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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 Rewards update – October 2021:

Get bonus points: You can earn up to triple IHG Rewards base points with IHG’s new Autumn promotion. It runs from 1st October to 31st December. You can register here and our full article on the offer is here.

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

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Comments (69)

  • Dan says:

    Just done a dummy booking in the Intercontinental Paris for a weekend next May to see the “real” value of the Ambassador Free Night certificate. Although I appreciate this is only one data point and someone else may be able to find a better example!

    Booked via Ambassador weekend rate = 1058 EUR for two nights (so 529 EUR total with 1 night free)

    Booked via IHG app advance purchase rate = 902 EUR for two nights

    Booked via IHG points during the latest 100% bonus offer = 120K Points = 506 EUR for two nights

    I have to admit that I start to balk at paying over 200 EUR a night anyway, regardless of hotel or city. I’d normally wait to accrue the points through work travel before I redeem for something like an Intercontinental. But that’s my personal opinion!

    • John Matrix says:

      Exactly, for many of us the voucher’s of no use – if I want to stay @ an IC for leisure purposes I’ll just use points & spare myself a huge bill

      • Kipto says:

        And you don’t pay taxes when using points which can increase the bill in the US by 16%

  • Hamza ambi says:

    Don’t want to be too negative. Just to point out to others, free certificate night is often much more expensive than other rates, including those with breakfasts, sometimes by over 100. So don’t base it all on this. Also availability I found is poor. Had to let both my pArtner and my cert lapse. Do your own research and check out special booking page.

  • Travel Strong says:

    I’ve read before that Palazzo/Venetian do not usually play ball when it comes to the ambassador programme, despite being branded as IC partners on the IHG site. If they *do* provide the benefits, I would sign up immediately! Anyone know about this?

    • Matt says:

      I’m staying at the Venetian in February but undecided whether it’s worth renewing my ambassador. Any thoughts?

      • Tracy says:

        Stayed at the Venetian last summer. Booked through amex travel using the £200 off a £600 spend. As I booked through amex and not direct I got nada as Ambassador.

        • Travel Strong says:

          My next trip is through the same offer, but based on comment below I might well consider signing up next time.

        • ROBERT FREUDMANN says:

          Because you booked through Amex travel but not under FHR.

    • ROBERT FREUDMANN says:

      I’ve had 3- 4 stays at the palazzo since joining Ambassador and they’ve always played ball. In fact a couple of these were FHR bookings, and they honoured benefits of both programs (I realised some overlap…).

    • nick says:

      I didn’t get any status benefit when staying there as an Ambassador. I stayed there to help meet an Accelerate target which was a good move because they are relatively cheap for Intercons,but really not a lot of benefit as a status member.

      As an aside: the recognition for Ambassadors at ICs is, in my experience, far worse than recognition for Spires at CPs. I used to stay at ICs where possible but I am actually moving to CPs as I get genuine value. I always get a suite which, as I have a one-year old, is massive; and they always throw in lounge and breakfast. At an IC, I generally have to put my hand in my pocket to get anything more than a nominal room upgrade.

      • Alan says:

        Interesting – I’ve found CPs incredibly stingy as Spire yet ICs great – guess it all depends on the mix of properties each of us has used!

  • Dace says:

    This is incrediably dissapointing, AMB has been the reason I moved my stays from Hilton to IHG (along with the ability to rack up IHG points quickly.) If these changes do come in and hotels just provide the forfeits, I will move back to Hilton as the lounge access for Diamonds is probably the best perk £ for £ in the industry (and did keep me loyal for years).

  • Ciaran says:

    Thanks for the information. I don’t like the sound of this. I guess the test will be how the hotels deal with it: if they make it the exception rather than the rule. If this happened more than once or twice during a membership year I would likely not renew my membership. Guaranteed is guaranteed as Raffles always points out, not subject to capacity. Let’s see.

  • Tracy says:

    I have had Ambassador status for two years but I don’t think I will be renewing in April. I have not had any great upgrades, in fact I am staying at IC Park Lane tomorrow night and app shows an upgrade from classic to superior. Yes it is an upgrade but I won’t see much difference. This has been my experience with most of my stays. I regularly have to chase for the welcome amenity and argue for the late checkout. I was even refused 4pm checkout in Paris and told 2pm was the latest I was getting. I have to pay flex rate to use my cert so I pay more on top. I still value IHG points, both OH and me are Spire and will continue to collect points to book reward nights.

  • RND says:

    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?

  • MKB says:

    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.

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