It must have been 1977 or 1978, when I had not yet returned back to Playboy full time, but was covering Mexico and then Spain on a freelance basis that I was traveling across the Atlantic on a KLM flight that for the first time I experience what I thought to be an embarrassing discrimination between me and my fellow passengers. When hardly seated, the stewardess walks up to me with Welcome on board Mr. Shah and then pins a little star shaped tag on the top of my headrest that distinguishes me as a passenger paying the full fare, and therefore entitled to a better service. I got to drink premier wines in real glasses and was offered a special food selection. While the person sitting next to me gives me an envious look, I pull out the pin and look at it, printed within the star are three capital Fs and in and the small letters circling define them as full fare facilities.

As for the tipple F pinned above my head, I think: Those clever Dutch! They must have seen the future. Realizing that the first class was becoming to be too expensive to sustain even for the big and rich corporations. Why not then create an interim class like on trains in India? Whatever, it took several years before KLM and other airlines introduced what is now commonly known as Business Class.

It took some years before Playboy  required us to abandon the First in favor of the Business Class. Enter upgrading of their A list passengers like me. Eventually, now KLM and many other international carriers have eliminated the First and the Business Class has become what the First used to be, minus some of the more sumptuous offerings such as being welcomed onboard with a glass of Moët et Chandon instead of Dom Perignon or Crystal. Appetizers are reduced from caviar and lobsters down to tiger shrimps and scallops. And sorry, no big fat expensive Cigars to go with your Cognac after dinner.

And there were no miles to collect and then after having diligently accumulated enough miles to take a free trip, just to find out that the flights you really want are not available for the award travel. What you’re offered are multiple-connection flights that take you a whole day to get from the point A to the point B. The only non-stop flights available for the award travel are either the red-eye ones or following the sleepless nights early in the morning ones. To be fair, when the first loyalty programs began with American’s AAdvantage and United’s Mileage Plus, your earned miles were as good as cash and the tickets issued were the same as if you had paid full fare. You needed 20,000 miles for a round trip within the United States. Soon as you had accumulated those many miles, they mailed you actual paper coupons which then you were able to cash in at any of the airlines’ offices in exchange of a ticket or an upgrade.

And there was no such thing as the miles expiring. No use being reminiscing and being nostalgic about it, because just a couple of months ago I was having an irate telephone conversation with the AAdvantage supervisor at American’s Dallas Forth Worth headquarters about them having unilaterally swallowed my 26,000+ miles on the ground that there was “no activity” in my account for eighteen months and that I can have them reinstated for… never mind, because the cost benefit ratio of me forfeiting them forever turned out to be better than what it would have taken to see those miles credited back to my account. While I was telling her about how the mileage programs operated in the past, she retorted: Those days are gone. Now we are living in a different world. Right you are Ms. AAdvantage.

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