This morning, Taj Inner Circle, the loyalty program of the Taj Hotels Group, announced a revamp. They’ve called it reborn, actually tacitly acknowledging that there would be enhancements, which to me spelt trouble since this is a traditional way of saying we’ll give you a few things but take away a lot from you. In line with the current splash in Indian media by loyalty programs, which includes Hyatt Gold Passport and Marriott Rewards, Taj took to full page newspaper advertisements to announce the program.
In summary, the headline changes are as follows:
- Taj Inner Circle added a 4th tier called Platinum and rebranded their base tier to copper.
- Points never expire for active members
- New way of gaining tiers: Night count as compared to only eligible spends earlier
- Online redemption request for hotels
- Lots of benefits lost from the existing program, but they are not highlighting those changes!
The new membership tiers at TIC: Copper, Silver, Gold & Platinum
Inevitably, programs which started over 10 years back, have had to add a Platinum tier to enhance their benefits for their elites. Here is how things changed at Taj Inner Circle:
- Blue Tier is now Copper Tier: I have to admit, I don’t like this name at all! The earlier base tier used to earn a point at INR 100 for eligible charges net of taxes. This one, earns at 1 point for INR 125.
- Silver Tier: For silver, while they earn points at INR 100/point, there is a tonne of devaluation. Earlier, Silver tier could be earned by INR 25000 spend in a 60 day period, now you need to go through 10 nights or INR 100000 eligible spend to get to silver. Apart from that, tonnes of benefits have been taken away from Silver guests. Silver members only get late check out and 10% discount on redemption via points now, while earlier they got all of this:
- Complimentary double occupancy benefits for your spouse/partner at all Taj Group properties in India, barring Taj Safaris Lodges, when booking is made on rack, BAR or negotiated rates.
- An assured 10% discount on the Best Available Rate (BAR) Plan at all participating hotels.
- A flat 30% discount on rack rate when booking a Taj Club Room and Suite.
- Taj Holidays will cost you 10% lesser when reserved directly with the hotel or at Taj Reservations Worldwide.
- Be welcomed with flowers and fruits in the room.
- Enjoy Complimentary access to the health club, steam bath and sauna.
- A 20% discount on Business Centre Services.
- 10% lesser charges on Telephone and Fax usage.
- Laundry services at a discount of 15%.
- Rejuvenation at Jiva Spas with a 20% discount on all treatments.
- Gold Tier: Gold Tier with the Taj was really just a name. It did not mean you got benefits such as suite upgrades, unless you were a frequent visitor at the hotel or so on. Data point, just last week I was at a Taj hotel for a one night stay, and the hotel never even acknowledged my status. It used to take an approximate spend of INR 200,000 in a year to get to Taj Gold, now it would take you INR 400,000 in a year or 40 nights at a Taj hotel in a year to get to Gold On the earning side, you now earn points at 1 point/INR 70 once you are gold, as compared to 1 point for INR 80 earlier. You get a couple of suite upgrade certificates per annum, valid for stays up to 5 nights, but you lose all the above benefits which go away from Silver members, and more:
- Every time you fly 20 hours or more in a Taj Air aircraft (Falcon 2000, Falcon 2000LX and P.180 Avanti II) you will receive 6% off rack rates and a 20% discount on night halts.
- A non-alcoholic welcome drink on arrival at the hotel.
- Daily newspapers of your choice, at our metro hotels.
- The new Platinum Tier: Platinum tier can be earned for INR 800,000 of spend or 80 nights in their hotels per annum. Once you are platinum, you get to earn a point at INR 60 worth of spend The benefits look great, and are listed below:
- Signature Platinum Experiences across the world. 3 experiences per annum to be provided, here is a list.
- Late Check Out
- Early Check In
- 5 Suite Upgrade Vouchers (good for 5 nights, basis availability)
- 24 Hour Check In (to be requested at least 3 days in advance)
- In Room Check In.
- 20% discount on room redemption rate.
- Dedicated 24 X 7 Platinum Desk for taking care of all your Taj requirements.
Essentially, a lot of the value has been cut off from the entire program and not just a specific tier. While the Taj is talking about enhancements to the program, they conveniently miss the part where they’ve taken away the spouse stays free benefit, the spa discount, the 10% discount on stays and so on.
Enhancements: In terms of enhancements, the program borrows heavily from the Starwood stable where it is offering 5 upgrade vouchers, not sure if these are paper vouchers or electronic, but only offering these upgrades depending on availability (not confirmed at time of booking, a la Hyatt). Also, they are offering 24 hour check-in, borrowed from the Starwood program again. New enhancements which are good, are, the last room availability feature. While all rooms and suites are priced at different price points even for points, you can have a room if available for revenue reservations as well. For example, here is my attempt at booking a room later this month at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai. They give me tonnes of choices:
The other enhancement really, is the facility to redeem points online, which should have come a long time ago. No more of waiting for a confirmation from the Taj after you’re requested a booking manually.
Devaluations: The bad news for all the Taj loyalists is, all your points will expire by 15 June 2017, if you don’t use them by then. So, if you’re sitting on a stash of these gems, you have 730 days to redeem them, and your time starts now! I’ve amply talked about the loss of other benefits, for instance, 20% off on Jiva Spa.
But the biggest devaluation is the redemption chart itself. There never was a dynamic chart, and now there is, which gives the chain an opportunity to sneak in lots of devaluations without announcing. So, instead of having a room at the Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai for 2000 points earlier, now you can only start looking at it for 2350 points onwards (my rate is with a 15% discount as a Gold member below).
Or, the hotel at Varanasi, which used to cost 600 points earlier and 1000 points now.
There are tonnes of examples of their devaluations, but the program preferred to only focus on the enhancements.They’ve taken on a modern look, but a global hotel chain rewards program does provide a lot more recognition across the board rather than just at the highest tier.
To me, I’m not very happy with the devaluations happening at the Taj Inner Circle program. What does this mean to you? Tell me in the comments section.