Kimpton Hotels’ New Loyalty Program Revealed. And It Isn’t Better.

Kimpton Karma Rewards: I haven’t written a lot about Kimpton Hotels. They’ve had one of the most rewarding loyalty programs.

My theory has long been that the smallest chains are most likely to be rewarding because they need to incentivize customers — staying at a Hyatt rather than a Marriott or Hilton is a conscious choice. It doesn’t happen by default. Marriott and Hilton are everywhere, you can just show up in a city and there will be one. You go out of your way to stay loyal to one of the smaller chains, and it’s no accident that the better loyalty programs belong the chains with a smaller footprint.

I have limited personal experience with Kimpton, I’ve eaten in restaurants or frequented bars at their hotels more often than I’ve stayed with them. And much of what I write about is from personal experience, hence limited coverage.

Kimpton has renamed its program from InTouch to Karma Rewards.

And with that rebranding comes a number of changes.

There are (4) elite tiers instead of (2). Top tier is a little bit easier to reach — 14 stays or 40 nights instead of 15 stays/45 nights.

Suites are specifically excluded from elite upgrades. That, to me, kills the program — although there are really interesting personalized and unique benefits to it.

Here are the benefits and qualification requirements:

All members get free wifi. And all members also get a $10 beverage credit to use at the hotel’s bar or mini-bar ($15 credit at the Muse in New York). This certificate must be turned in at checkout to have the charge removed from the bill.

After just 3 stays or 10 nights you earn elite status and become eligible for a one-time one category room upgrade, subject to availability on request at check-in. The tier also comes with a $30 in-room spa treatment credit valid on each stay.

At 7 stays or 20 nights you become eligible for late checkout priority (not guaranteed late checkout) once. And a one-time welcome amenity (not on every stay). And also get an additional one-time one category room upgrade. Seriously, staying 7 times and 20 nights only gets you two one-category upgrades for the year both subject to availability and only confirmed at check-in. And these upgrades exclude suites. Finally, identify yourself as a tier 3 member in the hotel’s restaurant (don’t you know who I am?!) and get a complimentary chef’s taster item.

Top tier members continue to get a free night at each new hotel they open, and that comes with a $50 restaurant credit too. (Status matched top tier members don’t get this benefit until they’ve stayed 3 times with Kimpton.) Top elites get a one-category upgrade (excluding suites) on availability at check-in each stay. Welcome amenity and late check-out priority is available on every stay.

And unique among hotel chains, there’s a formalized benefit for top tier members having access to the hotel chain’s CEO. Michael Depatie really does answer top tier members.

Free award nights It still takes 7 stays or 20 nights to earn a free night, which isn’t especially generous. Award nights are capacity controlled and availability cannot be checked online. Top tier elites get access to better availability.

Hilton’s Jeff Diskin explained a devaluation 4 years ago as being because the HHonors program was “over-indexed”. Kimpton probably was as well. I don’t think of this re-brand as an improvement.

Update: Kimpton tweets a clarification on suite upgrades:

We wanted to clarify on the #InnerCircle Suite upgrade perk: Suites were never guaranteed, but often given if available. That won’t change.

I still think the upgrade benefit is quite subpar. The only entitlement is to a one category upgrade, if available.

And suites – even if available – are only given at the discretion of the hotel.

Every suite could be empty and the hotel isn’t doing anything wrong if they choose not to upgrade top tier elites.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Yes, as you’ll see they even write into their terms that the free night at new properties for top tier is not available to matched members until they’ve made 3 stays.

  2. Kimpton response to suite upgrades on Twitter
    “We wanted to clarify on the #InnerCircle Suite upgrade perk: Suites were never guaranteed, but often given if available. That won’t change.”

    Since I love free nights, Kimpton has a very generous FREE night policy, especially if you stay at different Kimpton properties during the year.

  3. @Frugal Travel Lawyer – I still think the upgrade benefit is quite subpar. The only entitlement is to a 1 category upgrade, if available. And suites – even if available – are only given at the discretion of the hotel. Every suite could be empty and the hotel isn’t doing anything wrong if they choose not to upgrade top tier elites.

