Why InterContinental Ambassador is a loyalty programme I am happy to pay for

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Last week I wrote about potential changes that IHG is considering for the ‘pay to play’ InterContinental Ambassador loyalty scheme.  You can read that article here.

At the time, I promised to run another overview of InterContinental Ambassador for the benefit of those readers who are not familiar with it.  I am happy to hand over $200 for each year of benefits and I thought I would explain why.

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 hotels do 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 review

And yet, despite the $200 fee ($150 or $200 to renew depending on benefits), I consider Ambassador a good deal and have been a member for a number of years.  This review summarises why it works for me.

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 Ambassador Weekend Rate, usually equal to Best Flexible Rate. The rules say that only standard rooms can be booked. However, many hotels let you book club rooms or suites which is especially useful for families.

(As the Ambassador Weekend 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 cheaper pre-paid rate.  It is totally free if you would otherwise have booked at Best Flexible Rate.)

A GUARANTEED one-level room upgrade on every InterContinental stay – 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 or on a trip 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 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.

Renewal is even cheaper at just $150 and you receive another ‘free weekend night’ certificate.  More interestingly, on renewal you are offered a second option for an extra $50:

Renew for $200 instead of the standard $150, and

Receive 15,000 bonus IHG Rewards Club points and

Receive a 10% points rebate on all of your redemption bookings – across all brands – for the following year.  I find that this really adds up which makes the $200 renewal option the best choice for me.

You can learn more about InterContinental Ambassador here if it sounds interesting.

It is worth remembering that InterContinental is returning to Edinburgh next year.  On the other hand, we don’t yet know how the newly acquired Regent Hotels luxury chain will fit in with Ambassador, especially as some InterContinental hotels are expected to be rebranded.  InterContinental Hong Kong is already confirmed to return to the Regent name.

For new members, there is an option to use 40,000 IHG Rewards Club points instead of paying $200 in cash.   I would be looking for more than $200 of value when redeeming 40,000 points but you might have a different view.

There is also an invitation-only premium level called Royal Ambassador, where the benefits include free mini-bar access and higher level upgrades.  Whilst the criteria are not published it is believed to require $10,000 of annual spend at InterContinental properties.

(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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Comments

  1. If I’am ambassador and book the night with Free Night Voucher which comes with credit card, I will still get the upgrade and 4 pm checkout?

    • Genghis says:

      Just one night using the Free Night Voucher? 4pm checkout guaranteed. Upgrade not but from experience you’ll likely receive one.

      Front the free night voucher with a cash booking / AMB “241” then more likely to receive a better upgrade.

      • Thank you Genghis. I just used AMB “241” last weekend in Amstel, so I was planning to go 1-2 nights with points and then finish it with Free Night Voucher in La Grand later this year. I can survive ‘no upgrade’ but the 4pm checkout is super useful for these short stays. Although upgrade would be nice.

        • As I say above I had an odd experience at Le Grand where I was initially refused a 4pm check-out on a free night cert. Eventually this was sorted but it was odd. Not had this issue elsewhere. Stand your ground if required.

  2. Richard Hurley says:

    With the Free night at the weekend, does it have to be a Saturday/Sunday or can it be Friday/saturday.

    Thanks for the help.

    • Genghis says:

      Either. In ME I think it’s Thu/Fri, Fri/Sat.

      • Note that the rules are that you pay for the first night and get the second night free. It is not the average price of both nights divided by two. This can make a difference if pricing jumps around during your stay.

        • Quite – worked out very nicely for me in Lisbon where the Saturday night was significantly pricier than the Fri 🙂

  3. Quite possibly although you are only entitled to the 4pm check-out.

  4. No Bits today so posting here..

    SPG Amex – Double Points offer (1 additional Starpoint for 3 months).

    As a few people are aware here, since the start of August, this double points offer has turned into 33% extra points. I’ve been speaking to Amex chat today, after getting no where with the first person I said I wanted to make a formal complaint. They said they could put me on to a supervisor before making a complaint. This is what was said with the supervisor…

    Me:
    On 8th June 2018 I was offered double points on my purchases for 3 months (1 additional Starpoint for 3 months). Since 1st August, Starpoints no longer exist. Starpoints and now simply called ‘Points’. This is due to the merger between Starwood and Marriott. All Starpoints have been converted to ‘Points’ at a rate of x3. That is why the earning rate on the SPG Amex changed from 1 Starpoint per £1 spent to 3 ‘Points’ per £1 spent. The double points offer that I am meant to have in place on my account from 8th June until 8th September (1 additional Starpoint per £1 spent), should therefore have become 3 additional ‘Points’ per £1 spent since 1st August. It seems clear this is simply an IT error at Amex. The IT system has changed to an earning rate of 3 ‘Points’ per £1, but it has not updated the bonus point earning from 1 Starpoint to to 3 ‘Points’.

