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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 a while.

InterContinental, the luxury hotel brand inside IHG One Rewards (which also covers Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo and others) is a little odd when it comes to loyalty schemes:

InterContinental Ambassador review
  • 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 points 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 One Rewards points instead of paying $200 in cash.   Given my 0.4p valuation of an IHG One Rewards point this is a fair deal, although it is always possible to exceed 0.4p at peak hotels on peak dates.

InterContinental Ambassador review

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.
  • 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 One 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 One 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 One 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 and 2022, the free weekend night voucher was also redeemable at Kimpton and Regent hotels.  This is no longer the case.

How does InterContinental Ambassador work?

Three things to know about the ‘free weekend night’ benefit

  • 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.
  • If you are thinking about buying Ambassador for a specific trip, you can check weekend night voucher pricing and availability (some hotels cap weekly voucher bookings) before joining via intercontinental.com/ambweekend
  • You can book a weekend night voucher stay without being an Ambassador member. If you are booking well in advance, it makes sense to book the stay first but only buy Ambassador status nearer your arrival, in order to maximise your membership period.

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 One Rewards points – which isn’t many of them – will respect these benefits.  You may also find them respected at other properties.

InterContinental Ambassador review

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. I’m not so sure.

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 ….

Does Ambassador cover Regent?

No, not yet.

This situation cannot continue long term, especially with Regent Hong Kong and Regent Cannes – both converted InterContinental hotels – now open.

What is InterContinental Ambassador?

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 One Rewards points

or

  • Renew for 40,000 IHG One 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 One 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.

PPS. There is another unofficial benefit on joining Ambassador. For a number of years, buying Ambassador has locked in your existing IHG One Rewards top tier status. If you are currently Diamond Elite in IHG One Rewards and worried that you will not retain it, paying $200 to join Ambassador is highly likely – based on precedent – to give you an extension for 12 months.


IHG One Rewards update – May 2024:

Get bonus points: IHG One Rewards is offering 2,000 bonus points for every two cash nights you stay (not necessarily consecutive) between 1st April and 31st May 2024. You can read our full article here and 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.

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 (64)

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

  • Tim Newman says:

    I’m curious how the various credits stack – mainly so I can make sure I don’t get stiffed at checkout.
    I have a booking through Emyr for IC Barclay in New York. My Ambassador gives $20 credit, and then there is $25 with the amenity fee (although the amenity fee is then refunded because of Emyr). So I assume that should stack and I get $45 F&B credit?
    Very annoyingly the lounge is closed that day so they are offering (a paltry) 2 drinks and a snack in the (already too tiny) bar, so I can already see the checkout getting really messy.
    As an aside, very odd behaviour that the hotel is still selling Club IC access with rooms when they know the lounge is closed that day too.

  • jannis says:

    By joining ambassador, my diamond status has extended for a year.
    solid purchase

  • Grant says:

    Im thinking of taking this up as I have a trip to San fransisco and Sacramento then one to Melbourne and Sydney is there a link to hotels in each city or should I just search IC. how do you know if they accept the loyalty card.

    Thanks

    • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

      It’s not a loyalty card it’s a status then they can see within your booking,

    • Rob says:

      If there is an InterContinental you can use it. They all accept the card so that’s not an issue. It isn’t 100% guaranteed you can use the free night voucher on the weekend you want so early-ish booking is recommended.

      • aseftel says:

        Except it’s a bit iffy at Residences and Alliance Resorts…

  • Nick G says:

    Thinking of a far east trip next year in an IC and buying ambassador for the first time. Can I combine a 10 night stay and use part of it to pay cash and get the free weekend night and the rest as a cash stay somehow? Or is it a two bookings and hopefully not move room?

    I’ve seen an IC I fancy staying in but would probably spend a whole 10 nights there as will be with wife/son so just wondering if I can maximise all benefits in one stay?

    • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

      Two bookings but a week or so before the stay email the hotel and politely ask if you can stay in the same room.

  • Jerry says:

    is the free weekend night valid at the Intercontinental brand only or redeemable with any IHG property ?

  • Deepsleeves says:

    Hard to agree with this.
    The mark up on a room I’d now nearing 35% over cheapest rates.
    Use in the UK is restricted to 3 hotels with the 1 in Edinburgh seemingly not available most of the time.
    The Park Lane in London is soulless. It also has curtains over the bath for ashower and not the wit to at least bend the rail outwards..
    Same issue with an IC in Sydney.
    Hong Kong IC was excellent but is now a Regent.
    Seems like a chain heading downhill.
    Perhaps the “asset light” model [the hotels are franchises] isn’t working so well now

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

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