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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.

InterContinental Ambassador

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

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 Amstel

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.


IHG One Rewards update – August 2022:

Get bonus points: IHG One Rewards is offering bonus base points on all cash stays between 18th May and 31st August.  You earn double points on your 2nd to 5th nights, triple points on your 6th to 14th nights and quadruple base points from your 15th night. Our full article is here. Click here to register.

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 (97)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Genghis says:

    And with “E-delivery of complimentary weekend night certificate“ we might not have to wait two months after renewal to use the free night. But with IHG IT…

  • James says:

    I am about to hit Spire this week (first time from being plat for years) and thought I’d treat myself to Ambassador too. However this is making me really doubt why I would want it.
    When I saw the breakfast I thought that was a great improvement but the other changes are pants. I don’t need to be given Plat status by Ambassador and in doing so will devalue Platinum as so many people in the hotel will also be platinum !

    Now I don’t think I’ll spend the $200 (which will probably rise soon) as the benefit to me will be minimal. Sure the 4pm GARAUNTEED SET IN STONE check-out would be a big benefit, but not a wishy-washy maybe, maybe not arrangement – what total crap.
    And as you have pointed out (and is obvious) a 10k penalty is no incentive to ensure the late checkout is provided.
    This is very poor. It ought to be 100k a stay.
    They also ought to have firmed up the upgrade benefit so it can’t be used for silly upgrades like a room 10sqm larger but a proper upgrade !!

    Anyhow, I don’t think I’ll get benefit from it now as I’m less than 10 nights a year at ICs I’d guess and only book the cheaper rates so the free night voucher isn’t free to me anyway and at a fancy IC could cost well over £100 to use
    🙁

    • Matt says:

      I agree with most you say, however I would consider an upgrade to a room 10sqm bigger to be an excellent upgrade!!

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Recently used the free night and the additional cost was £50. As prepay it was a £350 a night club room. For the flexibility and the extra night the $200 was a bargain. Used the late checkout a couple times aswell so all in all a good deal.

      Maybe a few more IC stays next year so I’ll be renewing

    • the_real_a says:

      Enjoy your chocolate Club biscuit at check-in for Spire membership 🙂

  • Ian M says:

    Very poor changes.. I certainly won’t be taking out Ambassador now the 4pm checkout benefit has effectively been withdrawn.

  • Brussels Sprout says:

    About 20-25% of hotels give benefits on reward stays in my experience.

    • Genghis says:

      As I’ve posted before, the water and 4pm checkout is currently guaranteed on reward stays. In practice, I’ve had upgrades 100% of the time over the past couple of years and loads of other good stuff (free breakfasts, champagne, cakes, chocs etc).

    • Rob says:

      I have never not had them, although that is over a fairly small sample of hotels – the New York ones and Paris.

    • FlyingChris says:

      Anyone know how IC hotels in Asia typically treat Ambassador on reward stays. Looking possibly at Tokyo Bay, Osaka and Singapore for next year on points and wondering if to invest in Ambassador if likely to get the benefits.

      • Alan says:

        IC Singapore pretty stingy on reward stay for me, minor upgrade as a ‘one time exception’ after I emailed.

        • Prins Polo says:

          IC Singapore is unfortunately one of those IC properties that does “fake upgrades” – they basically keep you in the same category of room but it’s on “Ambassador floor”. It’s obviously not “the next category” that can be booked online.

        • Ralphy says:

          Currently in Singapore at the Westin Southbeach having just attained Platinum with the challenge, got an upgrade to a stunning suite, twin sinks, two bathrooms, toilets that raise and lower the lid automatically, a heated seat and that washes ones bum to boot.

          Having spent years with IHG and paid for Ambassador for one year, I think it’s a total waste of time effort and money. Definitely, Marriott, now with SPG, is a better proposition.

          • Alan says:

            Wish I could agree – I’ve had nothing but trouble with them since the integration. Been fighting for months to get travel package sorted for Melbourne stay – now stuck in an accessible twin room, not at all impressed with how they’re handling things (including at corp office level).

        • Lyn says:

          @Alan – would you mind sharing which Melbourne hotel you chose, and whether you are having problems with the hotel itself? Thinking of using an SPG free night certificate in Melbourne in January and I don’t know anything about the SPG/Marriott hotels.

