Some of my favorite hotels have no associated loyalty program. Others, like Kimpton, do have a loyalty program but not one that uses a traditional rewards currency. That unique, boutiquey attitude is exactly what I like about it and what led me to stay there several times over the last two years. Megan and I even hosted our wedding party at Seattle’s Alexis Hotel.
News broke last night that global behemoth IHG has acquired Kimpton for $430 million, and it is disappointing in many ways.
As an “Inner Circle” member of Kimpton’s loyalty program I was regularly surprised and delighted when I checked in. I usually got a suite and some kind of unique amenity based on my profile. On my first stay at the Hotel Vintage Plaza in Portland they even gave me a room with a hot tub on the balcony and decorated it with inflatable palm trees and window stickers in the middle of winter.
IHG has many decent hotels. I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed after staying at one, but my standards are low going in. They are about as generic as things can get in the hotel industry. And the loyalty program, despite making it easy to acquire points and book cheap awards, barely makes an effort to recognize frequent guests. Top-tier platinum status is handed out to anyone with a credit card.
There’s very little news so far on what will happen after the acquisition is complete. For now, Kimpton will continue to operate as a separate company with its own loyalty program. I outlined changes to Kimpton Karma Rewards earlier this year.
Here’s how I expect things to play out, though I’m mostly guessing:
Kimpton Might become a New Boutique Chain for IHG
Hey, all the other hotel chains are doing it. IHG already owns the Indigo brand, with 60 properties. Kimpton could either stay separate or merge with Indigo. IHG is a worldwide chain with over 4,600 hotels, so they badly need (IMO) to up their competition in this space. The acquisition doubles the number of boutique properties. Personally, I would bet on a merger with Indigo that keeps the Kimpton name.
Kimpton Karma Rewards Might Survive
Frankly, Kimpton Karma works because the chain is so small. They don’t need to offer points to keep a few loyal guests coming back, and they have the resources to provide personalized service. But I don’t think it can scale. Look at the Ambassador program, a separate rewards program exclusive to the InterContinental brand. It has tried to provide better benefits without being very public about the qualification criteria, but from reports I’ve read it also led to a lot of guests gaming the system. Maybe the management at Kimpton can preserve some of what made them unique and also teach a few things to the rest of IHG.
Kimpton Will Almost Certainly Switch to Points
Right now Karma Rewards counts nights and stays to award free nights at its properties. If I’m right and they eventually integrate with the other IHG brands, then there will need to be some way to stay redeem those nights outside the Kimpton family. This could be achieved without greatly affecting the other elite benefits at Kimpton. I also think the switch will lead to less generosity on the earning side of the equation. For example, Kimpton awards bonus free nights when you stay at several different properties. That might become part of a limited-time promo but not a standard feature.