    Amex supervisor:
    The offer that you were given for not cancelling the account was not doubling you points but it was giving you an extra point for every GBP spend. This means, you have an expectation that it will double the three points you now get, into 6 points whereas, in reality, you get 3 + 1 point for every GBP spend.

    Me:
    It was clearly stated as double points – 1 additional Starpoint per £1
    As I have already explained above, Starpoints no longer exist. Starpoints are now called ‘Points’. So I should be getting 3 bonus ‘Points’ instead of 1 ‘Starpoint’

    Amex supervisor:
    That was because you got 1 point before the SPG changes but that’s why it says 1 additional point per GBP. Now you are getting 3 points but the bonus offer remains same and you get 3 + 1 point in total.
    That word won’t change it into 3 points unfortunately. This is how you are going to get your points and we cannot change it.

    • Genghis says:

      So what’s your POA?

      • POA?

      • Just been on the phone to Amex again. I’ve made a formal complaint. Got put through to someone in the ‘executive office’ who actually seemed to fully understand the problem. They’ve promised a response within 3 days.

        • Keep us updated please.

          I’m in the same situation (as i’m sure are many others).

          I was sure they would just manually adjust!

        • rams1981 says:

          Amex customer service has been an utter shambles over SPG.

        • Damn right, they are a total shambles, totally clueless about everything that’s going on. I’ll keep you updated. Fingers crossed it gets sorted, they just need to adjust their IT, it can’t be that hard to do! The problem has been getting to understand the problem!

    • Keep us updated! – I’m in the same boat! – I got offered ‘Double points’ yesterday – which I took.

      On the Phone I was quoted double points and also 1 extra point per £1 (instead of the usual 1 per £)

      I’m awaiting a phone call back from them (got fed up of arguing yesterday when I realised it had changed to 3 points ) – as obviously in my eyes the ‘double part’ should indicate 3 points, not the 1!

      • In theory I’ll get a response from them today. I believe the the important thing to push them on is that the double points is showing on their own website and app as “1 additional Starpoint for 3 months.” The exchange rate is 1 Starpoint to 3 ‘points’. They can’t claim to be giving us 1 Starpoint but in fact only be giving us 1 point.

  5. How does ambassador program combine with Virtuoso benefits for the IC part of Virtuoso?

    • It doesn’t. (EDIT: expanded below)

      • Optimus Prime says:

        I think some readers with AMB reported in the past getting a double upgrade when booking stays at IC’s through FHR?

        • Yep, not ICs but have combined hotel loyalty & FHR previously to good effect. Definitely doesn’t do any harm 🙂

        • You can’t book a 2-night stay via Virtuoso for their perks and then plonk down your AMB certificate at check-out and demand one night is free.

          However if you book via FHR or Virtuoso and put your Ambassador number in the booking then you may get an additional upgrade and you will get 4pm check-out.

  6. I suspect a wider shake up of Ambassador is on the cards.

    I was recently speaking to a very senior IC GM (managing a region and multiple properties) who seemed to have a pretty good view of future Strategy.

    He implied that the minibar for RA’s would be going to be replaced by more drinks vouchers but that there would be a wider shakeup to give broader benefits beyond IC Properties. I had been griping that beyond IC’s there was just too much inconsistency in that the Indigos and CP’s I sometimes need to stay in for business trips might treat me really well (with a good upgrade, lounge access, free bottle of wine etc.) or really badly (with a car park view and no lounge access). I have had this happen even when two properties are owned by the same company (e.g. the CP Solihull and CP Stratford-upon-Avon both owned by Valor).

    I was told that I would be very pleased by the changes that are being made to AMB and RA, my interpretation of this was that perhaps there would be greater extension of AMB at the higher end brands of the IC Portfolio (e.g. Regent, Kimpton and Voco sharing AMB benefits).

    This would to me close something of a gap, potentially provide an alternate path for the better CP’s to rebrand as Kimpton (which is a weak brand in Europe) and has some parallels with Ritz Carlton Rewards vs Marriott Rewards in the past.

  7. Premier01 says:

    OT- as a craft beer fan heading to the Virgin Atlantic pop up bar now for a couple of hours- shout up if any other HFPers about!

