You Reap What You Sow: This Is Why Some Loyalty Programs Are Facing More Criticism Than Others

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Since the moment the travel world started to change around us I’ve been watching how the various airlines, travel agencies, hotels and loyalty programs have been reacting to the situation we’re all facing and it’s has been interesting to see how their approaches have differed.

It’s already pretty clear which corporations will come out of this crisis looking better than others but it’s also clear that some corporations are being given a very basic lesson in what it means to reap what you sow, and it will be interesting to see if they learn anything from this experience.

For the purposes of this post I’m going to use IHG as an example of a corporation that isn’t handling the current situation very well, but it is far from being on its own when it comes to the list of corporations that are doing a great impression of a rabbit trapped in a car’s headlights.

IHG Rewards was the first major loyalty program to announce measures to help its members reach/maintain elite status in 2020 as the travel world crumbled but while that was certainly laudable at the time, the lack of action and communication since then has seen the program quickly lose what kudos it had gained.

I’ve been a vocal critic of IHG and IHG Rewards because I think they have both dropped the ball on multiple occasions of late while the likes of Hilton, Hyatt, and Radisson have been communicating effectively and taking very positive steps to keep their customers happy…but my criticism of IHG and IHG Rewards doesn’t all stem from the incompetence they’re displaying right now. It goes back a lot further.

In the past few years, IHG and IHG Rewards have both pushed through multiple customer-unfriendly changes and given back little in return. We’ve seen the cost of award nights increase significantly year-on-year (apart from in 2020), we’ve seen the much-lauded PointBreaks promotion decimated and then discarded, we’ve seen the quarterly promotions turn in to a joke, we’ve seen the free night offered by the IHG Rewards Club credit cards devalued and IHG Rewards continues to be the least rewarding major hotel loyalty program.

What have we been given in return? I can’t think of anything significant.

It’s been very easy to find fault with IHG over the past few years and when you compare it to a chain like Hyatt (or even Hilton) it comes out looking even worse…and that’s the root of IHG’s problems right now.

A lot of people are irritated or annoyed with what they perceive to be IHG’s reluctance to do anything really positive and its reluctance to communicate effectively with its customers right now, and a lot of that annoyance goes back much further than the current crisis.

Had Hyatt been the only hotelier to show a remarkable inability to communicate with its customers during this crisis and if Hyatt had been the only major hotel chain to appear to do everything positive very reluctantly, most people would be sitting back and wondering what was going on.

Sure, some would be annoyed and angry but most would probably assume that something was seriously wrong and that the folks at Hyatt would sort things out when they got a chance. Why? Because Hyatt has a history of not screwing over its customers, not making multiple customer-unfriendly changes year after year and a reputation for at least appearing to care about its guests. IHG has none of that to fall back on.

The fact is that Hyatt could be doing exactly what IHG is doing now (the bare minimum) and the percentage of annoyed Hyatt loyalists would be nowhere near as high as the percentage of annoyed IHG loyalists that we’re seeing right now – IHG has little to no goodwill in reserve while Hyatt has it in abundance.

Bottom Line

In the place of IHG, I could easily have used United Airlines as an example of a corporation that has performed poorly (it has done better of late but that doesn’t mask the fact that it has been trying to rip-off its customers for the past few weeks) and I could have used Alaska Airlines as an example of a corporation that has (mostly) done ok…and the message would still be the same.

If a corporation treats people well when times are good they’re likely to be given a lot more leeway when times are bad because people will want that corporation to thrive. As demanding as some of us can be (in the miles and points world) we do a better job than the corporations of understanding that life is about giving and taking and not just take, take, take, all the time.

The corporations that come closest to understanding this very basic idea are the ones that we “love” the most while the ones that clearly don’t get it (or don’t care) are the ones we’re the quickest to criticize and the quickest to dislike…and they only have themselves to blame.


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