Are these the 2019 changes to IHG’s Ambassador and Royal Ambassador schemes?

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Back in August we ran an article on changes that IHG Rewards Club was proposing to make to its Ambassador loyalty scheme.

Via leaked documents on Flyertalk, there are rumours (via a document shown to a guest at an InterContinental in China) of what these changes are.  First, however, some background for readers who don’t know how Ambassador works.

Putting InterContinental Ambassador in context

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.  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!

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.

InterContinental Ambassador changes

What are the proposed changes?

According to Flyertalk, there will be changes for Ambassador members from March 2019.

This is apparently the new benefits package:

Platinum status in IHG Rewards Club – IMPROVEMENT (currently Gold)

Breakfast for ONE person on InterContinental stays – IMPROVEMENT (currently no breakfast benefit)

Free weekend night certificate – NO CHANGE

Welcome fruit platter – DOWNGRADE (currently welcome gift, mineral water and fruit)

Guaranteed room upgrade – NO CHANGE

Guaranteed 4pm check-out – NO CHANGE

Ambassador Benefit Guarantee – see below

Members will lose the free pay TV movie benefit.

What is the Ambassador Benefit Guarantee?

If a hotel does not deliver either a) your guaranteed upgrade or b) your guaranteed 4pm check-out, you will receive a food and beverage or spa credit of $50, or 10,000 IHG Rewards Club points, per stay.  Note ‘per stay’ and not ‘per night’.

Will these benefits now apply to Kimpton and / or Regent hotels too?

Good question.  It would make sense to extend Ambassador benefits to the new Regent luxury properties, especially as some InterContinental hotels are likely to be rebranded as Regent.  I’m less sure about Kimpton, but let’s see.

InterContinental Ambassador changes

What do I think?

In general, assuming there is no change in the Ambassador annual fee, I think that these changes are positive.   I haven’t used the pay TV benefit in years.  I will miss the bottles of wine, cakes and other welcome amenities I received over the years, but trading this off for free breakfast is fine by me.  Swapping Gold status in IHG Rewards Club for Platinum is a clear improvement.

Just giving one free breakfast is a little odd, however.  I can imagine that IHG used this as a way to persuade hotels to ‘buy in’ to the process, since some couples on leisure trips who may previously have skipped breakfast may be tempted by ‘buy one, get one free’.  It has virtually no impact on corporate travellers as they would always get breakfast covered on expenses.

And yet …

Has IHG scored an own goal with the new ‘Ambassador Benefit Guarantee’?

Let’s look at this again.  If the hotel fails to deliver my ‘guaranteed’ upgrade or my ‘guaranteed’ late check-out, it must pay me $50 (not even cash, just a credit) or 10,000 points per stay.

THIS IS RUBBISH.  At the moment, ‘guaranteed’ means ‘guaranteed’.  An InterContinental needs to give me an upgrade and 4pm check-out – no discussions allowed.

If these plans are correct, from March a hotel can deliberately decide not to honour my ‘guaranteed’ upgrade and/or my ‘guaranteed’ 4pm check-out.  Do you think a $50 food and drink credit (not even cash) is going to worry it?  Similarly, if a hotel wants me out at 11am because it has a lot of high paying guests coming in, a $50 fine is a bargain.

If the sum was $500, or perhaps even $250, I might be more impressed.  But just a $50 food and beverage credit in return for refusing me an upgrade on a 3-4 night stay?  I don’t think so.

PS.  There are also going to be changes for uber-elite Royal Ambassador members, although I doubt we have more than a handful amongst our readers.  Royal Ambassador members will get two free breakfasts per night (but only if there is no lounge) – but the mini-bar benefit will now be capped, early check-in is now from 10am and not from 8am, and a hotel can now refuse to give ‘guaranteed’ lounge access if it pays a penalty of $100 per night.

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  1. Maybe this is a daft question, but after those changes take effect will it still make sense to have the IHG Premium credit card AND be a member of the Ambassador scheme?
    One of the main benefits of the card for me is that it gives you Platinum status, and if from now on Ambassador will give you the same, is there any sense to still pay for the two?

  2. People misunderstand the word “guarantee”. It has never meant that the guaranteed event will happen; it is simply a legal statement of the consequences should there be a failure to deliver. The extent of the penalty helps you assess the effort the person offering the guarantee is likely to expend in trying to deliver the original event.

    It is good that IHG has finally specified what will happen if they fail to deliver on some of their promises.

    However, I agree that the penalties offered are derisory and likely to encourage hotels to renege on their promises.

    And, as all my travel is personal, not business, and with my partner – also an Ambassador -, the breakfast-for-one benefit feels like a bit of a slap in the face.

  3. The issue the popular hotels seem to be facing is there are too many ambassadors. It is definitely an issue in Asia where european flights leave late into the night. 4 stays in HKG, and one in KUL and maybe one in BKK but they messed me around for 40 minutes checking in for some reason.) HKG it happened a lot this year this year where rooms have not been available for check in even when getting to the hotel around 4 from BA31 and once on 27 where you dont get downtown til 6ish.

    IC HKG has been very good at service recovery to me; far better than a 50 dollar credit – I was upgraded to a terrace suite twice this year. Personally would rather they increase the price of ambassador to reduce its use and keep the current check in / out benefits.The credits for breaking the benefits are too low for a lot of hotels – 50 USD is 2-3 coffee’s in the lobby @ hkg

  4. One word – disappointing.
    So far I’ve been very lucky with IC upgrades as mine are usually rooms booked with points and I still get an upgrade. I understand the exact legal meaning of ‘guaranteed’ but it’s all about customer expectations – if it says guaranteed then it should mean guaranteed and not a legalistic get-out.
    Also no mention of the 10% rebate which I found really handy over the years. Breakfast is a big tick although to be honest in most cities there are always far better places to have a breakfast such as in Paris, NYC or Vienna…
    As I said, disappointing but I guess we’ll have to see what happens on the front line check-in.

  5. If the $50/10,000 points hotel penalty PER STAY applies to the ‘guaranteed’ upgrade benefit this can be an easy way out for hotels to honour this benefit. On a five night stay, the hotel is in effect only paying $10 or 2,000 points credit PER NIGHT if they refuse to upgrade you.

    This devalues Ambassador immensely for the member, and provides incentives for the hotel not to honour the ‘guarantee’.

    • Yup. Which was my point.

      To be fair, I accept that IHG may have cocked up and not thought this through.

      • Don’t they do any testing as we would with software before going live into production ?

        Surely these are not just the personal whims of the CEO and everyone else is scared to tell him he is talking bollocks ?

        • Of course this ‘leak’ that has happened may of course be IHG doing just that 😉 (probably not, but it has been known for loyalty programmes to do something like this to test the waters!)

  6. Wow, pretty rubbish! I see fruit platter only for China too – they’ve certainly not done everywhere else many favours!

    • Agree, not very impressed with $20 per stay – it wouldn’t encourage me to spend anything on F&B in the hotel, except for using up the credit with mini bar spend. Just stayed in a WA resort which gave $30/day breakfast credit, and with the current ‘triple points at resorts’ offer got more points back than I would have at IHG, even taking into account IHG points being worth slightly more than Hilton. You need Hilton status to get the breakfast credit, but if you have the old Hilton credit card this is easier than getting Spire with IHG.

      • Even the fruit platter says China only. What a swizz! Can I get a refund of my ambassador fee??

  7. I think you still get the fruit… what it’s saying is that in China you ONLY get the fruit IF you’re a PLAT/SPIRE AMB
    But it’s not clear…

  8. If you’ve renewed prior to announcing the changes is it possible to cancel your membership and request a refund?

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