Suites, Treats, and Eats, a Malaysian Mileage Thanksgiving: Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur

  1. Introduction: Constructing — and Re-constructing — the Award Trip
  2. American Eagle DC – New York and the New Nicest JFK Airport Hotel, the Hilton
  3. Cathay Pacific First Class, JFK – Hong Kong
  4. The Wing lounge in Hong Kong and Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Kuala Lumpur
  5. Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur
  6. Malaysia Airlines Business Class, Kuala Lumpur – Langkawi
  7. The Andaman Langkawi
  8. Malaysia Airlines Business Class, Langkawi – Kuala Lumpur
  9. Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur
  10. Things to See and Do in Kuala Lumpur
  11. Korean Airlines First Class, Kuala Lumpur – Seoul and the Korean Airlines First Class Lounge Seoul
  12. Korean Airlines First Class, Seoul – Washington Dulles

I have a love-hate relationship with Intercontinental’s Royal Ambassador elite program. I’ve had the status since 2006. It’s been responsible for the majority of the very best upgrades I’ve gotten — not just ‘standard’ suites but monster, named suites. I’ve had the Presidential suite at the Intercontinental Manila a couple of times, the Diplomatic Suite in Bangkok, an Ambassador suite in Singapore. I’ve had a Terrace Suite at the Mark Hopkins, and large suites at the Intercontinental Boston and the Willard in DC, to name a few.

But the chain offers very little in the way of consistency. And any attempts they’ve made at consistency have only served to diminish the program. Award stays ‘officially’ receive almost no benefits whatsoever. Upgrades are to an executive room or a suite. Lots of wiggle room in those terms — one former manager at the Mark Hopkins in San Francisco stuck a fax machine in a standard room, said that was a business room which qualified as executive for the purposes of upgrades.

But when the program works it really works, with guaranteed 8am check-in and complimentary beverages from the mini-bar, and most hotels offering an ‘unofficial’ upgrade policy which diverges from the program’s rules. The most common policy is a guaranteed two-category room upgrade from whatever you’ve booked. But policies change, and if you care about the treatment you’re going to get the best approach is to contact the hotel in advance and ask. Or even negotiate a bit over what you’ll get.

Knowing that the Intercontinental isn’t the most modern or top luxury property in Kuala Lumpur, but that it has a phenomenal club lounge, I was interested and figured I could get a fairly good deal.

I e-mailed to ask their upgrade policy and they replied,

InterContinental Kuala Lumpur Practice 2 levels upgrade if you book under Deluxe category.

Deluxe is our lowest category, that is why we upgrade 2 levels up for you to enjoy at least the club floor room and benefits.

So if you book under premier, Grand premier or club room, only 1 level room upgrade.

Sorry for the different upgrading that applies in InterContinental Kuala Lumpur,but we will try our best to accord.

So a base level room booking gives Royal Ambassador club lounge access, but anything else would yield just a one category upgrade — just as if I had basic Ambassador status. Hmm.

Still, I wasn’t entirely off the trail of this hotel. I ignored my Kuala Lumpur hotel choice for a bit, and asked to clarify what a one-category upgrade from a club room would mean.

They replied that they had changed their upgrade policy:

Now that we practicing 2 levels upgrade from which ever your original booking. Meaning, If you book under Deluxe we will upgrade you to Grand Premier Room (newly renovated room) very fresh modern 3D look. Our new features are; Ipod Dock, Dvd Player, 40 inch Flat Screen, rain shower and since you are Royal AMb, Free mini bar, No club benefits.

If you book under Club room, we will upgrade you to Ambassador Suite with benefits and free mini bar on daily basis.

They had added a room category beneath club level, meaning a base-level room would no longer provide a club upgrade here!

But they’re doing two category upgrades regardless of what’s booked. So booking a club room would mean getting an Ambassador suite. And I saw an exceptional rate of about US$160 (500 MYR) a night for a club room, dubbed a ‘luxury weekends’ rate. Sold.

But see whatI mean about the vagaries of Intercontinental Royal Ambassador? Each hotel makes up their own rules. Those rules change. When it works out well it can work out really really well, I certainly get the best upgrades from the chain — better than ‘standard’ suites — but it can take work.

I was pretty pleased with myself though…. until I sampled the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur on the way into Malaysia, and with their gorgeous suite on my one night stay on the brain I was actually regretting booking a non-refundable rate.

Having arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in the domestic terminal, I deplaned to find a representative from the Intercontinetnal waiting for me at the end of the jetway. I didn’t pay extra for that service, but since there’s no passport control involved for a domestic pickup I imagine it’s not hard to do. I wasn’t expecting it and it was certainly a nice touch!

