Reader Email: Royal Ambassador Program Devaluation

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A LoyaltyLobby reader CC’ed us an email that he had sent to IHG Rewards Club/Ambassador program leadership about eroding benefits.

InterContinental Barclay

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You can access IHG’s page for Ambassador program here.

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Here’s the email that the reader sent to IHG loyalty leadership:

I have been an Intercontinental Royal Ambassador for several years; and a very frequent guest of the Intercontinental Barclay New York City hotel both before and after their renovation. Prior to the Barclay’s renovation, the Barclay would provide a one-category upgrade to Ambassador members, and a suite to Royal Ambassadors. I would always book a one-bedroom suite and receive an upgrade to a “specialty” Executive Suite. This changed after the renovation was completed, and the property no longer upgraded to Executive Suites. After the Ambassador “enhancements”, the Barclay would provide a one-category upgrade to Ambassador members, and a two-category upgrade to Royal Ambassadors. That has now changed, as well.

Prior to my check-in last night, I noticed that I was not upgraded at all from the Executive Room I booked. I called the hotel and spoke with the hotel operator, who said “We no longer do suites”. After I asked to be transferred to a manager, the Assistant Front Office Manager told me that, on February 1st, the policy changed. A quick check of the new Terms & Conditions confirmed this:

https://www.ihg.com/intercontinental/content/us/en/ambassador/terms-conditions/suites-exclusions

Though the title is “Specialty suite exclusions”, in reality, all “suites” in both New York City Intercontinental properties are excluded.

Prior to the Ambassador “enhancements”, the Intercontinental Times Square would cap upgrades for all Ambassador members at a “Sky Studio”, which are not suites at all. Now, even they are considered excluded “Specialty” suites.

The Barclay Assistant Front Office manager told me that the hotel did not have enough suites to accommodate all Ambassador members. Now, all Ambassador members, regardless of status, will be capped at a Barclay King Room. She seemed to indicate that the hotel has many Ambassadors and Royal Ambassadors staying regularly; hence the change. Clearly, the “enhancements” have severely blurred the line between Ambassador and Royal Ambassador; they are now one and the same, and Royal Ambassadors are apparently treated no different than Ambassadors. Apparently, no consideration is given to Royal Ambassadors – If the suite is available, it will not be provided, regardless. If all members now receive early check-in, I do not know how Royal Ambassadors will check-in early, or be provided a holding room if their room is not yet ready.

In my opinion, the Ambassador program has truly lost their edge against all other loyalty programs. The one distinction was a guaranteed upgrade. Now, that “enhancement” can easily be overcome by the hotel providing points instead or, in the case of the Barclay Intercontinental or Intercontinental Times Square, completely bypassing by adding all suites to the “Specialty suite exceptions” list.

Royal Ambassadors were distinguished by receiving suites; that is no longer the case either. In the Times Square property, you now do not even receive the Sky Studio “Suite”. Your loyal customers were never naive or unsophisticated enough to believe these were suites. In no reality are they, or have they even been, “specialty” or “suites”.

Royal Ambassadors are now essentially the same as regular Ambassadors: Everyone receives early check-in, an “upgrade”, no suite upgrades. Properties invent categories to suffice this requirement; or pass-off “view” as an upgrade. Individual properties now have as much control as they want; IHG is no longer in control. Properties simply tell IHG to update the Terms & Conditions and they are not required to provide the very core offering of the program. Instead, perhaps they should become independent hotels; which is essentially the case now.

While the “enhancements” make the program on-par with other programs; providing lounge access and/or breakfast to top-tier guests, you have effectively devalued the entire program and, specifically, your top-tier guests: Royal Ambassadors. Perhaps that is the goal: Get rid of Royal Ambassadors; cater to the masses.

On a side-note, yesterday was my birthday. When I called to inquire what was going on, the Barclay’s Assistant Front Office Manager was gracious to honor the suite upgrade “as a one-time courtesy”. At check-in, the agent did not provide the Ambassador heet, lounge information, a drink certificate or anything other than the keys. The agent did, however, wish me a happy birthday and remember to reiterate that the upgrade was “a one-time courtesy”.

Rest assured, it is absolutely crystal clear that I, nor any other Royal Ambassador, will ever again receive an upgrade to a suite at either New York property.

Here’s the reply that we received from Mr. Canty:

It’s unfortunate to hear about Mr. REMOVED experience at the InterContinental Barclay. I’ve reached out directly with the hotel and they always do everything they can to recognize our members and deliver a great experience. The recent Royal Ambassador updates were introduced in an effort to ensure the delivery provides a consistent member experience when staying at any of our hotels globally. We recognized that some of our properties were unable to deliver on a consistent basis due to limited inventory. As such, exceptions were implemented – like modifications to suite availability at select hotels – to ensure we are still providing a memorable stay for our valued members.

