What is InterContinenal Ambassador, and is it worth paying a $200 annual fee to join a loyalty programme? I thought it was worth taking another look, as we haven’t focused on Ambassador since the benefits package was amended.
InterContinental, the luxury hotel brand inside IHG Rewards Club (which also covers Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo 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 hotels do 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 – Ambassador – which costs $200 to join
And yet, despite the $200 fee, I consider Ambassador a good deal and have been a member for a number of years. I did skip a year in 2018/9 as I took some time out to run down my Marriott Bonvoy balance whilst I was still Titanium Elite, but I am now back in the fold. This review summarises why it works for me.
What does InterContinental Ambassador cost to join?
You can sign up here. The cost is $200.
For new members, there is an option to use 40,000 IHG Rewards Club points instead of paying $200 in cash. Given my 0.4p valuation of an IHG Rewards Club point this is a fair deal, although it is always possible to exceed 0.4p – often by a large margin – at peak hotels on peak dates.
What are the benefits of InterContinental Ambassador?
The key thing about Ambassador is that, once you are a member, the benefits are virtually 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 Ambassador Weekend Rate, which is usually equal to Best Flexible Rate. The rules say that only standard rooms can be booked. However, many hotels let you book club rooms or suites which is especially useful for families.
(As the Ambassador Weekend 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 cheaper pre-paid rate. It is totally free if you would otherwise have booked at Best Flexible Rate.)
A GUARANTEED one-level room upgrade on every InterContinental stay – this is usually processed before you arrive and is visible online. If the hotel cannot provide an upgrade, you receive 10,000 IHG Rewards Club points compensation.
4pm check-out – this is a GUARANTEED benefit and comes in very handy on a weekend break or on a trip with an evening flight back home. If the hotel cannot provide late check-out, you receive 10,000 IHG Rewards Club points compensation.
A $20 food and beverage credit per stay
Free mineral water in your room
Platinum Elite status in IHG Rewards Club (usually requires 40 nights or $4,000 of qualifying spend)
The benefits package is slightly different for stays in Mainland China, including free restaurant breakfast for one person.
Ambassador benefits were weakened slightly in 2018
Ambassador was revised slightly in 2018. The most obvious change was swapping free fruit and a welcome gift for a $20 food and beverage credit (per stay, not per night). This was an improvement. Giving you Platinum Elite status in IHG Rewards Club instead of Gold Elite was also a step up.
A bigger issue was the weakening of the ‘guaranteed’ upgrade and 4pm check-out benefits. Before the changes, the hotel was obliged to provide them – no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’. There was no mechanism to deal with a failure to deliver.
Following the changes, hotels were obliged to give you 10,000 points (which I only value at £40) if they could not give you an upgrade or a 4pm check-out. You might see this as an improvement. However, some hotels have decided that it is cheaper to hand out 10,000 points rather than upgrade a member or give a 4pm check-out.
This happened to me at InterContinental Porto, pictured above, back in February. A direct one-level upgrade was not available. It was clear online that the hotel did, however, have numerous top suites available. Before the changes, the hotel was obliged to give me a better room even if it meant offering the Presidential Suite. Instead, I was given 10,000 points.
In this particular case I wasn’t too bothered. Porto is not expensive so the points were a decent rebate on the price I paid. I was on my own so a huge suite would have been a bit of a waste. I was also not planning to spend much time in the hotel. In other circumstances, however, it would have been an issue.
At hotels costing £500+ per night, being able to ‘pay off’ a member with £40-worth of points to free up an expensive room which can be sold to someone else is very tempting ……
Does Ambassador cover Regent and Six Senses too?
No, not yet.
We don’t yet know how the recently acquired Regent Hotels luxury chain will fit in with Ambassador, especially as some InterContinental hotels are expected to be rebranded. InterContinental Hong Kong is already confirmed to return to the Regent name when it reopens in 2022.
IHG also acquired the Six Senses brand in early 2019. This is VERY high end, with a strong resort focus. Integration is proving slow, with only a handful of Six Senses city centre hotels (Singapore and Istanbul) currently allowing you to redeem IHG Rewards Club points.
This situation cannot continue long term. In my view, there needs to be a reshuffling of IHG’s high-end brands (perhaps moving the InterContinental beach resorts into Regent, for example) with all of the hotels coming together into an expanded Ambassador programme.
What does it cost to renew InterContinental Ambassador?
The initial fee to join Ambassador is $200.
The renewal options have been tweaked a couple of times recently. The option to renew for $150 appears to have been withdrawn. The current options are:
Renew for $200 and receive 15,000 bonus IHG Rewards Club points and a 10% points rebate on all of your redemption bookings – across all brands – for the following year (I find that this really adds up which makes the $200 renewal option the best choice for me)
Renew for 40,000 IHG Rewards Club points
For clarity, you receive a new free weekend night certificate each year when you renew.
Is InterContinental Ambassador worth it?
Obviously InterContinental Ambassador is not for everyone. You can earn back the cost of membership in just one weekend stay by redeeming the free night voucher. It may even be worth it if you had just one long InterContinental stay booked and wanted to guarantee your upgrade.
Ambassador members also receive Platinum Elite status in IHG Rewards Club. This will make your future Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo etc stays a little more pleasant although it is unlikely to lead to major upgrades or lounge access.
You can learn more about InterContinental Ambassador, and sign up, here if it sounds interesting.
PS. There is also an invitation-only premium level called Royal Ambassador, where the benefits include executive lounge access, $50 of mini bar credit per day and higher level upgrades. Whilst the criteria are not published it is requires $five-figures of annual spend at InterContinental properties. We don’t cover Royal Ambassador on Head for Points because it is so exclusive.
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