Once again I was enroute for the 45 minute drive to the hotel. Uneventful. We pulled up to the hotel around 5pm and it was clearly a busier time than our nighttime arrival at the Grand Hyatt. Lots of activity in the driveway. Lots of people standing around outside the office building next door that shares the driveway. A bellman assisted with our luggage but this time we were given luggage tags to turn over at check-in. We found the check-in counter ourselves, and were then directed to the Ambassador check-in desk beside it where we would be seated for the paperwork and formalities. There was no customized arrival, no expectation of us on the part of folks once we got out of the vehicle. It seems like with a hotel pickup from the airport that wouldn’t be hard to do.

A few minutes later we were on our way up to the room and I was at least excited to have the big suite. And I was a great room. Not nearly as stylish or thoughtfully designed as the one at the Hyatt six nights earlier, but a great value for sure.

There was a bathroom off the entryway, a large living room and dining area, a small galley kitchen, and then the bedroom with large master bath and walk-in closet room.

I had a peak into the minibar and there wasn’t any liquor, but there was a half-finished hotel water bottle in there which I promptly disposed of in the trash.

I consulted the letter outlining executive lounge benefits and noticed it was almost time for evening canapés and cocktails, those are served 6pm – 8pm. Breakfast can be taken in the lounge from 630am until 1030am or in the main buffet restaurant starting at 6am. Tea is 3pm – 5pm. And club guests are entitled to 3 pieces or laundry or pressings per day complimentary. And 4pm late checkout which also is an Ambassador benefit.

My departing flight from Kuala Lumpur two days later would be leaving at 11:25pm, so I asked the hotel whether we might arrange an even later checkout. I was hoping to be able to pay a partial night and leave for the airport around 8pm. They wouldn’t do that, but they were willing to confirm in advance a 6pm checkout complimentary. (I’d later spend those last two hours or so in the lounge for a third night of evening cocktails after checkout.)

The lounge is probably the most remarkable thing about what’s otherwise a large, busy, impersonal hotel. The space isn’t large and the views aren’t magnificent, but the food selection is very good and the service there friendly and attentive. It’s one of the best provisioned lounges in terms of food that I’ve been to, an opinion probably shaped by the fact that they have a chef on duty not only preparing a hot dish choice at breakfast but also featuring a hot cooked-to-order item in the evenings as well.

I decided to try the breakfast buffet the next morning, since Malaysian buffets are famous for their extravagance. There was certainly an amazing array of choices. The food was also quite good. But the restaurant was busy and service inattentive.

We walked into the restaurant, were asked for our room number, and simply expected to find our own table by way of the buffet stations. We did that, but flagging anyone down for coffee could be a challenge (and getting a refill doubly so).

I decided that no matter if there would be fewer choices, breakfast in the lounge would be far preferable. Even though the lounge is small, it was never busy (perhaps because base-level room bookings for Royal Ambassadors no longer entitles lounge access!).

Our final lounge visit was to checkout and then spend a couple of hours before heading off to the airport. The only drawback I can think of about the lounge is that there are no outletsthere, whatsoever which doesn’t make it a very good space for working. Still I did get some things done, figuring I could recharge my battery in the lounge before the flight to Seoul later that night (while I was flying first class, my intra-Asia segment would be in Korean’s old first class seat and thus no power).

Checkout in the lounge was a little bit confused, although I was in no rush. I had changed our car to the airport from 6pm (the checkout time we were granted) to 8pm, it showed up correctly with the folks who would be taking us but in the lounge they thought the car was for 6. And I used my leftover local currency towards payment of my hotel bill, so I wouldn’t need to change it back to dollars. But they had a hard time doing that, then once they took the money they still charged me the full original bill amount to my credit card which they then had to void and re-run. It was all done with the utmost cheerfulness and apology, of course.

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. This was a very good and useful snapshot of the hotel although the particular details of your experience as a RA are probably of less use to your readers since that is an invitation-only status. In any event, the new Hyatt seems to be the way to go in KL, at least for chain hotels.

  2. Just wondering, if RA were to impose standardization of benefits upon properties, would the standardization, as a whole, lead to higher or lower standards?

  3. I hope that my thinking process and explanation of discussion ex ante with hotel about upgrades remains useful, though

  4. Gary, any restaurants to recommend in KL?

    Also, do you take any precautions re: food? I only eat cooked foods or fruit I peel, until maybe the last couple of days.

    One thing I love about Singapore is the level of sanitary practices is high, so I can eat raw fruit. I’ve learned you can drink most of the ice in Thailand (the ones with holes are purified) but in general, I also stay away from raw foods in Thailand (except for the last couple of days).

  5. Kuala Lumpur is the place to go high end in hotels. Mandarin Oriental, Ritz Carlton, Shangri-La and Four Seasons are usualy less than $150 per night in KL.

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