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Why Intercontinental’s Ambassador program is worth it to my family

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Why Intercontinental’s Ambassador program is worth it to my family

When I was little, my family would travel to Orlando every Christmas because my parents had purchased a timeshare at Orange Lake Resort. Orange Lake was founded by the same guy that started Holiday Inn and over the years Orange Lake was enveloped into the IHG rewards program.  This provided great value for us because we’re given an option every year: stay in the timeshare or get points instead.  Stacking this timeshare point accumulation with Intercontinental’s Ambassador program is worth it to my family as it provides a lot of benefits for the annual membership fee. In fact, both of my parents keep Ambassador memberships to take advantage of these benefits on stays redeemed from each of their accounts. What made this program even more valuable was an offer we received for Ambassador renewal: an extra 10% back on point redemptions. This meant, when teamed with an IHG card, we would earn 20% back on all IHG redemptions.

What is Intercontinental’s Ambassador program?

IHG rewards program doesn’t really affect your stays at their top of the line brand, Intercontinental. Intercontinental has it’s own loyalty program, one that you pay to join. Here are the details.

  • $200 or 32k points to join
  • Renewal is $150 or targeted offers. My dad received some great ones…
  • Room upgrade guaranteed
  • Late check-out 4pm
  • Buy one get one weekend night.
    • Must pay for first night
  • Comped movie…

Below is the complete list

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 4.17.25 PM
courtesy of ihg.com

The weekend night certificate easily pays for the program.

The program will set you back $200. Intercontinental has phenom properties around the world and it won’t be hard to find one where you can redeem your free weekend night. Odds are that night will be worth at least what you paid initially. After the first year, the cash renewal is $150. Weekend nights are defined by IHG as follows:

Please note that the reservation will show full rate on both nights during the online booking process. This will be adjusted by the hotel on check-in to reflect as complimentary on the second night only when member presents the original Certificate. ‘Weekend’ is determined as follows: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, except in the Middle East where hotels may define the weekend as Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The guaranteed room upgrade could be worth the value of the program as well.

IHG updates your reservation ahead of time. In fact, when I was planning our trip through Europe last year we were toying around getting an extra room in Dublin. We booked one speculatively with points. Within 24 hours the entry level room had been upgraded to a suite. In the end, we cancelled that room, but it was still a good indication of how well Ambassadors can be treated.

I did a POP on the Intercontinental Cleveland. This was booked with points and my folks received an upgraded Junior Suite before arrival. The cost differential in an entry level room and the suite was nearly the same cost as the program renewal. They also received access to the club. Pretty great deal.

Renewal offers are very attractive as well. Here was the one we got. It was worth more than what we paid to renew.

Options were as follows.

  • $150 and get 10,000 bonus points
  • $200 and get 15,000 bonus points plus 10% back on reward nights ( which if you have an IHG credit card you already get 10%, this would be an additional 10% or 20% off! H/T to reader Neil for mentioning this)
  • Use 24k points but get 5000 bonus points

Ultimately we opted for the $200, get 15k bonus points and 10% on rewards nights.

We will redeem 400k + points this year alone. We will be staying in Intercontinentals quite a bit and for $200 we get the following

  • 15k bonus points
  • free weekend night
  • room upgrade
  • Over 40k points refunded from redemptions
  • In room movies

That’s 55k points we will get back. Taking every other benefit out of the equation we’d end up effectively buying those points for $0.0036 per point. That’s an amazing deal. Add in room upgrades, often club access, and a free weekend night and we are way ahead.

So it’s clearly worth it to me and my family. At what point is it worth it to you?

It comes down to value, right? Everyone has a different sense for it. I was recently looking at the Intercontinental Chicago in early April. Rates were $243 a night over the weekend. You could use your free weekend night certificate here and get the second night free…

This example would get you $243 in value for the price of the $200 membership fee. You’d also get an upgrade, free movie, late check out etc…Of course you’d have to be looking at hotels in this price range, but this is just a quick example of how value can be had in one stay.

Everyone will have different ways of valuing, but if you’re planning a trip that includes an Intercontinental I’d recommend crunching the numbers.

Here’s a little video IHG has put together about their Ambassador program.

Are you Ambassador? Thinking of getting it? Royal Ambassador…would love to hear your experience and if it’s been worth it.

Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

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30 Comments

  • […] These benefits have been highly valuable to me and my family ) and as a result we’ve kept Ambassador on multiple accounts since 2016. The past couple of years, 2017 + 2018, IHG has offered their Ambassador members outstandingly attractive renewal options. This year, they’re back at it, and I’ll walk you through my thinking on why we chose to renew, and how it will ultimately create value for us. […]

  • The Weckmann family June 24, 2018

    Our experience with IHG Ambassador program at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC
    Was amazing! We were treated like royalty and upgraded to a suite. Gifts galore and the best service. The Willard is so convenient to everything and our fourth of July stay included amazing fireworks display as it is a block to the White house. The interior of this historic location is the most beautiful of any I’ve ever seen. The best historical restaurant in the next block Old Ebbit also full of history and original decor. Great value for the weekend certificate

  • Charles March 16, 2018

    I’ve been a Spire Elite Ambassador for years and while I’ve received great benefits multiple times it really depends on the hotel. Not much room for any upgrades at the low end of the IHG chain. Staybridge almost always provides a nice upgrade although some of them are pretty stingy with it. I’ve had to fight like hell at most Intercontinental hotels to get the bare minimum the program offers, often arguing with them over the late checkout, room amenities, etc. Exceptions are those hotels I most frequent that get to know me. Staying at the Barclay in NYC tonight and the clerk (Mary) acts like she can’t be bothered by a pesky guest. Omni Select is a much better program for guest treatment but Omni’s are generally only in major urban centers.

