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Bits: IHG increases Ambassador costs if you pay points, what I’m reviewing in the Middle East next week

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News in brief:

IHG Rewards Club pushes up the price of Ambassador …. if you pay with points

It seems that even IHG Rewards Club admits that it has devalued its points with the changes to reward pricing over the last couple of years.

Joining Ambassador used to cost $200 or 32,000 IHG Rewards Club points.  Without notice, that was increased to 40,000 points last week.

Even more startling was the rise in renewal costs.  Renewal is usually $150 or 24,000 points.  It has now jumped to $150 or 40,000 points.  I actually recommend you take the 3rd option for renewal, which is to pay $200 but receive 15,000 points back plus a 10% rebate on all of your points bookings for the year.

This change is not hugely surprising.  Whenever IHG was running a 100% ‘buy points’ last year (and it has got addicted to these offers recently) it was cheaper to buy the points than pay for Ambassador for cash …..

What is InterContinental Ambassador?

If you don’t know how the Ambassador scheme works, read on.  (If you do, scroll down to the next story!)

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 or 40,000 points to join

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, most hotels let you book club rooms or suites – this is an important benefit, especially if you have children and want larger rooms.

(As Best Flexible Rate is more expensive than a non-refundable Advance Purchase rate, your free night is not totally free if you would otherwise have booked a pre-paid rate as you have paid a few Euros or $ more.  It is totally free if you would otherwise have booked at Best Flexible Rate though.)

GUARANTEED one-level room upgrade – this is usually processed before you arrive and is visible online

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!

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 even 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.

What am I reviewing in the Middle East next week?

For the last two years I have managed to find an excuse to escape the dismal British winter weather and head down to the Middle East for a couple of days.

I didn’t have an angle this year …. until 30th November 2017.  For about 6 hours, SWISS accidentally made First Class reward seats available on their aircraft.

SWISS First is only bookable as a reward if you are a Gold / Senator status member of their Miles & More programme.  You cannot book it if you do not have M&M status or only have miles in another Star Alliance programme.

Most of the SWISS First Class tickets booked during those 6 hours in November via partner programmes such as Air Canada’s Aeroplan were cancelled.  My ticket, booked via their own Miles & More scheme, was not cancelled.

I am looking forward to this.  I have flown SWISS First Class before but not since 2013 when they changed the rules on who could book.  It is a well regarded product – although they are off to a bad start by insisting that I pay for seat selection.  Even BA doesn’t stoop that low for First Class.

I have tried to squeeze in as much as I can for the time I am there, including my first visit to a Hyatt Place, a day at the Waldorf-Astoria on the Palm and a night at the tallest standalone hotel in the world, the JW Marriott Marquis.

Coming home, I am trying Royal Jordanian via Amman.  Royal Jordanian is a oneworld partner and bookable with Avios but few people know much about it.  With brand new Boeing 787 aircraft now flying between London and Amman, it seemed time to try it.  (The ban on in-cabin electronics on flights from Jordan has been lifted if you fly Royal Jordanian.)

Keep an eye out for these review on HFP throughout February.

(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.)

Fly Iberia's A350 with its new flat bed business class to Madrid this Summer
Bits: 300 bonus Avios at Charles Tyrwhitt, how to get to Heathrow for £1.50, Surf-Air adds ski flights to Sion
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  1. Dominic Barrington says:

    I flew AMM/LHR in RJ Business Class in November (and, indeed, the bizarrely short TLV/AMM hop). I was very impressed by it. There is a sort of old-fashioned feel to it (lunch was served ‘properly’ from a trolley), but it was very pleasant. It’s not on a par with the big Middle East carriers, but the seat was comfortable and the hospitality good. The IFE did not seem to have a huge amount of choice, but this was only a fairly short flight. I don’t know how I would view it as a choice for ‘long’ long haul or overnight, but I was very happy.

  2. Swiss First was our first ever redemption after we got into this points and miles game.
    Flying CPH-NRT as a student thanks to BMI Diamond club is what got us hooked nearly 10 years ago!
    It was truly a first class experience, though I don’t recall paying for seat allocation then …

  3. AndyGWP says:

    “The key thing about Ambassador is that, once you are a member, the benefits are GUARANTEED on paid stays.”

    Apols for the dumb question – but assume these benefits are only on direct bookings? (no benefits received via. third party bookings?)

  4. My AMB is up for renewal in a few days time…last year, my renewal also extended my Spire Elite for 12 months but a post on Loyalty Lobby last Nov suggests this was a glitch and no longer works now:

    Can anyone confirm for sure?

    • Please report back your findings as mine is due next month. Renewal is also an accelerate target.

  5. OT but has anyone flown Gulf Air in Falcon (business) class recently ?

    I have been offered some sub £1000 returns on LHR-BAH-BKK on A330 aircraft and whilst I see they might still only have 160 degree seats, I am wondering whether the short flights (14/15 hours) and cheap fare are worth it compared to the ME3.

    By contrast, the ME3 are offering similar dates for £1800/2000 per seat and as I’m buying 3, the difference is material.

    • Hard to argue, to be honest, if you’re near Heathrow and doing an ex-Europe is painful. You can credit some fare classes to American or Cathay. On the other hand …. Qatar would be 560 tier points – and 16,000 Avios and a better seat – so you need to think what value you’d put on BA Silver.

  6. Re IHG Ambassador, does anyone know – if you renew with the 10% rebate option, would already-made (but not yet stayed) redemption bookings qualify? Or does the booking have to be made during that membership year, as well as the stay? (I have a fairly hefty points stay coming up a few weeks after my renewal date… not currently on the rebate option, but could renew with it.)

    • To be honest, I have benefited from this option for about 5 years now and I am no nearer understanding exactly how it works. I am sure that I have occasionally been paid for cancelled rooms and multiple times for the same room. At other times I have gone ages without getting any rebates.

    • Need to rebook

    • Thanks both – will ponder…

      • I went for the 10% rebate option. No regrets. Was able to rebook all stays no problem – usually if you cancel a reward booking it goes straight back into reward inventory but not always. I now do duplicate bookings so I can then rebook (and take advantage of Accelerate targets of booking reward stays etc when released / rebook when get credit card voucher etc) without losing certainty of having a booking in place.

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