Bad News: It Looks Like InterContinental Ambassador Changes Are Worse Than Expected


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Last week I wrote about some changes that are rumored to be coming to the benefits offered by the InterContinental Ambassador and Royal Ambassador programs and, by and large, the changes were considered a net positive by most people….but we may have been too quick to judge.

IHG Ambassador Rumors

As a recap here’s what the rumors suggested we should expect:

IHG Ambassador Changes From 1 March 2019

  • InterContinental Ambassador membership will guarantee Platinum Status in the IHG Rewards program
  • InterContinental Ambassador members will be guaranteed one complimentary breakfast per night stayed
  • The complimentary weekend certificate will no longer be a paper voucher – an e-certificate will be issued.
  • The Ambassador welcome gift will be taken away – only a fruit platter will be offered going forward

Royal Ambassador Changes From 1 February 2019

  • Royal Ambassador early check-in will now be offered from 10:00am (used to be 8:00am)
  • Royal Ambassador members will be guaranteed one complimentary breakfast per night stayed
  • Royal Ambassador members will get two free breakfasts per night if the hotel doesn’t offer a club lounge.
  • Royal Ambassador free minibar benefit will be replaced with a 50USD/200RMB/400HKD credit per day up to a maximum of 200USD/800RMB/1600HKD per stay.
  • Resort/Destination/Amenity fees will be waived for Royal Ambassador members
  • The complimentary weekend certificate will no longer be a paper voucher – an e-certificate will be issued.

Ambassador Benefit Guarantees Being Introduced

  • Guaranteed Room Upgrade: All Ambassador members must be given a food and beverage or Spa credit up to USD50, or 10,000 IHG Rewards Club points per stay if a room upgrade cannot be offered.
  • Guaranteed Late check-out (16:00): All Ambassador members must be given a food and beverage or Spa credit up to USD50, or 10,000 IHG Rewards Club points per stay if a late check-out cannot be honored.
  • If a property cannot offer a Royal Ambassador InterContinental Lounge Access or an alternative Club experience the member must be given a food and beverage or Spa credit of USD100 per night as long as this doesn’t exceeding the Club InterContinental upgrade supplement value.

What We Now Know

IHG has now published a webpage detailing what some of the “Ambassador Enhancements” will look like and it’s not great news. [HT: Loyalty Lobby]

While there’s no mention of any changes to the Royal Ambassador program (yet) IHG has confirmed the changes coming to the regular InterContinental Ambassador program in 2019:

– Platinum Elite status in IHG® Rewards Club
– Up to USD20 restaurants & bars credit for every stay***
– Ambassador Benefits Guarantee to ensure you make the most out of every stay
– E-delivery of complimentary weekend night certificate

ADDITIONAL BENEFITS FOR STAYS IN GREATER CHINA ONLY:
– One complimentary breakfast every night you stay
– 15% discount on restaurants and bars

***Restaurants & Bars Credit: The value of the up to USD20 credit is per stay and may change according to market and local currency: USD20/ GBP15/ THB600/ AUD25/ JPY2000/ SAR70/ EUR15/ MYR50/ IDR180,000/ VND280,000 (excluding Danang), valid in select hotel restaurants, bars and minibars. For any currency/region not mentioned the equivalent of USD20 is to be given, converted at hotel exchange rate. Not applicable to in-room dining. In Greater China the USD20 credit is applicable for Spire Elite members only in the value of up to RMB120. Limited to one member per room per stay and values are subject to change.

The rumors of guaranteed IHG Platinum status and the electronic delivery of the complimentary weekend night certificate were correct, the rumor that the welcome gift would disappear was also correct (there’s only a mention of the fruit platter now) but the rumor that IC Ambassador members would be given one complimentary breakfast per day looks to have been incorrect.

The webpage mentions that there’s now an “Ambassador Benefits Guarantee” but doesn’t go on to say what that guarantee includes….which is a little useless.

