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 – Ambassador – which 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.
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.
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.
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