An InterContinental presentation mistakenly placed online shows that the company is planning changes to its Ambassador loyalty scheme for 2016.
Before I come to those, I want to summarise how Ambassador works for those who are not familiar with it.
InterContinental, the luxury hotel brand inside IHG Rewards Club (which also covers Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and others) is a little odd when it comes to loyalty schemes:
As part of the Holiday Inn / Crowne Plaza group, it participates in IHG Rewards Club
InterContinental does not officially recognise your IHG Rewards Club status. In reality, they often do, but it is not guaranteed.
InterContinental also has its own loyalty scheme – Ambassador – which costs $200 to join
And yet, despite the $200 fee ($150 to renew), I consider Ambassador a good deal and have been a member for a number of years.
The key thing about Ambassador is that, once you are a member, the benefits are GUARANTEED on paid stays. They are NOT guaranteed on reward stays, but most properties do let you have them. These benefits are:
A certificate for a free weekend night when you join and each year when you renew. In one swoop, you can save your entire membership fee with this benefit. To use the voucher, you need to book a 2-night weekend stay and pay the Best Flexible Rate for the other night.
The letter of the rules says that only standard rooms can be booked. However, many hotels let you book club rooms or suites. I have a Junior Suite booked at InterContinental Le Grand Paris on my 2016 voucher next month.
GUARANTEED one-level room upgrade – this is usually processed before you arrive and is visible online
A voucher for 5,000 IHG Rewards Club points when you join and each year on renewal
4pm check-out – this is a guaranteed benefit and comes in very handy on a weekend break with an evening flight back home
A free pay-TV movie per stay, every stay
Free fruit and mineral water in your room
A welcome gift – varies from chocolates or wine to weird local souvenirs!
Double occupancy for single occupancy rate – useful in Germany, one of the few countries where they still charge a ‘second person’ supplement
Obviously InterContinental Ambassador is not for everyone. You can earn back the cost of membership in just one weekend stay, though. It may even be worth it if you had just one long stay booked and wanted to guarantee your upgrade. Ambassador members also receive Gold status in IHG Rewards Club although that doesn’t get you far.
Renewal is even cheaper, at just $150, and you receive another ‘free weekend night’ certificate and another 5,000 IHG Rewards Club points.
You can learn more about InterContinental Ambassador here if it sounds interesting. There is an option to use 32,000 IHG Rewards Club points instead of paying $200 in cash. This is not a bad use of your points at just under 0.5p.
Changes are coming for 2016
Courtesy of Loyalty Lobby, a PowerPoint presentation from an internal IHG conference had been mistakenly placed on a publicly accessible website. IHG has now removed it.
It is a conference presentation on how the Ambassador scheme will evolve. It makes very interesting reading, some of which surprised me. IHG has even calculated the global profitability of the scheme.
You won’t be surprised to learn that Ambassador does drive more stays – once you’ve joined, you will spend more nights at InterContinental hotels. IHG has run ‘before’ and ‘after’ numbers to prove it.
What interested me is that the dynamic is not as I expected. Individual hotels encourage their regular guests to sign up for Ambassador at the front desk – a fairly easy ‘sell’ because of the benefits. Those people do increase their visits to other InterContinental hotels but not hugely. People like me, who spread their IC business across lots of different properties, are in the minority. The majority of members are signed up by a particular hotel and receive the bulk of their benefits from that hotel.
How do Ambassador members feel? A rough summary is that Ambassador members no longer feel ‘special’ at the hotels and are annoyed with the inconsistent delivery of benefits.
I personally find the second point odd because it is the ‘guaranteed’ nature of the benefits which attracts me. It is possible that hotels which go ‘above and beyond’ for Ambassador members are causing problems for those hotels which stick to the guidelines and no more – the problem is that putting a foot down here would lead to a de facto devaluation.
The only proposed changes so far appear to be:
In-room fruit being switched to a choice of fruit, sweet or savoury snack
Clearer signalling of the upgrade path, in particular regarding upgrades to the Club Lounge
There are bigger changes coming for the invitation-only Royal Ambassador tier. This is likely to gain a revenue target based purely on InterContinental spend. At present you can achieve it by spending 40 nights in a Holiday Inn Express and then 20 nights across three separate InterContinental hotels which is not what IHG had planned.
I will keep you updated on the changes as they are made public.
(Want to earn more hotel points? Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Promos’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)