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InterContinental Ambassador planning changes this year

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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

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.


IHG Rewards update – July 2021:

Get bonus points: The current IHG Rewards promotion is ‘Triple Your Points’ – our full article is here. It runs from 15th May to 16th August. You receive double base points on your second stay and triple base points on your third and subsequent stays. You can register on this page of ihg.com.

New to IHG Rewards?  Read our two-part overview of IHG Rewards here and here and our article on expiry rules here.

Buy points: If you need additional IHG Rewards points, you can buy them here.

There is a 75% bonus when you buy IHG Rewards points by 13th August.

Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from IHG and the other major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Offers’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.

Comments (57)

  • 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.

  • 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)?

    • Rob says:

      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 🙂

  • ww says:

    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.

  • 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…

  • uk1 says:

    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.

  • Liz says:

    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?

    • Rob says:

      Rumour is end of 2016 so hopefully you’ll be OK.

      • Liz says:

        Ok thanks – I’ll diary it for the end of the year and have another look then.

  • M says:

    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)?

    • Rob says:

      Yes

      • M says:

        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.

          • Rob says:

            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.

  • Andy says:

    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.

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