In the rare case a hotel can’t deliver on the program benefits, we’ve made enhancements to the Royal Ambassador program to include a Benefits Guarantee Plan that will ensure the highest level of service from our properties, including: breakfast for two at hotels where no Club InterContinental is provided, waived destination/amenity fees and a Free Night at an IHG hotel.

Our first priority is to ensure Ambassadors are always recognized and have exceptional stays while at InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, and we welcome feedback on how we can continue to improve the Royal Ambassador experience

Here are the excluded suites per IHG:

INTERCONTINENTAL AMBASSADOR® SPECIALITY SUITE EXCEPTIONS

Africa

o    InterContinental Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport: Presidential Suites

Asia Pacific

o    InterContinental Bali Resort: Uluwatu, Jimbaran, Bukit Suite, Imperial Villa, Jivana Villa, Club InterContinental Suite, Balinese Suite, Pecatu Suite

o    InterContinental Bangkok: Royal Suites, Diplomatic Suites, Ambassador Suites, Executive Suites, Premier Suites

o    InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort: Penthouse, Beach Villa, Rock Villa, 2 bed Rock Villa, Sun Peninsula Residence 2 bed, Sun Peninsula Residence 3 bed, Royal Residence.

o    InterContinental Grand Seoul Parnas: Residence King, Club Residence Suites, Club Mountain Suites

o    InterContinental Hanoi Westlake: Presidential Suite, Premium 1, 2 and 3 bed Residence

o    InterContinental Hanoi Landmark 72: Ambassador Suite, Royal Suite, Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Hua Hin Resort: Club InterContinental Beach Villa, La Residence and Leisure Suite

o    InterContinental-ANA Manza Beach Resort: Club InterContinental Corner Terrace, Club InterContinental Corner Suite, Club InterContinental Deluxe Corner Suite, Club InterContinental Deluxe Corner Terrace

o    InterContinental Nha Trang: Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Osaka: Executive Suite, 2 bed Residence Superior, 2 bed Residence Deluxe, 2 bed residence Premium, 3 bed Residence Premium

o    InterContinental Pattaya: Baan Sai Chol 1 bed Pool Villa, Baan Sai Nam 2 bed Pool Villa

o    InterContinental Phu Quoc: 2 bed Suites/Villas and greater

o    InterContinental Robertson Quay: Penthouse

o    InterContinental Saigon: Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Samui Baan Taling Ngam Resort: Club Napa Reserve 3 bedroom Residence

o    InterContinental Seoul Coex: Business Suites, Corner Suites, Club Corner Suites, Ambassador Suite, Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Singapore: Presidential Suite, Ambassador Suite, Royal Suite, Executive Suite

o    InterContinental-ANA Tokyo: Imperial Suite, Presidential Suite, Japanese Suite, Executive Suite

o    InterContinental Tokyo: Club InterContinental Imperial Suite, 2 bedroom Club Presidential Suites, Club InterContinental Executive Suite

o    InterContinental Hong Kong: Signature Suites (Terrace Suite, CEO Suite, Presidential Suite)

o    InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong: Presidential Suite

o    ANA InterContinental Beppu Resort & Spa: Junior Suite, Premium Suite, Panorama 1 bedroom Suite, Panorama 2 bedroom Suite

Australasia / Oceania

o    InterContinental Adelaide: King Diplomatic Suite, King Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa: Brando Suites Bora Bora, Pool Villa, Pool Premium Villa

o    InterContinental Fiji: Natadola Suite

o    InterContinental Melbourne Rialto: Iconic Suites, Signature Suites

o    InterContinental Perth City Centre: Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Sanctuary Cove Resort: Federation Suite, Manor Suite

o    InterContinental Sydney Double Bay: Royal Suite, Deluxe Bayview Suites

o    InterContinental Sydney: Australia Suite, State Suite, Governor Suites

o    InterContinental Tahiti: Bungalow Overwater Motu

o    InterContinental Wellington: Presidential Suite

o   InterContinental Hayman Island Resort: One Bedroom Hayman Suite, Two Bedroom Hayman Suite, Two Bedroom Pool View Suite, Beachfront Pool Villa, Three Bedroom Beach House, Three Bedroom Hayman Suite

Europe

o    InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam: Presidential Suite (includes Executive Presidential Suite, Executive Presidential Twin room & Executive Presidential Junior Suite), Dom Perignon Suite (includes Executive Dom Perignon Suite & Executive Dom Perignon Junior Suite).

