The Most Lucrative Hotel Elite Status Now Has Published Criteria

Intercontinental’s Royal Ambassador elite level is in some ways the best elite status of any hotel program. It’s also one of the most vexing.

The positives are remarkable. On top of the usual elite level benefits one finds with the major chains, they offer:

  • Guaranteed 8am check-in, not just 4pm late checkout
  • Complimentary free drinks from the mini-bar

The minibar thing is ultra-cool. But after a few times over-indulging, and hosting parties in your suite, at least I find that you really just appreciate it for always having a bottle of water handy.

8 a.m. check-in is huge for arrivals in Europe and even some parts of Asia — knowing you’ll have a room after a long flight and without having to pay for the previous night.

In some ways Starwood’s new Your24 benefit — checkin any time, checkout 24 hours later but still being able to avail yourself of 4pm late checkout if checkin is 9am or later — trumps. It’s a benefit for their 75 night Platinum members. But it is not guaranteed.

But there are areas where this status really falls short.

  • Very few benefits are guaranteed on award stays
  • No guaranteed club lounge access
  • Very few properties — this is status at Intercontinental hotels only, and while it comes with ‘Platinum’ status in the IHG Rewards program that’s not especially meaningful either.

Overall, I’ve had my absolute best upgrades through this program. It’s the only program where I’ve gotten upgraded to a hotel’s Presidential suite. Confirmed in advance, not as luck.

The benefit is technically to ‘an executive room or suite’ but different hotels interpret this differently.

Some treat it literally, with that as all you’re entitled to. The Mark Hopkins in San Francisco, around 2006, got a new General Manager who didn’t like offering Royal Ambassador upgrades and created a new room type… a standard room with a fax machine that he dubbed a ‘business room’ and thus an ‘executive room’. Boom. (Thankfully the current GM there sees things differently.)

Many hotels declare that Ambassadors receive a one-category upgrade and Royal Ambassadors a two-category upgrade. Some properties cap the upgrade (the Intercontinental Bali says you cannot be upgraded above a duplex suite — although many in fact receive better upgrades at checkin).

Other hotels don’t cap the upgrade. And may not even have that many room categories. Hence booking two levels below the Presidential suite for ~ US$175 twice yielded me that top suite at the Intercontinental Manila.

I’ve had Ambassador Suites at the Intercontinentals in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and the Diplomatic Suite in Bangkok.

I’ve had giant suites at the Willard in DC, hardwood floors in Atlanta, and a glass-enclosed terrace at that infamous Mark Hopkins just before the Royal Ambassador-hating General Manager was put into place there.

And in many ways it has also been one of the easier statuses to get. Not as easy as signing up for a credit card. But Royal Ambassadors used to get to refer someone else to the status. They receive a certificate to do so in their welcome packet.

Years ago there was no expiration date on the certificate and folks even re-referred themselves. But there was an even better trick: Royal Ambassadors who were themselves referred would receive referral certificates in their welcome packet. So a referral circle for perpetual status could be created.

Eventually they cleaned up the fulfillment issues, referred Royal Ambassadors weren’t supposed to be able to refer other Royal Ambassadors (although occasionally those certificates would still slip in).

And shorter expiration dates on the referral certificates made things a little bit harder as well. They aren’t permitted to be sold but I used to see these certificates go as high as $750 on eBay.

Referrals to Royal Ambassador are, sadly, a thing of the past.

The ‘real criteria’ to qualify for the status has been – until now – unpublished. Most years has seemed to hover around 50 nights total at IHG participating hotels plus stays with at least 3 Intercontinental properties. Some folks have been renewed with less and others have found a higher threshold.

Their terms and conditions have now been updated with official criteria (HT: Loyalty Lobby), which makes sense to me to do — how can members have a target for business to give the chain if they don’t know what the target is?

  • 60 qualifying nights with the chain
  • 20 of those nights at Intercontinental properties
  • Staying at at least 3 different Intercontinental hotels

I finally lost my Royal Ambassador status 8 months ago. I don’t miss it, really. But I still appreciate all of the years that I had it.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. That might have been your longest introduction to get to the main point…ever. And, that’s saying something.

  2. Are award stays considered qualified nights for IC RA, like they are for [Priority] Rewards Club?

  3. That might have been your longest introduction to get to the main point…ever. And, that’s saying something.

  4. It’s so lucrative the authors doesn’t have and ha no need for it. You need to work on your misleading titles it did you hire someone from huffington post.

  5. @ABC It gave me the best upgrades I’ve ever received, it gives free minibar, and it gives guaranteed 8am checkin. That’s the most lucrative, and I enjoyed it for years, but I’ll never have it again.

  6. I guess I won’t be having RA again either, the 60 nights is no problem, the 3 IC’s no problem, but 20 IC nights won’t happen for me.

  7. “and a glass-enclosed terrace at that infamous Mark Hopkins just before the Royal Ambassador-hating General Manager was put into place there.”

    Yup… You got the killer suite and I got bupkis that weekend 😉

  8. @DJP_707

    i’ve seen $90/100 corp rates at some IC’s, not far off the CP/HI rates, maybe that’s a possible route for you.

  9. Well I’m headed to IC Mark Hopkins this coming weekend to use my 241 cert. I’ve been renewing my Ambassador stays with points from CC sign up bonus. Great deal for weekend cert. Got the London Suite @ IC Park Lane a couple years ago

    Also had a great stay in windows on 3 sides jr suite @ IC Times Square with free room service BFast.

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