Is IHG’s Ambassador programme worth paying for in the UK in 2021?
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Elite hotel status usually needs to be earned through plenty of nights spent in the hotels participating in the relevant programme. Or, some elite status is provided for free as a benefit with credit cards such as The Platinum Card from American Express U.K.
The InterContinental Ambassador programme works very differently. In exchange for an annual fee, members get elite-like benefits. In normal, pre-COVID times, when you might have been travelling abroad regularly, it could easily pay for itself many times over.
But what about in 2021, where travel is still very much interrupted and uncertain?
Let’s say you are only planning to travel domestically within the United Kingdom for the rest of 2021 and only a handful of times, but would love a nice night or three in a fancy hotel — even if it’s in your home town.
Let’s have a look at if the numbers work in 2021.
What is the InterContinental Ambassador programme?
To summarise, the InterContinental Ambassador programme provides benefits when staying at InterContinental Hotels & Resorts. But, the programme doesn’t provide Ambassador benefits when staying at other IHG Rewards Club brands.
How do I become an InterContinental Ambassador?
To be an InterContinental Ambassador, you must pay an annual fee. This fee is currently $200 (about £145) or 40,000 IHG points. Based on TPG’s valuations, 40,000 IHG points are worth £160.
Once you pay, you’ll get access to Ambassador benefits for the following 12 months. So, it makes sense to enrol shortly before a stay. You can join the programme online, at any InterContinental Hotel or Resort or by calling the service centre.
What do I receive for my membership?
InterContinental Ambassadors get the following benefits when staying at InterContinental Hotels and Resorts:
- Guaranteed one category room upgrade, subject to availability, and not guaranteed on free nights and award nights and excludes lounge access as well as some suite types;
- Guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout;
- One complimentary weekend night that is valid on the second night of a paid weekend stay when booking the Ambassador Complimentary Weekend Night Rate. “Weekend” is defined as Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights in most parts of the world;
- Dedicated check-in area;
- IHG Rewards Club Platinum Elite status;
- A $20 (~£14) credit per stay for use in select hotel restaurants, bars, and minibars;
- Daily mineral water;
- Premium internet in guest rooms, when available;
- No extra charge for a second guest; and
- Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Five Star status.
Also, InterContinental Ambassadors have access to a “Benefits Guarantee” for select benefits. If a hotel is unable to fulfil these benefits, the member may be compensated as follows:
- Room upgrade: A restaurant, bar, or spa credit of $50 (about £36) or 10,000 IHG points. No compensation is provided on reward nights.
- 4 p.m. late checkout: A restaurant, bar, or spa credit of $50 (about £36) or 10,000 IHG points.
Now, you might see this Benefits Guarantee as a great feature of the programme, or a frustrating condition that limits the value of what you are paying for. If you’re really wanting a late checkout so you can have a lie-in or don’t have to head to the airport until just before your flight, a £36 voucher or £40 worth of points is unlikely to compensate for you really wanting the room for longer.
Similarly, if you’re staying at a high-end property where a room upgrade is worth far more than £40, this could be seen as a way for the hotel to avoid delivering the benefits you’re expecting.
You might collect a lot of points but consistently miss out on the benefits you were expecting from the programme. It depends on the property, the time of the year and a number of other factors.
Is it worth paying for in 2021?
Assuming you’re only going to use the programme in the United Kingdom, by far the most valuable part is the one free weekend night at InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and participating Regent Hotels & Resorts.
Note this needs to part of a paid weekend stay, so you could book a Friday night as a paid stay and receive the Saturday night free using the Ambassador programme benefit.
Looking at the eligible hotels in London for a weekend night later this month, I can see two hotels available, illustrating the savings by using the free night:
Given you are only paying £145 to enrol in the programme each year, you can instantly recoup the cost just by redeeming your free weekend night in London this summer.
Let’s say you don’t live in London, or perhaps you do but would rather travel somewhere else within the United Kingdom to redeem this free weekend night. Here are the options in Edinburgh for a weekend later this month:
You’ll come out even further ahead in Scotland. Your £145 investment in the programme can be used for a £226+ free night. And this is before you’ve even factored in other benefits of the programme like food and beverage credits and late checkout, which can be harder to place a firm value on.
Assuming you can properly use the free weekend hotel night for a much-needed weekend away, the IHG Ambassador programme is well worth the investment each year even during a year of reduced travel.
Ideally, if you were staying in IHG properties regularly, you get small benefits like late checkout every stay, or some points if this benefit was not, or could not be delivered. However, even if your fancy weekend staycation is the only time you use the programme, provided you redeem it for a high-value hotel room, such as in a popular U.K. city in the middle of summer.
Featured image by Kimpton Palm Springs
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