    Nonetheless, I appreciate your flagging that and I will update.

  4. The Kimpton program’s biggest weakness pre-Karma (pre-K, henceforth) was that the T&Cs were unclear, vague, guaranteed nothing, but left enough latitude to hotels to go way above and beyond. So, at some properties, you will book a cheap-o AAA rate and they’ll give you a 2 bathroom suite with a jacuzzi tub that is on offer for $1k+/night. At other properties (looking at you, Hotel La Jolla), they’ll put you on a high floor, but offer nothing else. Same goes with the welcome amenity, which isn’t standardized.

    Saying that free night earning is somewhat weak ignores the fact that you earn 2 free nights at 10 properties (in 1 calendar year), and then 1 per 5 after that. Last year, I did 16 stays (25 nights), and I earned 4 free nights. Those paid nights were in the $200-225 range, and I redeemed them for rooms at the $500-600 range. That is unbeatable, and your analysis doesn’t account for it. There is a huge tradeoff though in that hotels only offer a handful of rooms for award redemption each night. So, you need to book early or book on an off night.

    Under the new system, the lower tiers get a benefit here and there. Inner Circle doesn’t change much, although the increased award availability would be huge, if it really means anything.

  5. Kimpton is more about the uniqueness of each hotel and extra perks like the wine hour and occasional secret password. My Kimpton Suite upgrades as an Inner Circle member have been amazing this year. Now we will have Karma too!

    As a lawyer the fine print is very important to me. But as a person loving life Kimpton has a warm and welcoming loyalty program that is working for me. It has been an adjustment after being loyal to Hyatt and Starwood for a long time. Now I really enjoy the perks and surprises of being a Kimpton Inner Circle member! So glad there are many choices in loyalty programs.

  6. Sounds like I need to give it a try, I’ve become pretty jaded about the Marriott and Starwood programs.

  7. I’m glad Kimpton clarified the suite upgrades. In the 20+ Kimptons I’ve stayed at, my Inner Circle upgrades have been about 90% suite upgrades. The old rules stated a one category upgrade although they almost always skipped several categories to move me to a suite. The language under Kimpton Karma regarding suite exclusion is worrisome but I figured they will keep the way they’ve always upgraded Inner Circle members under the new program.

    Overall, I think this is a real enhancement and allows more people to experience the unique Kimpton hospitality, even those that stay infrequently.

  8. Gary,
    With all due respect, I believe your comments are off the mark. You admit up front that you have not written very much about Kinton nor have you stayed with them often enough to form a solid basis for your comments regarding the suite upgrades.

    I’m sure I speak for many inner Circle members when I say that, when staying at Kimpton, it’s more about the personal touches and uniqueness of the properties and the vibe than t is about suite upgrades. If all you want is extra space, then feel free to stay at a cookie-cutter chain. Kimpton has great perks, the best pet policy in the business, and great employees, in addition to great decor in the rooms. And we haven’t even mentioned their killer bars.

    Kimpton is clearly not for everyone. But if you value quality over quantity, you will no doubt enjoy what Kimpton has to offer.

  9. Here’s a twist…recently booked a Kimpton property in NYC via AMEX website. Emailed Kimpton a day or so later to be sure and include my Inner Circle number on the reservation. Got a reply that stated the visit would not quality as a stay. Furthermore, they could not attach my IC number to the booking. Reason given: AMEX used Orbitz as the booking engine. My reaction: so what? Looks to me that any hotel would make sure their top-tier members get taken are of. Always enjoyed Kimpton, great service, usually good restaurants. But this turned me off. I cancelled my reservation and booked into another property.

  10. You don’t stay at Kimptons just for the upgrades, you stay because of the way the staff treats you (and your pets). I I had the choice of a Starwood Suite and a Kimpton right across the street, Kimpton wins every time.

  11. Pet lovers… you pay for a generous pet policy. The damage to the room is baked into the price.

    Non-pet lovers… run away from pet friendly hotels, ie Kimpton. You’re paying for those pets!

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