  • […] written several articles in the past regarding the value of the Ambassador program so I won’t go into the details […]

  • Chris September 15, 2017

    Question for you and not sure you can answer it. But say I buy the Ambassador program for myself and I’m already Platinum Elite for IHG. When I book or check in, which program takes priority in terms of getting a room upgrade? The room upgrade is probably the main reason I’d sign up. I suppose the IHG rewards upgrade is available as space permits, while the Ambassador upgrade is guaranteed?

    • Miles September 15, 2017

      Hey Chris – the IHG program is kind of confusing. They have two mutually exclusive programs depending on whether you’re at an Intercontinental or not. If you have Platinum from the IHG credit card or organically it’ll give you benefits at hotels outside of Intercontinenatls, but you’d need Ambassador to get upgrades, etc. So if your upcoming stay is at an Intercontinental you’ll more than likely be acknowledged for having Platinum, but if you want any benefits you’d need Ambassador.

  • Victoria King August 30, 2017

    Great article, thanks for the info! I have a quick question. If I’ve already booked a paid stay and sign up for this program afterwards, will my upcoming stay be upgraded? Or, will it only affect future stays? Thanks!

    • Miles August 30, 2017

      Victoria – thank you! appreciate you reading. As long as you haven’t checked in, you should be upgraded, space avail, as it’s post signup. In fact, most times the upgrade populates your account pre-arrival. If your status isn’t reflected on your reservation after you sign up, call in and ask them to manually add it. You should get the other benefits too. I’ve seen people sign up at check-in and have the benefits added to the reservation they’re checking in for.

  • […] are a few of the perks that are associated with Ambassador. You can read more about why my family values these benefits quite a bit. A Big one is a free weekend […]

  • Jason April 11, 2017

    “Ultimately we opted for the $200, get 15k bonus points and 10% on rewards nights.”
    I chose the same option and have been mostly happy with my experience as an IHG Spire Ambassador.
    I have tried to migrate away from IHG but they usually have the best hotels/rates where I go so I end up staying at an IHG hotel about 80% of the time.

    I am also a Hilton Diamond (from status match) and actually like their Diamond benefits much better than the IHG ones.

  • KR March 4, 2017

    @ MonkeyMiles,
    Missed mentioning couple of more points. One positive about the whole IHG program is definitely availability in most properties. If one has an urgent travel and needs few nights in HI, etc it is invariably available. That is definitely a plus and single best feature in my view. I understand this has nothing to do with Ambassador in specific, but the larger program on a whole.

    On the downside, I am sure readers here have heard about SPG Ambassador program and the like and type of services meted out to top tier elites. As RA, one is provided a seperate Ambassador contact desk apart from IHG. If at all anything, folks operating this line are even less informed and less helpful than the typical IHG Helpdesk! Many a time when one calls in, there is frank disdain that in case of any issue, I have given up on this helpdesk and call IHG regular helpdesk only.

    Incidentally, above statements in this comment and my previous comment don’t reflect just my views. It covers 4 other RAs who are my work colleagues. We travel together sometimes and collectively decided to focus on one chain for paid stays and chose IHG due to IC availability in many locations that we frequent. Over past few months, we have exchanged the above views based on our experience but adopted wait and watch since each of us have multitude of IHG points clocked. But with the changed landscape of Marriott- Starwood merger, unless IHG decides to tone up the program and not just do lip service measures, I reckon we will not be the only RAs left considering a move.

  • […] IHG program is one that a lot of people hate on, and honestly, I can feel their pain. However, the Intercontinental exclusive Ambassador program is well worth the price of admission, the IHG credit is amazing, and I think quite a bit of value […]

  • KR March 4, 2017

    @ MonkeyMiles, I have been a Royal Ambassador for 3 years now and have redeemed points across ICs in Asia, Australia, ME and Europe over this time.

    IMHO, until IHG starts standardizing benefits for redemptions across their properties and not leave us to the whims and fancies of each property, true benefits of RA cannot be vouched. In quite a few cases, I have noticed ICs offering standard RA benefits like upgrade to club room, club lounge, comp minibar access, etc. for paid and redemption stays. I have seen this at Athens, Sydney, Istanbul, Doha, Dubai, etc. On the other hand, there are notorious properties like IC Bali, IC Danang, IC Koh Samuel, IC Geneva that claim that for redemption nights, the max they offer is upgrade based on availability!

