Kimpton InTouch Inner Circle: “Stealth Devaluation?”

This is the view from the rooftop of The Hotel Wilshire, which is a Kimpton hotel property. Photograph by FlyerTalk member Top of climb. Click on the photograph for a trip report written by Top of climb.

“Has anyone noticed a dramatic drop in availability for award night redemptions?” asked FlyerTalk member woodyDCA with regard to the Kimpton Hotels InTouch frequent guest loyalty program — specifically as an Inner Circle member. “Over the last few months, I have been stymied in all attempts to book weekend redemptions, with only mid-week off-peak redemptions available.”

In addition to “the sudden difficulty in redeeming free night rewards” noticed over the past six to eight months by woodyDCA, there has supposedly also been a devaluation of the welcome amenity. “The amenity was a big reason for chasing IC, as the personalization and selection was a big bonus over Hyatt’s more standardized options (which are delivered perfectly 99% of the time). Late last year, there was a change to the terms to more clearly emphasize: ‘two of your favorite snacks or drinks delivered upon your arrival.’ This is a radical shift. Before, you could expect at least one item from each of the three categories to be delivered. In recent stays, I have received only one item plus waters–and it is often delivered very late and is not what I asked for (in one case, it was specifically what I said I did not want). The Raid the Bar does partially make up for this, but I think the net is negative.”

This is the official list of benefits and perks for all members of the InTouch frequent guest loyalty program; and a discussion reporting on the experiences of FlyerTalk members pertaining to the Inner Circle welcome amenity was launched earlier this week.

“You’re right – booking reward nights in some of our cities has become challenging lately due to a huge increase in demand”, responded FlyerTalk member and official company representative KimptonInTouch — also known as Susan McDowell, who is the Member Communications Manager, Loyalty Marketing for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. “Like all other loyalty programs, we have always had a certain amount of reward inventory that we make available each night. This isn’t new even for Inner Circle members. In some of our cities (New York being one) reward nights have already sold out for the rest of the summer, which is why we urge our members to book further out during high demand periods.

“The reason that you were able to book more easily in the past was that demand was lesser and the program was smaller. It really is more a matter of explosive growth and high demand than ‘stealthy capacity controls’. Our membership has more than doubled in recent years, and rest assured; we are close to announcing some exciting changes to address that growth and continue providing you value.

“As far as devaluation of the welcome amenity, there has been no edict from our Home Office about cutting costs for this perk. In the years I’ve been with Kimpton, our program has always promised Inner Circle members at least two custom preferences (usually a favorite beverage and snack of choice). Then, time allowing, each hotel has the option to get creative and include any little extras they’re inspired to add. That said it’s clear that we have some training to do. No one should be receiving water in place of their preferred beverage. I know that I personally always look forward to a glass of wine in my room, and some bottled water just isn’t going to cut it after a long day of travel.”

Along with woodyDCA, several other FlyerTalk members disagreed with KimptonInTouch, saying that they have noticed what seemed to be devaluations as well regarding inconsistencies with the benefits and perks they are supposed to be receiving; and are frustrated about to whom they should voice their concerns. However, not all FlyerTalk members have noticed a devaluation of any kind. “As for the devaluation of the IC welcome amenity I haven’t experienced any changes for 2014 which sounds quite different from the other members posting on this thread”, posted FlyerTalk member RogerMurdock. “All good here except for when I book a stay for same day arrival. Then I get a random generic offering which I can sort of understand. I think it is important to note that the majority of my stays are in the West.”

However, RogerMurdock would agree with the “stealthiness” of how the Kimpton Hotels InTouch frequent guest loyalty program is handled for its Inner Circle members. “I haven’t been pleased with how InTouch handles and communicates program changes that fall under the devalue category. Subtle and unannounced rewording of benefits and T&C changes do not foster loyalty. I referred a colleague to InTouch recently and to give them the program overview I gave them the green InTouch pamphlet found in most rooms with the tear away temporary membership card inside. One of the ten Inner Circle benefits is the ‘Year end bonus reward tailored to you.’ Anyone receive that for 2013 or was that stealthily eliminated as well?”

FlyerTalk member SJC AA apparently did not receive that Inner Circle benefit.

Although KimptonInTouch clearly stated that “We have not devalued our elite benefits”, she also is attempting to fix the negative perceptions of FlyerTalk members by proactively addressing the issues — and I commend her for setting an example of what a company representative should be doing on FlyerTalk

…not that she is the only one setting that example, of course — as other official company representatives who post on FlyerTalk do come to mind as well — but the main issue here is the perception of “stealth devaluation” and not so much of the interaction between an official company representative with fellow members of FlyerTalk.

Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants Group had already been accused of implementing at least one change in policy with no advance notice or warning, as the period of time in which you may use a coupon for a complimentary room night reward was quietly reduced from two years to one year before the coupon expires effective as of July 1, 2013. That could have unfortunately led to a reduction in trust by customers who suspect that another devaluation had been quietly implemented — regardless of whether that suspicion is correct or incorrect.

Policies of the frequent guest loyalty programs of lodging companies change for various reasons. I get that. However, they should be communicated to members in a clear and transparent manner with a sufficient amount of time before the date of when the changes become effective. When the changes are perceived as positive, there seems to be no problem from marketing departments to spread the word in any way possible. Customers want to feel like they have some value to the companies they patronize. Why not be frank and honest with customers pertaining to changes perceived as negative as well and not risk jeopardizing your trust in the process?

Come to think of it: shouldn’t most companies operate that way with their customers?!?

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