Intercontinental Hotels offers perhaps the most rewarding elite level of any chain. You pay to join their ‘Ambassador’ program but the level you can earn is Royal Ambassador. And this in many ways is the most lucrative elite level there is: not just 4pm late checkout, but also guaranteed 8am check in; suite upgrades that often aren’t capped and can yield the biggest and most impressive suites; free drinks from the minibar (not to mention a free pay movie if you want it and free internet).
I’ve had some of my absolute best suites from Intercontinentals over the years — from the Presidential suite (twice) in Manila, a Diplomatic Suite in Bangkok, Ambassador Suite in Singapore, a Terrace Suite in San Francisco at the Mark Hopkins, to name just a few.
But the program is also frustrating in many ways. Most benefits — such as upgrades and early check in — do not apply per the terms and conditions to reward nights. So you stay and earn points and when it comes time to redeem those you can feel more like an unwanted guest than a valued one. Compliance with the program is tricky, some hotels have been known to create special room categories to weasel out of the upgrade benefit (does a fax machine in a standard room make that room ‘executive’ and thus the only upgrade required?). Still others will clean out the minibar before the member gets to their room.
Finally it’s a small program, since there aren’t a ton of Intercontinental properties. It’s a part of the Intercontinental Hotel Group, which also owns Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, and others. But the rest of the hotels use Priority Club, whose Platinum status may come with Royal Ambassador but offers few true perks under the program’s terms and conditions (though some properties do go above and beyond).
Overall I find Intercontinental and Priority Club to be the most frustrating program. You can’t even spend extra points to get better than a base level room as an award night, which makes the lack of elite benefits on award stays doubly frustrating.
And yet points are so darned easy to earn with them. Because they run so many promotions which are ostensibly targeted, but which often times anyone can sign up for, and which wind up being completely stackable.
I’m going to lose my Royal Ambassador status at the end of the year, after 7 years. I haven’t been staying at many Intercontinentals. And it used to be easy to get referral certificates where existing Royal Ambassador members could gift you the status (and often you would get a certificate in your referred Royal Ambassador membership kit where you could gift it back). But those certificates have become fewer and farther between in recent times.
But I was reminded just how lucrative the points earning in the Priority Club program can be, having just completed a typical 3 night stay and earned the following — over 24,000 points:
That’s five different promotions I earned points through on a single stay.
Loyalty Lobby did a nice job outlining the different kinds of promotions that Priority Club offers and which are usually stackable.
The best source for staying up to date with all of the bonuses offered is Priority Club Insider.
But what to do with all of those points? Especially when you can’t count on upgrades except at the benificence of the hotel itself?
In the past one other unique feature of the program was that quite frequently there would be glitches where hotels would make most of their room types available for points, though that doesn’t happen nearly as often anymore.
I’ll hold onto them and an opportunity will present itself for sure.