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InterContinental Ambassador planning changes this year

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 – Ambassadorwhich costs $200 to join

InterContinental Ambassador

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.)

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  1. We have a week long stay at an IC booked with points – sounds as though it isn’t worth adding this status now if benefits not supposed to apply to points stays?

    • They have always given me ambassador benefits even with points stays and third party bookings. Of course they don’t need to, but in my experience they do. One way to reduce the risk might be to sandwich a paid night in the middle of some points stays: at the very least they are likely to leave you in the upgraded room for the entire stay.

      For me, ambassador has been fantastic and made me hugely loyal to the brand. In just under a year I’ve spent 25 nights at IC hotels, and a good few at other IHG properties in preference to other chains as I value the loyalty programme.

      • Almost all ICs do give benefits on reward stays. You can generally drill down on Flyertalk.

        When I was in Paris two weeks ago I got a letter saying I would get all benefits except the free pay TV film.

  2. Frances says:

    For the time being, some IC hotels still give benefits for award stays. I intend myself to use as fast as possible award nights before they change their policy.

    • Agreed, I am in what appears to be a minority of HFPers who consider paying for IC a waste of money, so only redeem there, am trying to use up all my points 50K at a time instead of 10-15K on HIExs, but IHG keeps giving me more and more!

  3. Charlie says:

    Having paid for Ambassador status I then used it for a status match to Hilton Gold and Carlson Silver. So for me it was definitely $200 well spent.

    • Having taken out the IHG barclaycard before bonuses stopped counting for status, I paid £99 and received 60000 points which took me to Spire, and got matched Hilton Diamond and (recently) Club Carlson Gold….

      • mark2 says:

        me too!
        I have just used the same Spire status and two stays to get matched by Hilton until 3/18.

  4. Rather than tinkering about at the edges it would have been better to firstly sort out the complete dog’s dinner they’ve made of their Spire Ambassador renewal packs for almost a year now. Despite several requests for an update over the past 9 months or so, they still seem to be nowhere near resolving the issue. The latest email I received last week stated:

    “We would like to inform you that all order for Spire Ambassador portfolios are currently on hold since the “Spire Member Guides and Boxes” are currently not available. Rest assured that your Spire Ambassador portfolio will be sent once member guides and boxes becomes available.”

    Prior to that there has been an ongoing issue with their vendor?? Whatever that means!

    In September it will be renewal time again and I very much doubt if I’ll have received the pack for the current year. So, no Weekend Night Certificate and no 5K points back. I would hope that they will either refund the cost of the last renewal, or offer the next year free.

    Has anyone received a Spire Ambassador renewal pack and card? Are you still waiting?


    • I received my pack last month after applying in January.
      However I can’t find the code for the 5k points and my voucher is valid for 3 months longer than my membership 😉

    • Never got mine from last December. After complaining they did give me the 5000 points and I did get my AMB night. No pack tho.

    • Still waiting for mine (applied in December). Chased again a week or two ago and was told I should receive the pack in seven weeks’ time. Not holding my breath.

    • Kimberly says:

      It took my about 5 months to get mine but it finally came along, however, the 5k point voucher was not in it. The free night certificate is good through May of next year as well. There are some people on FT who say that they have had success getting the Ambassador team work it out with the hotel directly to allow them to use the free night without actually having the certificate. Obviously, that will very much depend on the hotel.

      If you didn’t get the points voucher, just email the ambassador program and they will add them to your account. My points were there the next day.

      • Annoying thing about this approach is the 5k don’t count as elite qualifying points, while if added through the voucher they do!

        • Pretty sure they don’t, not since the changes last year which stopped all bonus counts counting as qualifying.

      • AMB team contacted IC BKK for me and IC BKK confirmed via email that the physical presence of the AMB night certificate was waived in this instance. Customer Services was all fine save for the issue of the pack itself.

    • Craig Vassie says:

      I was recently given a free Ambassador membership for the coming year, plus a 5K point credit as an apology. It was a bit of a struggle…..

    • Many thanks for the feedback guys!

  5. Frances says:

    IHG should give a better training course to its staff. It depends on the person who reads and responds to the mails, some copy standard phrases, others are completely out of subject…I had to send six mails in order to finally get my renewal pack after having been waiting for several months.

  6. I really rate the Ambassador status and definitely made it worthwhile last year at the Paris Le Grand – they were able to give Club access instead of an upgrade from our Eiffel Tower view room with balcony which was actually much better for us.

    One thing I dont understand – where/when do/can you see the room upgrade online beforehand? I have upcoming bookings in about 6 weeks at the IC Frankfurt and Madrid and the room on the booking is just the one that I have paid for. Any ideas?

    • Ambassador upgrades often don’t show on until the day of check in. Royal Ambassador upgrades tend to be done nearer the time of booking to block out the room.

      • Kimberly says:

        I’ve always wondered this too because some hotels do it right away and others don’t. I’m RA and have two upcoming booksings, the further out one they already show my upgrade but the one that is this weekend (at the London O2 IC) is still showing the room that I booked.

