The changes to InterContinental Ambassador are not as good as we thought

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Last week we ran an article about rumoured changes to InterContinental’s Ambassador loyalty scheme.  My view was that, overall, they were positive.

Unfortunately, things have not worked out as expected.  As I wrote in the original article, details of the changes came from a Flyertalk member who had been shown internal documents by an InterContinental hotel in China.

It now turns out that Chinese hotels will be offering more generous benefits than the rest of the world.  At all other InterContinental hotels, things are not looking so good.

You can see the actual changes to the 2019 package here.  Existing members have already been notified.

Putting InterContinental Ambassador in context

First, some background for readers who don’t know how Ambassador works.

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, it often does, 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 confirmed 2019 changes?

The IHG website now confirms the changes which are taking place in 2019.

You can see the details on this page here.

This is the new benefits package:

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

Breakfast for ONE person on InterContinental stays but only in China – next to useless for most of us

An “up to” $20 per stay food and beverage credit – IMPROVEMENT but not very generous as it is per stay and, in some currencies, is worth considerably less (€15 for European hotels for example)

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?

It seems not, based on the website link above.

InterContinental Ambassador changes

What do I think?

Now that we know the full facts, the changes to Ambassador are substantially less compelling.

I have to be careful here.  Since nothing is being taken away, except for the rarely used Pay TV benefit and the ‘welcome amenity’, the changes are generally positive:

swapping Gold status in IHG Rewards Club for Platinum is a clear improvement

$20 per stay food and beverage credit is not hugely exciting but is of course better than nothing

If this was all that was changing, I’d have to say that I was happy.  It isn’t as good as we were expecting but we are definitely getting more than before.

Unfortunately, I remain suspicious about the new ‘Ambassador Benefit Guarantee’.  Whilst the exact details are not confirmed online, the leaked report said that an InterContinental will only be penalised $50 (and this isn’t in cash, it is only in food and beverage credits or as 10,000 points) if it refuses to give me an upgrade or 4pm check-out.  How can a benefit be “guaranteed” if there is a fixed penalty for not providing it, especially when the penalty is so low that hotels are incentivised NOT to delivery the benefit?

I have written on HFP in the past, for example, that the main benefit I get from Ambassador is that I can book a hotel in, say, New York knowing I can get a 4pm check-out before an 8pm flight home.  This benefit is not up for discussion – you have it as a contractual right as an Ambassador member.  Now you don’t.  Will I be willing to book an InterContinental, knowing I need that 4pm check-out, when the hotel can throw me out at 11am with a $50 food and beverage voucher or 10,000 points in my hand?  I doubt it.

Details of the 2019 InterContinental Ambassador changes are here.

(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. Yep, that was my take too – overall not good and given Plat comes with the premium credit card it’s not exactly much of a benefit. Any luck getting anyone from IHG to comment on how they see this as an enhancement? FWIW I’ve emailed Ambassador service centre about the downgrade as I see it, they’ve passed comments on to management although don’t expect anything to change!

    • I did the same, got a similar reply, but I figured that every message along the same lines helps a little.

      • Agreed!

        • We’re being a little selfish by saying that Platinum status isn’t a big upgrade for the Ambassador package. Isn’t the credit card only available in UK and US, so the ROW benefit.

  2. Related – just returned from an amazing stay at IC Sofia. Paid stay, they apologised in advance for not being able to upgrade (had already booked top cat twin and suites all king) but gave us a three course meal in their fantastic restaurant instead! Breakfast spread excellent, as was Club Lounge. Staff all incredibly welcoming, hotel just a few minutes walk from metro stop – 70p cost from the airport! Did a couple of walking tours which were excellent, would definitely recommend.

    • Thanks, looking for a new destination for next year’s stay, looks like this will be a good option.

    • At IC Sofia we got an ‘upgrade’ which was the same level of room but on a higher floor…and we didn’t get a meal in recompense! Got a lovely upgrade in Porto to a duplex suite though.

  3. I haven’t seen the terms of the contract, but isn’t it arguable that the “Ambassador Benefit Guarantee” would be alongside any contractual remedies for not supplying a “Guaranteed” benit such as late check out?

