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Review: why InterContinental Ambassador is a hotel loyalty programme I am happy to pay for

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This is our review of the InterContinental Ambassador hotel loyalty programme.

What is InterContinental 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 the benefits of Ambassador for while.

InterContinental, the luxury hotel brand inside IHG Rewards (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

InterContinental Ambassador review

InterContinental hotels do not officially recognise your IHG Rewards status.  In reality, they often do, but it is not guaranteed.

InterContinental also has its own loyalty scheme – Ambassadorwhich 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 points instead of paying $200 in cash.   Given my 0.4p valuation of an IHG Rewards point this is a fair deal, although it is always possible to exceed 0.4p at peak hotels on peak dates.

How does InterContinental Ambassador work?

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 points compensation or a $50 food and beverage credit.

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 points compensation or a $50 food and beverage credit.

A $20 food and beverage credit per stay

Free mineral water in your room

Platinum Elite status in IHG Rewards (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.

During 2021, the free weekend night voucher has also been redeemable at Kimpton and Regent hotels.  There is no word of this being rolled over for 2022.

You now receive benefits at Six Senses hotels too

A major improvement to Ambassador in 2021 was the integration of some Six Senses hotels and resorts.

For participating hotels, you will receive:

Breakfast for two people

An amenity for a 50 minute massage for two people or a ‘local experience’

A one category room upgrade

A welcome platter on arrival

4pm check-out, subject to availability

10am check-in, subject to availability

Free internet access

In terms of ‘participating’, any Six Senses which is bookable on IHG Rewards points will respect these benefits.  You may also find them respected at other properties.

Ambassador benefits are weaker than they were

Ambassador underwent numerous changes in 2018.  Whilst there were improvements, a bigger issue was the weakening of the ‘guaranteed’ upgrade and 4pm check-out benefits.

Before the changes, the hotel was obliged to provide these benefits – 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) or a $50 food and beverage credit 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, in February 2020.  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 ……

What is InterContinental Ambassador?

Does Ambassador cover Regent?

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 2022/3.

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 current renewal options are:

Renew for $200 and receive 15,000 bonus IHG Rewards points

or

Renew for 40,000 IHG Rewards 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.  However, 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.  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.


IHG One Rewards update – December 2022:

Get bonus points: You will earn bonus IHG One Rewards points on stays between 13th October 2022 and 31st December 2022. You can choose between 2,000 points for every two nights or 10,000 points for every four nights (not cumulative). Read this article for full details. You can register here.

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.

You will receive a 100% bonus if you buy IHG One Rewards points by 29th December 2022.

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 (71)

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

  • AK says:

    The obvious advantage would be to book the room just below club to get upgraded….however… they’ll give you the room but exclude club lounge access. If i recall, it’s in the terms somewhere and i’ve definitely read of people who have been left embarrassed after assuming lounge benefits were included with their room.

    • Rob says:

      Correct, happened to me in Abu Dhabi.

      • David says:

        Club lounge access can usually be purchased if not included in the rate and, in contrast with Hilton lounges, they are not overcrowded and the fizz is champagne, not Prosecco.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          However, remember when using a weekend voucher if the room rate doesn’t include club you’d be expected to pay for both nights. While if it does you’ll get club included the next day.

          Obviously booking via Emyr can give you club in some hotels too but no 2-4-1 (could combine two stays though)

  • josh says:

    Why would anyone who in right mind who has titanium elite even consider IHG or Ambassador? and pay $200 for it? as soon as you pay for breakfast for 2 you are down at least usd 60-80. in europe PER NIGHT. Then suite upgrade vs one class upgrade is BIG difference as marriott titanium or hyatt globalist (hilton diamond or even Gold.). most people would pay usd 50. ourt of pcoket? The club access for 2 with dinenr and drinks is worth another usd60. at least. I dont even feell i get value from my IHG free certificates because those benefits are worth MORE to me than the free night.

    • Rob says:

      For a start, you can guarantee a suite when booking this way and pay 241 for it.

  • Iain says:

    Booked into Willard Washington through IHG app. Are you saying that this won’t be recognised as a stay and that I should start afresh with a new IC card?

    • Memesweeper says:

      It will be recognised.

      What might be ignored is status earned through stays in other IHG brands.

    • Phil W says:

      The Willard is a lovely hotel.

      • Iain says:

        Looking forward to it

      • Paul says:

        Hmmm beautiful hotel huge rooms, some lovely staff but my stay was ruined by a couple of really nasty front desk staff who questioned the legitimacy of my voucher from BA for one room with breakfast. The other room was a cash rate. I was with my kids at the time, and despite being spire ambassador their room got the turn down and chocolates I got nothing. I discovered later my room was the voucher. Never again and in May I am heading to Conrad and their Sakura offering!

  • Nick says:

    Although I haven’t been able to take advantage of the free weekend night in the past year, I’ve found the IC Ambassador to be excellent value for many years now, using it in one of the many IC properties that allow it to be used for even their best suites. Double, or triple the cost of membership can be easily saved.

  • Anna says:

    I’ve had decent value from Ambassador this year but I’m not going to renew it or indeed give IHG many new bookings unless they ditch the ludicrous dynamic pricing system as it’s not really worth the effort of earning points. Hilton offers much better value on redemptions atm.

  • Mark says:

    We have generated a small stash (c. 50k) of ihg points from the free credit card, and I’m planning to use these to join Ambassador as and when the wife and I next have a long weekend away and stay at an Intercontinental. I would get much more value from the 241 voucher than redeeming for a random holiday inn somewhere!

    • Sundar says:

      Wasn’t there a – 200$ ( or 150$ renewal) bonus of 15K points upon renewal ? Or has this been done away with ?

  • Will says:

    Do these benefits apply to bookings already made via a travel agent if I were to join before checking in?

    • Memesweeper says:

      Depends on the agent — not if it’s Expedia or another OTA. Contact the hotel to be sure.

    • ChrisC says:

      Direct bookings only or via a specialist agent like Emyr otherwise no.

      • Will says:

        Ok thanks, was with Trailfinders so assuming that means it won’t be. Will contact them anyway to be sure

  • Darran says:

    Does the hotel have to compensate 10000 pts or f&b credit if they can’t provide an upgrade when using a ambassador weekend certificate? In the t&c they say no with free night stays, but a AWC is still a paid stay all be it with a free night attached.

    • Ryan Gill says:

      Good question. I’d like to know this too.

      • Rob says:

        Almost certainly as you have one paid night.

        • Darran says:

          Update: Checked out of the o2 this morning and was told that they would not compensate as they had provided an upgrade. In other words, they renamed the room category after I had made the booking from one bedroom intercontinental suite to king deluxe suite and class it as an upgrade. This is actually a downgrade as lounge access is no longer included. Previously when booking this room I had always been upgraded to the City intercontinental suite which is what I was expecting this time. I wasn’t going to argue with the assistant over the matter.

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