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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:

InterContinental Ambassador

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.  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 Amstel

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.

IHG One Rewards update – December 2022:

Get bonus points: You will earn bonus IHG One Rewards points on stays between 13th October 2022 and 31st December 2022. You can choose between 2,000 points for every two nights or 10,000 points for every four nights (not cumulative). Read this article for full details. You can register here.

New to IHG One Rewards?  Read our overview of IHG One Rewards here and our article on points expiry rules here. Our article on ‘What are IHG One Rewards points worth?’ is here.

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

You will receive a 100% bonus if you buy IHG One Rewards points by 29th December 2022.

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 (69)

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  • Liz Forrest says:

    Hi, are these benefits applicable if you booked the stay with United Airlines Hotels ? I’ve booked 7 nights next June with UA and I paid for Ambassador. But now wondering if it’s just strife you book with IHG ?

    • Alan says:

      Suspect it will depend on property but given it’s a 3rd party booking I be prepared for them to deny many of the benefits!

  • Ralphy says:

    So glad I’ve moved my loyalty to Marriott and gaining platinum elite with the challenge, and now Hilton Diamond with the status match, since retiring and paying for my own hotel stays.

    I have 150k IHG points but am struggling to see value in them these days. Would much rather have the benefits Marriott and Hilton provide compared to IHG and Ambassador. Ambassador does not even get Club Lounge entry.

    • John says:

      Not saying that IHG is a great program, but why do you think a yearly fee of $200 should come with free entry to lounges, when hotels charge $30-$100 premium per night for club rooms?

      • Ralphy says:

        I’m saying that the Ambassador programme is a con and absolutely not worth it, if one goes by the rules.

        • Rob says:

          True …. if hotels did stick to the letter rules (no benefits on reward stays, only standard rooms bookable with the 241 voucher) it would be a lot worse.

    • Genghis says:

      I can see value in the easy to collect points even if it means no lounge (most Hilton and Marriott lounges don’t have great food anyway) and having to get breakfast outside (I get tired of hotel breakfasts from work stays anyway).

    • Craig says:

      As a Spire Ambassador I accumulate points very quickly, I only use them for city centre stays where there are always lots of options for breakfast nearby. I’m with Genghis on hotel breakfasts, there are some exceptions but after 100+ buffet breakfast a year with work I’m happy to try something different for leisure!

    • Alan says:

      Interesting – I’ve moved away from Marriott after the chaos of their SPG merger (used to like that programme). IHG points easy to accumulate so find them decent value.

  • Graeme says:

    “Royal Ambassador members will get two free breakfasts per night“ – how fantastically decadent! “Excuse me madam, when will you be taking your second breakfast?”

  • Ian M says:

    Very disappointing that the 4pm check is no longer guaranteed! Huge downgrade. It’s the one thing Marriott does well. I’m very much enjoying being Hilton Diamond since doing status match in July, but I’m yet to get a decent late checkout time. Best I seem to get is 1pm.

  • Nigel the pensioner says:

    Surely INTERCONTINENTAL ambassador means just that and not Kimpton or any other sub brand. They could do themselves a favour and rebrand some of their smarter properties as IC to bring the brand image back up to what it was…..imho.

  • Benylin says:

    “To use the voucher, you need to book a 2-night weekend stay and pay the Best Flexible Rate for the other night.”

    So is it pay 2 nights get 1 free (3 total)? Or buy 1 get 1 free (total 2).

    Thanks 🙂

    • Genghis says:

      If you normally don’t book best flex it’s buy c1.2 get 2 nights.

    • Rob says:

      Buy 1, Get 1 Free. Strictly speaking you pay for the 1st night and the 2nd is free which may or may not work against you.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Worked nicely for me last time I used it. Second night was significantly more than the first.

  • Simon says:

    Renewing Ambassador: if I had Ambassador a couple of years ago, let it lapse, but was interesting in taking out this status again, would this count as a renewal (@ $50.00 cheaper) or a fresh application (@ $200.00)? Thanks! 🙂

  • Dan says:

    Out of interest, how do you obtain Royal Ambassador? I had 110 stays in IHG last year (mix of mainly Crowne Plaza but also Intercontinental/Holiday Inn). Does that even get me close?

    Also, with regards to “normal” Ambassador for the free weekend night voucher, what rate do you have to book on the one night in order to obtain the free night? Because I guess full flex rate for one night can be as expensive as a discounted rate for two nights…?

    • Genghis says:

      You book the AMB rate.

    • John says:

      Unofficially, you will get RA in the next calendar year, after you have spent over $10K or so in the currentl calendar year in multiple IC properties only (CP and HI are not relevant to Ambassador in any way, but having at least one Kimpton stay might help). Total number of nights seems to be unrelated. Sometimes you get a targeted challenge towards the end of the year.

      You don’t book one night for BOGOF, you book two nights at using the “Ambassador Certificate” rate. When you check in and present the certificate they will take the second night off the bill. I don’t think you can even book a one night stay using this rate

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