    • No, these are the contractual remedies.

      • We will need to see the contract, and the extent to which the remedy can be limited by contract for a missold product under local law. I’d like to see the small print first.

  4. Some advice please, with the new Ambassador membership giving you IHG Platinum status, can I join AMB today and get a status match to HH diamond (albeit with one IHG stay needed) ? And will i be able to get this done in time for a HH stay on the 31st Dec.

    • No, because this new package doesn’t start until next March. If you join today you’ll get Gold.

      • Thanks, missed that part. I am already HH gold so will postpone for now.

        • If platinum status and subsequent match to Hilton Diamond is the priority for you, then the IHG Premium credit card a better option than Ambassador?

  5. Christine Munro says:

    Anyone know how they are on stays booked through 3rd parties nowadays? I had two stays booked via priceline express deals already booked when I decided to join the Ambassador program, though was already platinum via c.c. I joined at check in on the first stay and could not have been better treated with upgrades, welcome amenities etc on both stays. This was 3 years ago and now on my 3rd renewal but have booked direct since then (obviously, as that’s what they want!). Are they still as generous with 3rd party booked stays?

    • If you sign up at the hotel then they are obliged to give you the benefits! Otherwise I certainly wouldn’t count on it.

  6. So all of the reviews, focus groups, online questionnaires and this is what they come up with. The main problem I have is that given they were already worse than Marriott and Hilton in regard to reward for Plat/Diamond level members what if anything from these changes is going to tempt me to move any stays to them? Nothing.

  7. Is it just me but I have not seen anything official that suggests the Late Check Out and Upgrade are not guaranteed. I’ve seen nothing on the website or the linked T&Cs that references compensation.

  8. Will we still get a voucher for 2 free drinks though? If not, $20 credit is a donwgrade, because that wouldn’t cover the cost of 2 cocktails or glasses of fizz.

  9. We may be panicking a bit here…
    AMB is still top notch especially when combined with Spire and I would presume IHG wish to keep their best customers happy – as B.Caledonian once said ‘We never forget you have a choice’ – wise words.
    I think we should wait and see and share our experiences through 2019. It’s pretty simple to get an upgrade/freebie – just be polite and treat the staff really well, it’s amazing how far it goes!
    Also can’t see anything about the 10% rebate for the $200 fee – a great little perk and enough to compensate for the extra $50. Any news?

    • Those sound like wise words.

      I’m not sure the 10% rebate was ever offered on joining AMB, rather it was just one of the options given when renewing it if I remember correctly. A valuable benefit.

      • Yep – seems to be very little about it at all apart from it showing up on the offer page when renewing! Looking forward to making use of it this year – although with the discounted 15k/night rate at voco Gold Coast I’m spending half of what I originally expected anyway!

  10. Out of interest does anyone know how the IC Park Lane are with AMB treatment on reward stays? Thinking I might use my IHG credit card free night cert here…

    • Sididdly says:

      They’re not great. You’ll get a generic one category room upgrade which can’t be differentiated from a standard room!

    • John O'Sullivan says:

      Have stayed two years running in Dec using free night credit card stays and let them know in advance it was my wife’s birthday. I have plat amb status. First stay “upgrade” to high floor room overlooking Hyde Park, drinks voucher for two, £25 credit off mini bar, free breakfast in Theo’s (for my wife’s birthday) plus all the usual benefits. Last week, £25 credit off mini bar, free breakfasts (again stated reason, wife’s birthday) , no offer of drinks voucher and room allocated very uninspiring, all the usual other benefits including we took 4pm late check out on the Sunday. First year felt like we were given everything they could, this year that they were holding back somewhat

    • They offered us an upgraded room facing Hyde Park. However, this was the opposite of what I had requested – a room facing green park. We ended up with a terrible room. Also had to request a crib 4 times and had other issues as well.

  11. Looks like I will not hit my targets for Royal Ambassador renewal this year (2018/19) after 6 years of benefits.
    Equally Spire Elite looks unlikely. Does anybody know if IHG or Ambassador programmes offer a “soft landing” where you drop down through the tiers like BAEC. Interesting to hear other readers experiences.

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