    • Globetrotter7 says:

      Usually, if you look at your booking on the day of your stay and you see your room type has changed, then you’ve been upgraded. Sometimes this can happen weeks out.

  7. Paolo says:

    Ambassador is *ok*, but the IHG program itself is so poorly run that it’s barely worthwhile participating . The only reason I bother is to access a few good airport HIXs and a handful of ICs.
    But : hopeless app, totally inadequate directions/maps ( does anyone from IHG ever look at it from a consumer’s perspective?), Weird promotions, well-meaning but inept phone support staff ( probably poorly trained), inconsistent status benefits. A very marginal program.

  8. James says:

    Following on from your recent review of the IC at the O2 I am planning a weekend stay for our anniversary in August on a weekend with no local events for the cheaper cash rooms. My question fits nicely with this article, I was thinking about ambassador status, should I either pay or use points to get it now ahead of my visit, or hold out to buy on arrival? Will getting it on arrival bring any benefits? I’m currently only IHG gold having just missed the plat renewal target 🙁 if that has any bearing.

    • Our booking of 2 standard rooms domeside was upgraded to a riversise suite and connecting deluxe but they have been because those were the only connecting pair available. In this case it probably doesn’t justify paying for it just for this one stay – you might be better off paying for club access and trying to get a riverside uograde thrown in.

    • Wilson says:

      I’ve had two weekend stays at the IC O2 as an IHG ambassador spire elite paid in cash:

      1. Booked King Deluxe Canary Wharf View room – got upgraded to King Club IC (was not allowed club lounge access). I don’t think this is an actual upgrade if you exclude the lounge access.

      2. Booked King Superior (most basic room) – got upgraded to King Deluxe Canary Wharf View Room.

      I think the real benefit of ambassador was really the 4pm checkout. Yes, the upgrades are guaranteed but I seemed to be getting very similar rooms whether I paid £140 or £250. In my personal experience, the ambassador voucher requires a much higher room rate than usual as well.

      • I would have put my foot down on 1) and not accepted it, because it isn’t an upgrade. I got stuffed like this in Abu Dhabi recently and only the fact I checked in at some stupid hour of the night meant I let it go – I was also on a ‘breakfast included’ rate anyway so the benefits from the lounge would have been marginal. I got 15,000 points as compensation at check-out when I complained about that and some other issues.

        • Wilson says:

          I stayed again at the Intercontinental O2 this weekend and mentioned that in my previous stay I wasn’t given a proper upgrade. The lady said that it did count as an upgrade because:

          1. The room is physically the same size but the furniture is arrange in a way to make it more spacious. (I almost laughed out loud)

          2. The bathroom amenities are better in the King Club IC room. I checked this and from my three stays I can find no difference.

          3. The King Club IC room has a direct view of Canary Wharf whilst the Deluxe Canary Wharf View room has only a side view. I can’t vouch for this because they moved me from a Canary Wharf view room to a Riverview room for both stay number 2&3.

          A point to note, the 20% off mastercard rate does not show that breakfast is included within their system. I had to spend 10 minutes at the front desk to prove that I was entitled to breakfast by emailing to them the evidence.

          Overall, for £140, I think it was fantastic value for money to stay in London and I wouldn’t hesitate to stay again!

  9. Mr Brown says:

    I think the biggest bugbear with AMB is the mythical upgrades that suddenly seem to appear – i.e. Being upgraded to rooms which aren’t available to book online. This is the silly practices that need to be sorted out. Other than that and the length of time it has taken to sort out the packs being delivered I haven’t had any major issues with AMB although I don’t spend a huge number of nights in ICs.

    I would much prefer they sorted out Spire first however. The “Exciting changes” they mentioned that were coming this year have not materialised thus far and we are almost halfway through the year. As regularly seems to be the case with IHG they can talk the talk but struggle to get up out of the chair let alone walk the walk.

    Re the proposed RA changes. Well this really will sort out the men from the boys. If they keep the same 1% ruling but apply it to revenue rather than nights/stays there could be some very disappointed people out there given how low the average rates can be at some ICs compared to Park Lane, Le Grand, Amstel etc. I know of at least one RA who floats around Europe stay at ICs such as Berlin, Warsaw, Madrid etc and requakifies for RA each year with an average paid room rate of £125 per night.

  10. Jason Hindle says:

    Long time since I had Royal Ambassador status (or even plain old Ambassador) but I always found the benefits consistently delivered (including very memorable stays at the IC Hong Kong and the Amstel). Now, I have a stay at a holiday Inn coming up, and I’m lowly old Blue…. Does Ambassador still come with automatic gold (thinking it will be worth it for the bonus points, given the intended length of the stay)?

    • Pretty sure it does, yes. Not sure if you could status match something else to IHG though? Ambassador or Gold won’t get you much in physical benefits at a HI!

