Chipotle Learns From Airlines, Introduces Complicated Loyalty Program

The “big three” US carriers have gotten to the point where their loyalty programs are now all more or less the same. My issue isn’t that they’ve devalued as such, but rather that they’ve devalued while making the program significantly more complicated. I sometimes can’t keep up with these programs anymore, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for the average person:

  • You earn redeemable miles based on the base fare cost of the ticket, which can sometimes be tough to decipher
  • You earn elite qualifying miles based on the distance flown
  • In order to earn elite status you have to spend a certain amount during the calendar year
  • If you’re flying a partner airline, however, you may earn redeemable miles and elite qualifying dollars as a percentage of the distance flown; it all depends which airline issued the ticket

Anyway, it seems that Chipotle has taken inspiration from airlines, as they’ve introduced a rather complicated program with a rather strange name. The program is called Chiptopia Summer Rewards, and it’s a test program which will be available for a three month period, from July through September.


This program just seems so poorly designed on so many levels, and I say that as someone who loves Chipotle.

First of all, what’s with the name? Couldn’t they just call it “Chipotle Rewards.” I love Chipotle, but I don’t ever order chips there. Chipotle can be fairly healthy if you don’t order the chips, burrito, etc., so calling it Chiptopia seems like it wouldn’t resonate with many, especially since they’re trying to position themselves as place where you can get a healthy lunch. Not to mention it’s sort of a tough name to remember.

But the rewards structure is the part that gets me. Here’s a three minute video explaining how it works:

That should be enough of a hint — if you need a three minute video to explain how a limited time loyalty program for a fast food restaurant works, you may have made it a bit too complicated. And that doesn’t even address the fact that the video is cheesier than one of those sex ed videos from the 80s I had to watch in high school.

In case the video didn’t help, here’s a complicated chart to really clear it up for you:


Chiptopia Rewards has three status levelsMild, Medium, and Hot — and your status resets every month:

  • In order to earn Mild status, you need to make at least four purchases of at least $6 during the month, which gets you a free entree
  • In order to earn Medium status, you need to make at least eight purchases of at least $6 during the month, which earns you a free entree
  • In order to earn Hot status, you need to make at least 11 purchases of at least $6 during the month, which earns you a free entree

Your purchase total resets to zero every month. On the plus side, when you redeem for a free entree, that counts towards the next status level. Unfortunately, however, only one purchase per day can count towards status, so buying multiple entrees the same day wouldn’t count towards status.

On top of the monthly rewards, you can receive further rewards if you qualified for status for all three months, as follows:

  • Earn Mild status for all three months, receive a complimentary entree
  • Earn Medium status for all three months, receive $20 in Chipotle merchandise
  • Earn Hot status for all three months, receive catering for 20

Bottom line

I love Chipotle, but they’ve managed to create a loyalty program that even I’m not interested in (which is saying a lot). I mean, I guess I’ll register and if I happen to go four times in a month I’ll get a free entree, but it certainly wouldn’t cause me to dine with them any more often.

Couldn’t they have just gone with a revenue based program like Starbucks, or otherwise a “buy X, get X free” program, rather than having the requirement reset every month, making the structure complicated, and offering rewards at the end of the three months that many people won’t have a use for (I’m sure I’m not the only one who isn’t dying to wear a Chipotle hat, and also has no use for catering for 20).

What do you make of Chipotle’s Chiptopia Summer Rewards program?

(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)


  1. Ben, you forgot the detail that bonus rewards aren’t cumulative. You can’t get both the free hat and the catering.

  2. I think i want to meet the team that came up with this program. I’d rather have the ability to buy multiple entrees per day that count toward status instead of having to spend 11 days there – that’s half a month of lunch for anyone who works 5 days a week

  3. Agree that they should have just made this like Starbucks or many other restaurant loyalty programs – buy X, get X and no resets. At bottom, this is really what they are doing (basically buy 4 entrees, get one free), but they gum it up with extra, unnecessary complications. I’m guessing after this “test run” they will switch to something like starbucks.

  4. It’s complicated, but I think it’s pretty good. You need to buy 27 entrees (and get another 6 free) to get catering for 20. Say each entrée is $8 (because even in my low COL living area that’s about what it costs) times 27, that’s $216. And then the value of the 6 free meals is $48. And then you get catering for 20-a $240 value-on top of it. So that’s almost $300.

    But it is probably Chipotle overload.

  5. I’ll pass on watching the video because the chart is pretty clear.

    Buy 4 entrees (or 3 once you reach Medium status) get 1 free is a lot more generous than many other restaurant rewards programs. Buffalo Wild Wings’ Blazin’ Rewards isn’t too generous for example. A lot of restaurants offer buy 10 lunches, get 1 free, which is just insulting.

    What’s actually confusing is why a “summer rewards” program didn’t start in June, and run June/July/August. Also, I’d rather use an app for the promotion than have to put another card in my wallet.

  6. It should be based on my many times you get E. coli from eating on their restaurants. Every time you go to the bathroom you get a punch on your loyalty card. 🙂

  7. So I may be going to Chipotle on my business travel, although that’s a lot of burritos/bowls.

  8. God you sound whiney… The program is *not* difficult, and quite lucrative for anyone that likes Chipotle. You want it to be more like a “buy x, get X free”???


    Each month:
    Buy 4 get 1 free
    Buy 7 get 2 free
    Buy 9 get 3 free

  9. Wow, that video is pretty bad.
    Shot well, the actor is fine, just WAY too long, and unnecessarily confusing.

  10. You do realize that the “chip” part of Chiptopia refers to CHIPotle and not to chips, right? I agree that it’s a terrible name, though.

  11. Chipotle is not healthy. It’s loaded with sodium and fat, even without the tortilla. It is tasty though.

  12. The only catch is that loyalty programs, regardless of how you slice them, actually work. Check out “How Brands Grow” for the full summary (it’s backed up by proper data – bigger brands have greater loyalty rates, just because you can buy them more often).

    Airlines are a particular challenge for rewarding the wrong customers – for higher spend/business travellers, most of the contracts are dictated at a corporate level so you’re just rewarding a behaviour that exists already; for leisure, they’re so price sensitive that you’re just rewarding the time when you happen to be the cheapest option.

  13. They will devalue it and guac in anything will not be counted. You can only get the free catering during select weeks in early February or day after Thanksgiving. The reward system will then go to “bite” based where only bites taken inside the restaurant will count.

  14. I’m glad they didn’t go with their original names for their statuses: E. coli, norovirus, Shigella and the secretive invitation only tier: Vibrio cholerae.

  15. Now you know why the rewards program is so out there…

    One of Chipotle’s Highest-Paid Executives Was Indicted As Part of a Cocaine Bust…

    As the public face of Chipotle’s marketing strategy, Crumpacker played such an integral role of those efforts. It recently introduced chorizo to its menu and unveiled a loyalty program to try to woo diners back.

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