    My peeve is that if one reached RA by virtue of multiple paid nights clocked in, IHG can’t just leave it to individual properties to decide on how RAs are treated for redemptions. Somewhere there needs to be some reciprocation like other chains that offer mostly similar perks even for redemptions.

    This aspect of the program where for redemptions,0ne is left to negotiate or plead with property smacks of opportunism and callousness on behalf of IHG who I think should set the baseline for the program across properties.

    Hence,when opportunity beckons, I won’t bat an eyelid about ditching IHG and shifting elsewhere.

    In summary, for everyone his own!

    • Miles March 4, 2017

      KR – very interesting data points and I can imagine the inconsistency is frustrating. Streamlining so much loyalty to IHG that you achieve Royal Ambassador, and you’re still fighting for benefits you’re supposedly entitled?!?! Ridics. Your point that you’d abandon ship should be quite sobering to IHG – losing a top 1% customer not only is a hit to revenue, but also to brand image. thanks for the input!

  • Sam March 4, 2017

    Can you use Points for 2 night stay to use the Certificate or does it have to be PAID stay?

    Thanks

    • Leo March 4, 2017

      Cash only to use the certificate.

    • Miles March 4, 2017

      Hey Sam – Good question! Must be a paid rate and as Neil points out, not all rates apply. There is a specific portal that you can use, or call in to the Ambassador program.

  • Neil March 4, 2017

    Don”t get too excited about the free night certificate – it is strategically useful, but you have to book at the rack rate (so you’ll be paying perhaps 15% to 20% more than the AAA rate). They are more useful at hotels that do NOT have points availability (or have a very high points price relative to room rate). I let last year’s go unredeemed – in most previous years I have used them.

    If you regularly stay at an IHG hotel that has availability on points (I’ve found the NYC TS Intercontinental to almost always have availability, Interconts in London and Paris less so) Ambassador is a great deal if only for the additional points rebate. Also, as I pointed out before, IHG tends to overreimburse – there is no rhyme or reason but instead of getting an additional 10% from the Ambassador program I usually end up with a lump points credit that is more like 15% or more. No complaints here!

  • Leo March 4, 2017

    There is now a brand wide policy (as of October 2016 I think) not to give Ambassadors access to club lounges if they have been upgraded to club rooms – you get the room but not the access:

    “The Club InterContinental Experience including Club Lounge access will not be given to Ambassadors as this is not a benefit that is included in Ambassador membership.”

    So you really should NOT bank on this in the future. When using the 241 Ambassador certificate you should get the room upgrade (for the 2 nights) because you are paying for the one night, otherwise you should not expect to be upgraded on ordinary reward nights. Saying all of this the scheme is really a no-brainer if you are planning to spend even just 2 nights at an IC. I feel that I’ve had really good value out of it. It becomes even better value when you renew – in essence you are buying a night in an IC for 19K points.

    • Miles March 4, 2017

      Thanks for the info Leo! There seems to be different experiences with club access and it’s definitely not a benefit that can be counted on.

  • scwam March 3, 2017

    As first time Ambassdor in December at Danang resort (stunning place) – I may have received several free Margheritas during our 5 day stay. Treatment was good. Funny part is they never asked for the cert and IHG sent me 2 of them because one took too long to get to Japan. So I still have 2 of them to use.

    • Miles March 3, 2017

      Wow sounds amazing! The Danang resort looks killer! Glad you got some great perks and bennies

  • jediwho March 3, 2017

    I am surprised I totally missed on this program over the years. It’s a no brainer given the benefits and not much has been written about it. Thanks for this piece.

  • jediwho March 3, 2017

    So, I guess the best time (at least the first time) to join would be before an upcoming travel and that includes ICH. Also, do you get the benefits on points stay i.e. upgrade, fruits, free movie?

    • Miles March 3, 2017

      Yeah I’d wait til you have a good reservation to use it on. yes those benefits are extended. However…better upgrades come with cash rates from my experience

  • jediwho March 3, 2017

    When does the year start? Is it calendar year or from the date you join?

    • Miles March 3, 2017

      Hey JediWho – great question. it’s membership year. Join now…keep it til March 2018

  • Kate March 3, 2017

    Interesting, and I have thought about it. But then it is one more “free” night you have to plan your year around. I already struggle with the credit card nights from IHG, Hyatt and Hilton. We were given access to the lounge at the Intercontinental in Abu Dhabi and I was impressed by how nice it was. How often do you get lounge access and how nice is it? And how meaningful are the upgrades? Right now, we are traveling with our high schooler and I find generally Intercontinentals abroad are tough to find for the three of us.

    • Miles March 3, 2017

      Hey Kate – thanks for reading! Sounds like you have a good line up of cards for hotel nights. As far as lounge access is concerned, it’s not a benefit you can count on. We’ve had decent luck, but it can be spotty. Upgrades are pretty good really. Every stay we’ve had at least one category guaranteed ahead of time, and it shows on your reservation – http://monkeymiles.boardingarea.com/check-pre-arrival-upgrades-ihg-property/ We’ve had suite upgrades confirm ahead of time as well.

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