Why InterContinental Ambassador is the only reward scheme that I’m happy to pay for.

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 22.06.46Regular readers will have picked up that I am a huge fan of InterContinental properties, and the IHG rewards scheme ‘Rewards Club’. The ability to earn large numbers of points in their regular ‘Accelerate’ promotions by staying at low cost properties, to then redeem them at aspirational 5* properties, is exactly what you want from a hotel rewards scheme. There is one small catch, however, in the way that IHG run their reward scheme. They actually have two schemes:

  • IHG Rewards Club – the ‘main’ program, with levels including Club, Gold, Platinum and Spire. It works much like every other hotel loyalty scheme, albeit with the benefits for top tier members being fairly weak. Benefits apply across Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Staybridge Suites etc.
  • InterContinental Ambassador – applies only to InterContinental properties, and gives excellent benefits at those properties. There are two levels, ‘standard’ InterContinental Ambassador and Royal Ambassador, which is invitation only.

The fact that you have to pay for Ambassador status will put many people off, but it’s one scheme I have no problem paying for so thought it would be worth quickly running through the cost and the benefits.

How much is it?

There are two different rates, one for initially purchasing Ambassador and one for renewing. Initial purchase costs US$200 or 32,000 IHG points, with renewal having three options:

  1. Renew for US$150 and receive 10,000 IHG points;
  2. Renew for US$200 and receive 15,000 IHG points and a 10% rebate on all reward nights;
  3. Renew for 24,000 IHG points and receive 5,000 IHG points;

What are the benefits?

According to the marketing spiel, you will get all the things listed below. I’ve added my own views and experiences in receiving them in italics:

  • Guaranteed room upgrade each time you stay – one of the best benefits. If the next room up is a suite, it’s a big jump, but occasionally an ‘upgrade’ can just me a slightly improved view. I’ve only ever had good experiences and ended up in a materially better room.
  • Fresh fruit upon arrival – never really notice this one.
  • In-room mineral water (replenished daily) – if you have elite status in IHG rewards club, you’ll likely get complimentary water anyway, but it’s handy to have it guaranteed.
  • In-room welcome gift – the gift is at the discretion of the hotel, and has ranged from a key ring (yay…) to a bottle of wine (much better). I tend to keep my expectations low.
  • Single-room rate for double occupancy – no experience of this one – will need to investigate!
  • Extended check-out — up to 4 pm – one of the best benefits, I use this pretty much every time I stay in an InterContinental. If you have an evening flight, it’s great to head out for the day and then come back and use the room for a shower etc. before heading to the airport.
  • Dedicated Ambassador check-in area – does normally mean you get into your room quicker, but even if you’re checking in as a ‘normal’ guest you rarely spend more than a few minutes waiting.
  • Complimentary pay-TV film per stay – only works on paid stays (not reward nights), but I do quite like having the option particularly on longer stays.
  • Complimentary newspaper, delivered daily – it’s a newspaper…
  • Instant checkout – not even sure why they mention this one, it’s open to anybody.
  • Complimentary weekend night certificate – definitely in the top three benefits, this gives you a free night at the weekend when you pay for one night (e.g. pay for Friday, get Saturday free). Whilst you pay a higher rate than the cheapest advanced purchase rate for the one night you do pay for, it works out as at least a 35-45% discount on a weekend stay.
  • 5,000 bonus IHG Rewards Club points – I think of this as offsetting some of the fee you pay for Ambassador in the first place.

Pulling out the key benefits, for a max of US$200, you get:

  • 5,000 IHG points worth c. US$40
  • A free night in an InterContinental worth c. US$100
  • Benefits on each stay valued at US$20-$30

A quick bit of maths will tell you if you’re  going to stay more than 2-3 times at an InterContinental over 12 months, it’s worth paying for the status. I probably do 5-6 InterContinental stays per year and certainly don’t regret paying for it.