed Boingo works, it’s been awfully flaky of late), and all in all, a product I’m very much looking forward to review.
|🏨 The Long Way to Singapore: Hotels
|Per Night Cost (Nett)
|HGI Bahrain Bay
|40,000 Hilton points
I’ll only be in Bahrain for one night, but the flight timings present a bit of a pickle.
My flight lands at 12.15 a.m, and departs at 11.50 p.m on the same day. Short of booking two nights, I either have to:
- Book the night before and check out of the hotel by lunchtime
- Book the night after and wait till afternoon to check in
(1) is much more realistic than (2), but neither is ideal really (this is when the Marriott Ambassador Your24 benefit would have really come in useful!).
I tried exploring options on Dayuse, but couldn’t find anything I liked. The next best solution was to book a hotel chain where I had late checkout privileges, and push for as late a departure as I could.
That hotel turned out to be the Hilton Garden Inn Bahrain Bay, a 192-room property that opened in July 2021. They could only offer confirmed late check-out till 3 p.m, but maybe I’ll get lucky on the day itself. I redeemed 40,000 Hilton points instead of paying the BD69 (S$254) cash rate.
What I like about this hotel is that it’s directly connected to The Avenues, a swanky shopping complex with many places to chill and kill a few hours (in true Middle East megamall fashion, they have all the standard American chains: PF Chang’s Five Guys, Shake Shack, Cheesecake Factory, Texas Roadhouse, even a TGI Friday’s).
I suppose there’s also the option of heading to the airport well ahead of time and making full use of the Falcon Gold Lounge.
I’m flying out just a few days before the new KrisFlyer Gold Lounge opens its doors on 20 May (possibly the only time I’ll be disappointed about having to visit the SilverKris Lounge instead!), but I’m planning a review soon, so sit tight.
Gulf Air uses the Louis Tavern Lounge at Bangkok Airport, though I wager there may be better options available through Priority Pass. I’ll be visiting at least one lounge, but haven’t decided on which one just yet (suggestions welcome!).
In Bahrain, I’ll be visiting Gulf Air’s flagship Falcon Gold Lounge, which opened in 2021 along with the new US$1 billion airport terminal. In terms of design, it couldn’t be more different from the (frankly depressing-looking) old facility.
The lounge offers a la carte dining and a bar (Gulf Air isn’t a dry airline, before anyone asks), along with other amenities like nap rooms, race car simulator, virtual golf, a VR gaming machine and several PS5s.
Maybe there’s no need for late hotel check-out after all…
Logistically speaking, this will be the simplest trip I’ve done since COVID started, with no testing or paperwork required on either side. In a way, it’s a welcome return to normality, the kind of “don’t think just fly” mentality I hope we can return to soon.
It will also be my first time in Bahrain, but I doubt I’ll have time to get beyond the airport and hotel. The main objective is to check out the cabin products and lounges, and you can expect comprehensive reviews of both!
Any tips for Bahrain?