The sign that a small, and in the grand scheme of things insignificant, part of my world was about to change was the arrival of the white, window-paned envelope with the Middle East Airlines logo in the top corner. It would have gone straight into the bin had I not felt the reassuring shape of a plastic card inside. My new Cedar Miles card perhaps? Ahhhh.
Collecting Cedar Miles has brought satisfaction into my life. It is not the unbridled joy I feel when racking up British Airways Avios, but I thought it played a key role in my travel strategy, especially when I became a silver card holder, the benefits of which are not to be sniffed at – for the modern traveller will tell you that it’s not all about whether one turns left or right, or has lounge access. I rarely fly business, and while the lounges are useful, especially if one has a long connecting time, they are by and large overrated. (There are better restaurants and bars in the duty free area).
No, the seasoned traveller will tell you it’s all about fast-track check-in and – and this is crucial – fast-track security. Or to put it bluntly, the ability to legitimately queue jump.
I opened the envelope, discarding the promotional “bumf”. The card fell to the floor, where it lay face down. I turned it over, but instead of seeing the familiar and comforting silver livery, I was confronted by the long-forgotten Blue card: the utterly useless piece of plastic issued to those embarking upon their Cedar Miles journey.
There was a moment of incomprehension. Surely there had been some administrative error, or maybe my name had been added to a promotional list.
I was about to throw the whole lot in the bin and forget about it, but I thought I’d better check just to make sure. I logged on to the MEA site, where the natural order of things appeared unchanged. I was still listed as a Silver Tier member. It was only when I checked my activity that I realised administrative errors do not happen as often as we think they do. There it was: as of March 31 – four days hence – I would experience a “card downgrade” to Blue. I felt queasy.
I called MEA’s London office. Surely a mistake had been made. I mean, how did they expect to keep customers if they gave them privileges and then cruelly snatched them away.
Would I care to speak to someone at Cedar Miles? You’re right I would. With alarming and very un-Lebanese efficiency, I was put through to Beirut, where I explained my predicament to a polite but firm young man who had clearly dealt with people like me before. “I’m sorry sir, but if you don’t fly the necessary miles in a 12-month period you lose your status.”
I muttered something about never flying the airline again if this is how their treat their loyal customers (yes, I said “loyal customers”). He asked if could assist me with anything else and then said a polite goodbye.
By now queasiness had given way to humiliation and nausea as I considered the implications of my new status. What was I to do, for example, about my relationship with one of the MEA team at Heathrow who would round myself and other slackers from the lounge, waiting until the final call, and drive us in a golf buggy to the gate? Now I would have to skulk in the shadows of the duty free area, with sleeping backpackers, screaming kids, frazzled parents and incontinent pensioners.
But all this is vanity compared to the horror that awaits at Beirut’s Rafiq Hariri International Airport. In the pre-Silver era, I had dutifully queued with the rest of humanity at the MEA check-in desk, which on a good day would have four counters to deal with five flights. The line felt as if it stretched all the way back to the Israeli border. Then two years ago, my Silver status allowed me to check-in with the business class passengers. It was worth it for this perk alone.
How did this ever happen? I made a rookie error by spreading my loyalty across two alliances: Sky Team and One World. Big mistake. On Saturday, I will celebrate my downgrade with a hugely extravagant snack at Terminal 3’s Caviar House, hoping my MEA “driver” will see me and offer me a lift.
Michael Karam is a freelance writer who lives between Beirut and Brighton.
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