          • Alan says:

            Trying to use it at the Westin, but they only finally got added to the system a month or so ago, by which time availability had gone. The whole TP side of things has been a fiasco, not the hotel’s fault but Marriott Corporate, who have been surprisingly useless at sorting it out.

        • Lyn says:

          Thank you. The Westin looked like the best option and location. I hope you get it sorted out, and that the hotel can offer you something better.

          • Alan says:

            Yep I’ve got a points advance reservation held for Marriott too but the Westin seemed a bit better.

      • Graham says:

        Tokyo Bay seemed pleased to see us, upgraded us and gave us lounge access (all day alcohol). ANA made us pay for lounge access, although negotiated it down to £80 for 3 nights instead of £80/night on basis we were mostly out on all day sightseeing trips.

      • Alex W says:

        We got all the benefits at the Strings. However the location is not great imv.

      • Mr Dee says:

        IC HKG 1 room upgrade for Award stays, late checkout and discount on upgrade room/lounge

    • Simon says:

      Only done one reward stay with IC since becoming ambassador earlier this year. At Ljubljana got a great upgrade to junior suite, access to club lounge and obv 4pm check out which normally doesn’t interest me but as they had a spa my wife and I spent a pleasant hour or so there Sunday afternoon before checking out.
      Will be renewing to see how the 4pm check out and upgrade work for year 2, but these would be a deal breaker for me for year three if next year’s stay doesn’t provide these benefits.
      All in all though really positive experience for my stay – breakfast was great, afternoon tea was welcome on the Sunday after the spa, and the hotel itself was great as per the review on this site from November last year.
      Had it not been for the AMB reviews here and the hotel review I wouldn’t have bitten the bullet on this but very glad I did – thanks Rob!

  • A270 says:

    I won’t be renewing mine either.

  • Andy S says:

    According to the website the free fruit is only in China now…

    • Irons80 says:

      It’s not well worded but read it carefully – in China you only get the fruit of you’re a spire or platinum ambassador

      • Genghis says:

        But all AMBs will be Plat AMBs

        • TGLoyalty says:

          Which is the confusing thing about what that’s even a clause

        • Lady London says:

          Still only China though… like the breakfast.

          I wonder if whoever’s running the IHG Loyalty program, has ever run a loyalty program before? Or, are they Chinese? Or, does IHG not care about anyone who spends money and stays repeatedly anymore if they’re not Chinese?

          That’s what I draw out of seeing this. I had given some thought to going Ambassador. But no reason to now.

  • Daniel says:

    ‘Ambassador Benefit Guarantee’ could become a notorious phrase, being the precise opposite of what it says.

    Let’s face it, IHG have messed this up.

  • Kip says:

    Some thoughts:
    1. The late checkout issue is slightly overblown. It only really applies for places with late UK flights and bolshie hotel staff – so Eastern USA. My experience of IC in Asia is that they would be horrified not to give you late check out and even if they do, it’s not like they throw you on the street. I’ve spent many an hour in the Club Lounge in Asian IC’s drinking their wine and eating their food several hours after I’ve checked out.
    2. Renewal is (or was) 20k in points so a penalty of 10k seems appropriate. 100k as suggested above is 5 years of Amb status.
    3. More of an issue is the list of room types in specific hotels that cannot be upgraded. I doubt IHG’s IT will inform you on booking that a room cannot be upgraded (although there’s no reason why that can’t be done) so I would be pretty hacked off to roll up and then find I had fallen foul of that list.

    Overall, I don’t think things will change too much in practice. The changes just seem to codify the rules a bit more so that both parties know the score.

    • ROBERT FREUDMANN says:

      Renewal is no longer 24,000 points, but 40,000. This changed a while ago.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Still. Denied an upgrade and late checkout on one stay and you have half of your money back.

        Tbh I don’t see it changing most IC would treat an amb well as surely they’re more likely to share their stories about poor treatment with other regular IC users than your average hotels.com booking

    • Chris says:

      In my experience a problem for a lot of hotels in asia is too many guests getting late checkout; especially in suites. Arriving on BA 31 which gets you to hotel around 4pm. I Have had some spectacular upgrades from IC HKG; terrace suite twice and the delux suite with a balcony this year, as they were out of /appropriate/ suites. They have also bent over backwards offering me 7pm + checkouts to compensate for no room being available till 5 or 6pm on checkin.

      I can see them wanting to push people out earlier to not give away a 5k a night hotel room.

    • Mr Dee says:

      I have always got the late checkout at hotels in Asia not just IC

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