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. Genghis says:

    “the benefits are GUARANTEED on paid stays. They are NOT guaranteed on reward stays”
    Not quite. Some benefits are guaranteed.

    “When staying on Reward Nights and on Best Price Guaranteed Free Nights, all Ambassador and Royal Ambassador Privileges apply with the exception of upgrades, Club Lounge access (Royal Ambassadors), Mini bar beverages (Royal Ambassadors), free Pay-TV film per stay, 24-hour guaranteed room availability (Royal Ambassador) and 8:00 am early check-in (Royal Ambassador – where a cost is applicable)”

    https://www.ihg.com/intercontinental/content/gb/en/ambassador/terms-conditions

    So you are still guaranteed 4pm late check out, snack and water. In practice, as you say, you usually get most benefits. We’ve had some great upgrades while using points and even got free breakfast at Le Grand.

    • I think they’d be better rewording it the way you did, Genghis, given how many benefits are *not* provided! At least it’s not a total blanket ban.

  2. I’m tempted… Is it easy (or possible) to use the ambassador certificate and IHG credit card free night together to make a 3 night stay? If so is there any benefit to using the cc for night 1 or night 3?

    • Genghis says:

      Yes. But through separate bookings that ask hotel to then link. I’ll occasionally have a booking as AMB followed by wife’s points booking (non-AMB). Put the “better” paid nights first.

    • Roger1* says:

      We had a week at the IC Johannesburg this year, using:
      – 2 nights with a 2-4-1 certificate;
      – 1 credit card ‘free’ night;
      – 2 nights using my points;
      – 2 nights using Mrs Roger’s points (we are both Ambassador members.),
      so 7 nights of which just one was revenue.

      Complimentary breakfast and lounge snacks.

      Oddities:
      – we had to check out and check in again for each reservation, in spite of having them linked in advance as one stay;
      – numerous extra key cuttings;
      – my gift was a useful pair of headphones, my wife’s was a nougat bar. 😀 Oddly, I can’t seem to place them at the moment …

      I’m planning something similar for our imminent 5-night stay at the IC Vienna using our €0.01 ‘Vueling Austria’ tickets.

      • Roger1* says:

        EDIT (if I could): the 2-4-1 certificate in the second line was the Ambassador 2nd night free certificate.

    • If night 1 is rather more expensive than nights 2/3 you might as well put the free night first – unless you are absolutely certain paying for the more expensive nights (albeit at half price) is not going to be a waste of money

  3. Thanks for the advice.

  4. John O'Sullivan says:

    Had four nights at the IC Istanbul. Weekend certificate for first two days then paid night then reward night. Paid for club on the two nights we paid. Got upgraded to business suite and had club access including breakfast all four days.

  5. Do I understand correctly that benefits do not include complimentary breakfast and in order to have it, I need to pay a rate which includes breakfast (or to ask nicely for it at reception)?

    • You need to pay for it. I’ve had it comped once in San Francisco. I use Ambassador and have renewed over several years – benefits on redemptions are hit and miss and I’ve always taken issue with Rob’s comment about “most properties” giving you the benefits on a points stay. I would say some do sometimes. Whilst Genghis had a good experience with Le Grand in Paris I had to wrestle with reception staff about the 4pm check-out on a points stay but did get a one level upgrade.

    • Yes however with the ambassador certificate, unless it’s changed there are no free weekend night rates which include breakfast, except for those with club lounge access. Unless you would pay for lounge access anyway, this further lessons the value of the voucher because breakfast is usually much more expensive if not included in the room rate.

  6. Brussel Sprout says:

    In my experience, award stays do not get the ambassador discretionary benefits very often at all. I think you should apply your usual if its not guaranteed its not a worthwhile benefit policy. For example Intercontinental NY Barclay has a policy to not give benefits on a reward stay which is stated on a letter given to you each time you stay. I have also used points in Koh Samui and Paris in the last year and not got benefits. Its annoying to put your business their way and not get benefits when you most want them for leisure stays. Other chains offerings are free and the benefits are superior, e.g ftree breakfasts and upgrades more than one category. Agreed the free weekend benefit is good, but I struggle to get much more than the value I paid for the membership out of it as most hotels are cheaper at weekends

  7. Is Intercontinental really a “luxury” hotel brand?

    • Yes

    • Genghis says:

      I’d say it’s hotel dependent.

    • No because they fail on attention to detail and making you feel special which in my mind are the two differentiators between 5* on paper and true 5* properties.

      • We’re in complete agreement then Matt! At a push possibly “upscale” but certainly not “luxury”.

    • Not by Four Seasons standards, no, but most would not set the bar so high (says a man eating breakfast in a Travelodge).

      • Lady London says:

        In some ways I consider Premier Inn to be a “luxury”. I;ve had some really good stays in those.

        • I agree – I tend to stay in the Scarborough one once a year on a golfing weekend and the rooms are very impressive.