      Last time I was at HK I was an RA (we are talking 8 years ago) and got a great waterside suite. I recently found a huge bar of designer soap which I stole at the time 🙂

  11. This is the reason why they haven’t sent any Ambassador packs in the past few months. I hit Spire in February/March and renewed Ambassador at roughly the same time and didn’t receive the card, voucher etc. Emailed them recently as I was about to book a weekend stay and they offered to send me the voucher via UPS. They also promised to send the whole pack as soon as they decide what should be in it. Overall, very good customer service.

  12. marly says:

    Still haven’t received my pack, renewal was in February, I gather from the responses above that it is because I am Spire and they don’t have packs for this level which is ridiculous…
    I am spire until December 2017, let’s see what happens until then…

  13. The move for a revenue qualifying RA would be great news for me, obviously depending on the level required. I spend an exceptional amount but on special arranged non-qualifying rates.

  14. OT but IHG related – I am looking for 3 nights in LA at the end of our Rte 66 trip next year and Kimpton Hotels are appearing on the list of options but not for reward availability – when you click through it says Kimpton are not yet part of IHG Rewards Club – are they due to join any time soon?

  15. Am I correct in assuming that if I use the 32,000 points to buy the ambassador status I will still get the 5,000 welcome bonus and the weekend night voucher (subject to T&Cs)?

    • Yes

      • Great. Is it therefore not almost a no-brainer or am I missing something?

        A weekend night in an IC for a net cost of 27,000 points + all the other benefits.

        • Paolo says:

          It’s ‘free’, but you have to pay an inflated rate for the Ambassador Weekend Night that goes with it, ie you can’t book the best available rate to go with the ambassador ‘free’ night but have to book it using a special code ( so while it’s still relatively cheap in that you get 2 nights, th second night is not really “free” as one would normally define it.

        • It is usually (not always, admittedly) Best Flex so only inflated to the extent that you would have booked a pre-paid rate. If you wouldn’t have pre-paid it usually is genuinely free.

        • Kipto says:

          Quite right. To be honest I get much better value from my ambassador status staying at crowne plazas. Get breakfast for free and been upgraded to very nice rooms. The free night ambassador weekend rate can be very expensive compared to the advance purchase rate. It depends on how flexible you are and whether you may cancel. The guaranteed upgrade varies across Inter Continentals. Some wil give you a room with a better view as an upgrade whilst others will give you a suite. Staying as an ambassador when booking on points is a lottery and any updrade are at the whim of the check in desk.

  16. OT but IHG related.

    I live in Cumbria and have a 1 night freebie with IHG from my Barclaycard which will expire mid-August. No trips to London planned which counts out the 2 Intercontinental’s there, so which hotels between Birmingham and Edinburgh (i.e. a 3 hour driving radius) would people pick as a good redemption?

    • Jamie P says:

      Hotels in Edinburgh during the festival are very expensive. Am sure you would get good value there.

  17. I’ve never been able to get on board with Ambassador due to the fact that it does not give you automatic access to the Club Lounge. This is the one reason why I have not signed up to it, as I know I can walk into any Conrad or Sofitel and get the lounge access. I mean it doesn’t even get you breakfast of any sort, which is an absolute joke.

    • An absolute joke? Not really. It’s a status you can buy for less than the price of one night at a Conrad, and that status Chinese with a free night certificate. I would say that the net cost of ambassador is no more than 20 quid, and for me it is less than zero. Of course it doesn’t come with lounge access and breakfast.

    • On a long weekend, 4pm check out is very valuable. Same in, say, New York with a late flight back.

      • Agree with that. Late check-out last Tuesday from IC TS for an 8pm flight, worked perfectly. Unimpressed with the IC TS however. Very much a “bed factory” as Rob has commented more than once.

  18. Chris says:

    Does the Ambassador upgrade and 4pm checkout apply to the Intercontinental Alliance hotels in Las Vegas such as the Palazzo?

    • It did for me.

      • Janeyferr says:

        The Palazzo told me 2pm was standard late checkout for a Gold Ambassador, and suggested later could be arranged with a fee. I only wanted 1pm, so I didn’t find out about the fee.

    • It worked for me too! 6pm and a massive suite upgrade.

  19. I don’t really find the benefits very consistent, I’d say about half my stays get no upgrade. They admittedly I don’t then start pushing it at the front desk, but I feel awkward doing this, which is why I like the idea of guaranteed upgrades where you shouldn’t have to haggle. At the last IC I stayed in too, they couldn’t check me in on time which they blamed on another Ambassador having late checkout – takes away much of that guaranteed benefit if it means they can’t check you in on time either! Having (thanks to HfP) matched to Hilton Diamond, I find the Hilton benefits of free breakfast and lounge access are much more consistently provided. I get that Ambassador can be bought, but being Spire Ambassador (which in theory is much harder to get) doesn’t carry much weight when RA exists.

  20. Frances says:

    How could I match my IHG Royal Ambassador status to Hilton Diamond?
    Many thanks for info.