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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 – June 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.

  • Craig says:

    The calculation changes slightly if you are a heavy points earner and spender. I’m looking at redeeming 500k points next year which is my 2nd year as Ambassador, so for my $200 I receive 15k points immediately and 50k points next year. This alone more than covers the cost of renewing, anything else is a bonus.

    • Graham says:

      Me too, expecting to redeem 1m (mainly credit card) points during this membership year. Lisbon IC – no upgrade, no water/snack. Gave me lounge and breakfast. Mentioned it again in review and got 80k points refund for 70k stay.

      • Alan says:

        Wow that’s pretty good you got lounge and breakfast. I was on paid stay so got nice upgrade, welcome gift, etc but no lounge or breakfast.

  • Neil says:

    I have 14 upcoming Intercontinental stays between tomorrow and February and I’m slowly regretting not picking Hilton’s now. I have never had an issue securing a 4pm checkout at a Hilton either and that benefit isn’t guaranteed.

  • ROBERT FREUDMANN says:

    The changes are underwhelming, although I think everyone’s worry about late check out is a bit premature. I still think most hotel would rather honour that than have to give out $50 worth of F&B but we’ll wait and see.

    The whole breakfast thing was too good to be true TBH. Ambassador is not a loyalty scheme, but a paid for offering, and i can’t see how they would offer free breakfast on a $200 yearly fee as it makes little sense (yes, I know they are offer it in greater China but that very much limits it down). I mean, in some ICs (Geneva comes to mind), a single breakfast per day on a 4 night stay alone would cover the $200 fee…

    What they should be doing it improving Status benefits and offering free breakfast for Spires. If Hilton can do it for both it’s mid range and top status (Gold and Diamond), IHG should at least be offering it to their top status members.

    Rob (or anyone else really) any idea what happens if they can’t/won’t honour both upgrade and late check out? Would one then receive two lots of $50s?

    • Peter K says:

      Just a guess, but a hotel who happily reneges on a guarantee is also likely to argue the toss and only give you one $50.

      • Rob says:

        …. and if you ask for late check-out at 11am and are refused, the $50 F&B credit they then give you is likely to be unused.

        • Sididdly says:

          This policy change may also have unintended consequences too. I’ve had plenty of stays at ICs where I am leaving early, and I will have in future but I will probably ask for a late check out in future on the off chance of getting some free points or F & B credit if it is unavailable.

        • Brian says:

          I was thinking that too. Which makes it a good idea to ask for the late check-out the evening before, so you have more time to use the credit.

    • Andrew says:

      “in some ICs, a single breakfast per day on a 4 night stay alone would cover the $200 fee”

      Let’s be honest though it doesn’t cost the hotel anything even approaching that

      • Rob says:

        That’s not the point, though, in terms of revenue foregone. Le Grand in Paris was €46 last time I was there I think.

        • Craig says:

          But on a 4 night stay for 2 people would you really spend €368 on breakfast when you can wander down the road for a croissant and a coffee?

          • Rob says:

            My wife would insist on that, yes. Her oft-stated view is “if we can’t afford to eat here we shouldn’t be staying here”.

            Although in reality I would book Le Grand via Emyr, get free lounge access thrown in and eat there!

        • Genghis says:

          I didn’t think breakfast at Le Grand was that good. I certainly wouldn’t pay my own money for it. Le Collectioneur, however…

        • Craig says:

          I don’t think it’s a case of afford Rob, but one of justification and principle?

          • Rob says:

            But you’re looking at this all wrong. Lunch or dinner in Cafe de la Paix, which is one of the most famous cafes in Paris, would cost you many multiples of €46. Breakfast is cheap by comparison. It also isn’t a hotel restaurant per se …. it is run like a cafe which just happens to have an entrance in the hotel, as well as the large street entrance.

            It is also substantially smaller than the hotel room count, so I doubt they even want more than 15% of guests to eat there.

            Because of the way that breakfast has generally been ruined as a meal, there are few things I find better, food wise, than a ‘no buffet’ a la carte, white tablecloth, luxury hotel breakfast. Although Le Grand doesn’t offer that 🙂

        • Craig says:

          Probably have to agree to disagree Rob (which is rare I admit), I don’t think the differential with the breakfast offering would justify the cost compared to pavement cafe, especially as it’s for a buffet. I’d be quite happy however, to pay for lunch or dinner if the experience is that good. It couldn’t possibly come close to what I paid for dinner at Le Jules Verne a few years ago!

        • Mr Dee says:

          @Craig
          The price is relative to where you are staying, yes you can go out for breakfast down at the cafe but the reason you stay at the Le Grand would be for the experience as there are plenty of cheaper hotels available if your on a budget

        • RIccatti says:

          Grand hotel does not necessarily mean grand eateries or culinary experience — especially in the U.S. where “hotel restaurants” run as semi-separate/separate outlets.

        • Lady London says:

          Doesn’t The Savoy still do a very good example of such a breakfast? And, I think, The Connaught even better? Or was that swept away when Accor got them?

  • Alan says:

    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!

    • Ben says:

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

      • Alan says:

        Agreed!

        • Matt says:

          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.

  • Alan says:

    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.

    • Simon says:

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

    • E says:

      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.

  • DV says:

    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?

    • Alan says:

      No, these are the contractual remedies.

      • DV says:

        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.

  • Siy says:

    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.

    • Rob says:

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

      • Siy says:

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

        • Matt says:

          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?

  • 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?

    • Rob says:

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

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