Thoughts

This isn’t good news for a lot of InterContinental Ambassadors.

IHG Platinum status doesn’t really get you all that much when you’re staying at IHG properties and most US-based IHG loyalists will probably already have Platinum status courtesy of one of the Chase IHG credit cards so this isn’t a big improvement in benefits.

A $20 F&B credit may be nice if you’re staying for just a single night (it will buy you breakfast) but it’s not exactly the same as the free breakfast on every day of your stay that was rumored – that’s only going to be applicable to stays in Greater China. $20 isn’t going to get you far on a multi-night stay.

The 15% F&B discount in Greater China will be nice for Ambassadors visiting Greater China but that’s about it – this is a very niche benefit and won’t add much value for the overwhelming majority of InterContinental Ambassador members.

Assuming that the rumored guarantees are true (IHG has neither confirmed nor denied them) these changes are a net negative to the InterContinental Ambassador program.

On the positive side we have IHG Platinum status and a $20 F&B credit per stay while on the negative side we have the loss of the welcome gift and a series of guarantees that can be used by properties to short-change Ambassadors on their benefits.

As I said last week:

On the face of things it would be easy to say that the new guarantees that are being put into place are positive for Ambassador members….but I can see properties abusing them.

I don’t like the language which appears to allow individual properties to pay to get out of offering certain important benefits.

Whenever I need a late check-out it’s always worth more to me than $50/10,000 points so I don’t like the idea that a property can withhold that benefit whenever it feels like it by giving me something I value less.

The same goes for a room upgrade.

If I’m only staying one night I’m unlikely to care if a property can’t honor the upgrade guarantee and $50/10,000 would be a nice bonus to have…..but my feelings would be very different if I was on a 5-night stay (for example).

Over a 5-night stay a property will apparently be able to buy its way out of the upgrade guarantee in exchange for just $10/night and that just doesn’t sit well with me.

My feelings haven’t changed.

Some may try to argue that we can’t expect too much from IC Ambassador status because it costs just $200/year while most other hotel loyalty programs require us to spend numerous nights at their properties and considerably more spend….except that’s not altogether true.

Hilton Gold status offers a free breakfast on every day of a stay and that comes as a benefit of the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card and as one of the benefits of the Amex Platinum Card. The former costs just $95/year while the latter costs $550/year (but can be had for free for the first year).

Hilton Diamond Status (which offers a lot more benefits than IC Ambassador) can be had courtesy of the $450/year Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card which also offers a $250 airline fee credit, and a $100 Hilton on-property credit…so the net cost is closer to $100/year.

The IC Ambassador program certainly has its benefits (the late check-out is great and a room upgrade can be good too) but it’s hard to escape the feeling that these enhancements are being put in place to benefit the properties and not the members (especially when it comes to the guarantees).

Bottom Line

It will be interesting to see what (if any) changes IHG makes to its Royal Ambassador offering because the changes to the regular Ambassador membership aren’t great and will probably be seen as a net negative by many.

Personally I’ve been considering re-buying my InterContinental Ambassador membership for 2019 as I have a few IC stays planned but now I probably won’t.

A free breakfast on every day of a stay would have swayed it for me but, as that’s not on offer and as Ambassador benefits don’t have to be honored on award nights, I don’t think I’ll get value out of it.

Hotel Rewards Credit Cards

6 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom. On its face, the changes seem to be an improvement. Maybe wait to see how it works in practice before assuming the worst case scenario.

  2. Like how you didn’t list the Hilton credit card with the $95 fee to get Hilton Gold so you could push the $550 Platinum card for a bigger kick back.

    It’s that kind of stuff that pisses off your readers, list both of them if you’re trying to make a push for extra Christmas money.

    • Actually that’s not why that card is missing from the blog post at all – it just slipped my mind so I’ll add it now.

      I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt (that would be the benefit of the doubt you chose not to give me) and choose to believe that your default character isn’t one that automatically assumes the worst in people – I hope for the sake of those around you that I’m right.

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