  8. Andrew S says:

    O/T: update on my spg Amex card missing points going into my spg account from last statement. These have now landed in my spg account. One month late. No action by me (I’ve been travelling so not bothered with contacting Amex or spg).
    I also am on the extra starpoint for 3 months so will see how that lands out next month.

    • Ah thank you Andrew. My missing points in to.

      • Mine too. Thanks for highlighting this as I probably wouldn’t have checked today otherwise.

    • Same here. I was just about to but marriott points for a TP when I got the update. Good timing. I had given up chasing – tthe last update was they would not credit before merger.

  9. None of those statuses in IHG rewards give you free breakfast. Hilton is still is then…

    When out and about, I need a bed, a shower, and breakfast. Most of these places charge extortionate amounts (25 quid for cooked breakfast???), so the number one perk for me is free breakfast. Late checkout doesn’t matter, most of these hotels have a concierge that will keep your luggage.

    • Wally1976 says:

      +1

    • Pangolin says:

      100% agree.

      Comped breakfast is way more important than guaranteed late checkout, although I’ll take that as well, if it’s on offer (since I regularly travel from Europe to Asia, early check-in is actually a bigger deal for me).
      It’s not just IHG that has shortcomings in this respect. I’ve been Platinum in Marriott for nearly 3 years but they usually force you to take breakfast in the lounge rather than the main restaurant (so powdered scrambled eggs, miniature hot dog sausages and skinny bacon strips is as good as it gets).

      Whereas for Hilton even Gold status (pretty easy to get even for people not into ‘travel hacking’) gets you a full breakfast in the restaurant.

  10. You say intercontinental don’t officially recognise IHG status, whilst I don’t doubt that in general, and indeed had a rather lukewarm reception in Paris, I’ve got to say that the IC London Park Lane bent over backwards for me on a recent visit, and that was on a free night from credit card annual spend. I got the free drinks voucher handwritten x2 (as there were two of us in the room), and I also got an email today saying they gave me welcome points as well. I also got a delivery to the room of the fruit bowl and bottle of water normally reserved for Ambassadors, and a voucher for £15 credit on any mini-bar purchases. They also told me my room had been upgraded from what I had booked. Every one I interacted with thanked me for being a Platinum member.

    • I used credit card free night cert at Park Lane and was totally disappointed as a Spire Ambassador.
      – Room overlooking Hyde park when I requested green park, so ended up with a terrible room.
      – had to ask for a cot 4 times
      – had to ask for the fruit bowl 4 times
      – they forgot our drinks order
      – tried to charge us for the free drinks
      – late checkout requested twice, still had to get new key cut as locked out

      I don’t want to be all “entitled” but we rarely stay at IC so if you don’t get the benefits you’ve paid for, then Ambassador is poor value. Worth a complaint maybe?

      • Sorry to hear such a bad experience for a genuine Ambassador!

        Though your final point, I have often requested late checkout in various hotels, and always the key expires at noon the last day and has to be re-activated for the last couple of hours. Standard security so that if you accidentally walk off with it, it will be useless.

        • Interesting re: security, but they should tell you that in advance so you’re not in a mad panic to catch a train as a result!

  11. Graham Walsh says:

    Just had a big survey from Curve regarding new features and Amex. Sure someone else mentioned it the other day too. Finally they are updating my card.

    • KBuffett says:

      Updating your card in what way? The the (not so new) debut card?

    • What sort of features are they proposing? Increased limits and Amex usage for a monthly fee?

      • Monthly fee for various types of insurance (travel, gadget etc), customised card, metal card, Amex usage, what new banks do you use if any, what perks would you pay for, 0% fx, how would you pay for these benefits (one off, monthly, annual, % of card spend, not at all). What would pay for these perks per month (up to £40), what would be a good travel insurance benefit such as cancelled flights, lost bags, delayed departure etc. Also they ask if you would like to pick the perks or have a pre defined bundle.

        Then they ask if they were to support Amex what would you pay to use this. Also they mention would you “top up” your account to use your Amex (and then all cards).

  12. When can I renew my Ambassador membership as I have a planned stay which I would like the 10% rebate on?

  13. “Renewal is even cheaper at just $150 and you receive another ‘free weekend night’ certificate and 10,000 bonus IHG Rewards Club points.”

    I can’t see 10,000 bonus for $150 renewal offer. Is this bonus gone? I can still see 15,000 bonus for $200 renewal.

  14. I have already ‘spent’ my next year’s free weekend certificate and my renewal date is the 1st October. Given the possible changes would you recommend renewing now or wait and see?

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