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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 – October 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.

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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  • Brussels Sprout says:

    Very few hotels are giving ambassador benefits on reward stays in my experience – 0 out of 4 this year so far

    • Kip says:

      On the other hand, I’ve never not received full benefits from a reward stay.

      I’m a bit surprised about the ‘standard room’ thing. I’m pretty certain if you click through the Amb rates search then all the rooms show whether a certificate rate is available.

      As long as you appreciate that IC don’t give away Club Lounge access then the Ambassador is a good program. They’re not going to upgrade you to a £10k Presidential suite but will always upgrade in my experience. For paid stays, when booking more than one room – even under different names – they will often upgrade both rooms which they have no obligation to do.

      • Genghis says:

        Even on two reward stays. My wife as SE and me as SE AMB had both rooms upgraded at Amstel. My parents in law loved that one.

      • Rob says:

        The weekend cert was always meant to be standard room only but most open it up, which is how we used it on harbour view junior suites in HK last year.


      Never not been upgraded on an award stay.

  • Jovanna says:

    Any perk, unless it’s guaranteed, is not worth having. This is very disappointing.

  • David Jenkins says:

    The changes to the Ambassador programme are a bit depressing. I’ve been an Ambassador for years and have had some excellent suite upgrades, as well as bottles of champagne as a welcome gift on occasion. Removing the absolute upgrade guarantee puts the programme in pretty much the same place as other elite levels for other hotel groups, Hilton diamond, for example, except you have to pay for it! I stayed in a Waldorf Astoria recently that was unable to offer an upgrade but offered my wife and I spa treatments worth £200 in compensation. It looks like the free Hilton programme could become more attractive than the paid Ambassador option.

  • John Matrix says:

    To be honest the free movie was one of the things I appreciated from Ambassador!

    I get breakfast @IC Frankfurt through my corporate rate + the welcome gifts range from jam…to marmalade. IHG are probably going to get phased out by Hilton & Marriott in 2019. A reward stay as top status should include breakfast for two imo, at the very least at CPs and Holiday Inns! Redeeming at Paris Le Grande for example and then getting stung with a huge breakfast bill doesn’t really feel like a reward stay.

  • Craig says:

    “It has virtually no impact on corporate travellers as they would always get breakfast covered on expenses”

    Au contraire… at least from the hotel’s perspective. Instead of getting a paid-for breakfast because the traveller doesn’t care about the cost, the hotel now has to give it away for free. Cannibalising your restaurant revenue hoping to attract more elites is always a tricky proposition to sell to franchisees.

    • Chris says:

      Exactly this – why else does a buffet breakfast often cost more than dinner at hotels?

      Because expense policies cap dinner spend but not breakfast and hotels aren’t thick…

  • Jonathan says:

    I always felt that the free movie was an excellent perk. Especially when traveling on my own for business.

  • Ben says:

    In case anyone is looking at renewing, I had an offer in my December points statement saying that they would give me 25,000 points to renew for $200 (instead of the usual 15,000). The link in the email didn’t work, and it took a few calls to an incredibly unhelpful Ambassador call centre, but they’ve ended up honouring it.

    The 4pm check out is the best benefit for me – a $50 credit is a huge step down (unless of course I have an early flight, in which case I’ll take it!).

  • Lostantipod says:

    I have had some awesome upgrades as an AMB , even on reward nights. Eg. IC London Park Lane, SFO.
    I can also think of IC hotels where the upgrade is quite clearly disingenuous – same room, same view, sometimes on the same floor as a standard room , but because they classify the room as a higher category , they are basically duping us with the upgrade , because a truly different room (eg. Larger, more amenities, club access, materially higher floor, or better view) is another category higher than the upgrade. Eg calling a corner room an upgrade when it is identical in every way to rooms down the hall including the view. IC Sydney and Stamford HK, I’m looking at you…..

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