        • Genghis says:

          Premier Inn is best option in my opinion in my home town. Booked for just before Xmas: £80 for two nights. Goes down to £30 for non-peak weekends

      • I guess everybody’s definition of luxury is very different but any hotel that can offer a room for £300 on Park Lane can’t be luxury surely?

        • I was in a Travelodge yesterday, it is all relative! Although I really am not a fan of IC Park Lane …

      • Can’t wait for the review…

    • Yes if you stay at the IC Bali Resort. No if you use the IC Park Lane and my recent experience at The Willard was dire.
      I liked both the Barclay and the IC Times Square.
      Prague is a nice hotel but ugly building and Budapest is great. My favourite city IC is Sydney.

      • It’s just subjective really. Yes to the Bali IC if in the Club section (not really otherwise) and certainly not at the IC Times Square. On the other hand the bar area and the Theo Randall restaurant in the Park Lane IC yes – the rest of the hotel I couldn’t say. I like the IC Bangkok but the pool area is lacking.

      • Eh, I wasn’t all that impressed with Sydney – apart from the view from the Club Lounge, it didn’t feel that luxurious to me. I never did get my welcome ‘gift’.

        Certainly wouldn’t bother staying there if you weren’t paying for the top Club room categories or an Ambassador.

      • Any info on IC Chicago?

    • Miami IC is a dump. On may last stay (in fact last ever IC stay) the room door looked like it had been kicked in on more than one occasion. The security door locks had no frame to lock to. AC not working so a really damp smell.
      Of course no other rooms available. If I had not just arrived off a TA flight with the time at 11.15pm I would have left.

    • Lady London says:

      Sone would say a brand can never be “luxury” 🙂

      For me, Fairmont hotels were “luxury” just about. I haven’t been in one since Accor took over though.

    • No. The IC Park Lane in London, in particular, is one of the most over-rated hotels I can think of.

  8. You say the room upgrade is usually visible online. This certainly used to be the case. but I can’t seem to find any sign of it these days since the IHG website “upgrade”. Any tips?

    • Genghis says:

      Always shows in the app usually day before check in if not morning of.

      • Indeed, interestingly I received an email from Hotel Indigo (whilst staying in IC Berlin!) to let me know I’d been upgraded for my stay that night – ended up being a triple upgrade to a very nice corner room with balcony.

    • The only times I haven’t received the upgrade the hotel has downgraded me/ refunded the booking and upgraded me back to my room – which tends to happen when they run out of the higher end suites (esp in Bangkok – where they only have a few of the higher end suites which seem popular.)

      After that upgrades showing in the app/ website is definitely how proactive the hotel reservations team are. On my upcoming bookings through October my IC bookings which are are showing the room upgrade at the moment are Bangkok, Singapore and the two hotels in Bora Bora Sydney, Hong Kong (on 3 separate bookings) and Tahiti (two bookings) not so much.

  9. Felix Flyer says:

    Am staying in Cairo and just stayed at the IC City Stars. Was offered a selection of welcome gifts (eg one of local gift, 6pm check out, 10% off food bill etc) presumably as pay movies not available. Soon to stay at the other IC at Semiramis to compare. My question is whether you should still get your IHG platinum gift offered at ICS? They seem to be more lax and I had to push to get a free drink.

    • Officially I don’t think the normal IHG tiers of platinum, spire etc are supposed to apply at InterContinental? In practice though it depends on the hotel. As spire ambassador my drinks voucher is usually good for a cocktail instead of a small beer… yay

  10. thehornets says:

    “However, many hotels let you book club rooms or suites which is especially useful for families”

    Rob, can this be done online or do you need to ‘sweet talk’ someone in a call centre? I am considering this for a Las Vegas trip soon (IC Palazzo or Venetian)

    • Optimus Prime says:

      Palazzo and Venetian are all suites hotels, all over 700 sq ft.

      If you book the basic suite with a view they’ll upgrade you to a Fortuna Suite – 920 sq ft or something like that.

    • May not work in Vegas as these are not proper IC hotels. You book online at intercontinental.com/ambweekend where you can see what the hotel has chosen to offer.

  11. If you are a Spire Elite member is it worth paying to be an Ambassador as well?

    • In a word, Yes. ICs don’t always recognise Spire status. Some of the key benefits of Spire become guaranteed with Ambassador (i.e. Room Upgrade and Late Check Out). Plus with Ambassador you get a free 2nd night on a weekend booking. This should return far more than the $200 cost alone.

    • I disagree with Phil. Firstly, ICs do always recognise Spire, but the benefits of Spire at IC hotels are double base points earned on paid stays, 600 welcome points, free wifi and maybe a free newspaper.

      So, you should decide on whether to buy Ambassador on its own merits.

      Even if you have no IHG status and purchase Ambassador (which would then give you IHG Gold automatically), you will be higher on the pecking order than a Spire non-Ambassador for any sort of above and beyond benefits.

      Upgrade and late checkout are not really benefits of Spire, it’s up to the hotel. If it’s only half occupied, an IHG Gold non-Amb would probably get upgraded too

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