o    InterContinental Athenaeum Athens: Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Berlin: Presidential Suite, Diplomatic Suite, Park Suite

o    InterContinental Budapest: Presidential Suite, Executive Suites

o    InterContinental Davos: Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Dublin: Pembroke Suites, Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Dusseldorf: Presidential Suite, Lifestyle Suite

o    InterContinental Estoril: Ocean View Suites

o    InterContinental Frankfurt: Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Geneva: Executive Lake View Suites, Panoramic Lake View Suites, Presidential Lake View Suites, Imperial Residence

o    InterContinental Kiev: Governor Suite, Presidential Suite, Royal Suite, Ambassador Suite

o    InterContinental Lisbon: Presidential Suite, Panoramic Suite, Ambassador Suite

o    InterContinental Ljubljana: Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental London The O2: The Penthouse, 1 bed Club InterContinental Suite, 2 bed Club InterContinental Suite

o    InterContinental Madrid: King Dali Club Suite Castellana View, King Bed Miro Club Suite with terrace, King Bed Picasso Club Luxury Suite, Royal Suite

o    InterContinental Malta: Duplex Suite, Ambassador Suite, Penthouse, Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Moscow Tverskaya: Duncan – Premier Suite, Nizhinsky – Presidential Suite, Ulanova – Royal Suite

o    InterContinental Park Lane: Signature Suites

o    InterContinental Vienna: Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Warsaw: Presidential Suite, Senior Suites

Mainland China

o    InterContinental Chongqing: Presidential Suite, 2 bedroom Suite, Executive Suites

o    InterContinental Dalian: Executive Suite, CEO Suite, Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Foshan: Chairman Suite, Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Guangzhou Exhibition Centre: Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Kunming: Presidential Suite, Lake View Luxury Suites

o    InterContinental Lijiang Ancient Town Resort: Superior Suite

o    InterContinental Sanya Resort: 1 bed Villa, 2 bed Villa, Ocean Suite, Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Sanya Haitang Bay Resort: InterContinental Superior Ocean View Suite, Family Suite, Premier Ocean View Suite, Two bedroom Ocean View Suite, InterContinental Grand Ocean View Presidential Suite, InterContinental Ocean Front Villa

o    InterContinental Shanghai Jing’an: Ambassador Suite, Executive Suite

o    InterContinental Shenzen: King Bed Club Chinese Theme Suite, King Bed Club Duplex Suite (King Club Terrace Suite), Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Shijiazhuang: Ambassador Suite, Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Qingdao: Presidential Suite, Deluxe Aqua Suite Ocean View, Aqua Suite Ocean View, Executive Suite Ocean View, Aqua Deluxe King Ocean View

o    InterContinental Quanzhou: 2 bedroom Suite, InterContinental Deluxe Premier Suite

o    InterContinental Xiamen: 2 bed Suite

o    InterContinental Xishuangbanna: Deluxe Suite, President Villa

Middle East

o    InterContinental Cairo CityStars: 2 and 3 Bedroom Residence Suite, Penthouse Residence Suite, 2 Bedroom Signature Suite, Royal Suite, Karnak Suite, Luxor Suite

o    InterContinental Doha: Luxury Suite

o    InterContinental Dubai Festival City: Signature Suite, Presidential Suite, Royal Suite

o    InterContinental Dubai Marina: 2 bedroom Suites, 3 bedroom Suites, Penthouse Suites

o    InterContinental Fujairah Resort: Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong: Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Hong Kong: Signature Suites (Terrace Suite, CEO Suite, Presidential Suite)

o    InterContinental Makkah Dar Al Tawhid: 4 Bedroom Presidential Suites Haram View, 3 Bedroom Amiri Suites Haram View

North America

o    InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta: Grand Suite, Royal Suite, Ambassador Suite, Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Boston: Presidential Suite, Penthouse North, Penthouse South

o    InterContinental Presidente Cancun Resort: Caribbean Suites Ocean Front, Signature Suite Ocean Front, Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Presidente Cozumel: Presidential Suites

o    InterContinental Presidente Guadalajara: Ambassador Suite, Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Los Angeles Century City: Royal Suite, Presidential Suite, Elite Honeymoon, Elite Residence, Premier, Premier Suites with Terrace

o    InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco: Nob Hill Suite, Cyril Magnin Suite, Mark Hopkins Suite, Presidential Suite, Penthouse, California Suite

o    InterContinental New York Barclay: Executive Suites, Deluxe Suites, Presidential Suites, Harold S. Vanderbilt Suite

o    InterContinental New York Times Square: Penthouse, Manhattan, Deluxe Studio, Sky View Studio

o    InterContinental Presidente Mexico City: Master Suites (Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Alberto Gironella and José Guadalupe Posada) Presidential Suites (José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera)

o    InterContinental Presidente Santa Fe: Grand Suite, Master Suite

o    InterContinental San Diego: Presidential Suite, Grant Suites

o    InterContinental San Francisco: Bay Suite, Terrace Suite, Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental The Willard Washington D.C: Thomas Jefferson Suite, George Washington Suite, John Adams Suite

o    InterContinental Minneapolis – St. Paul Airport: Wingspan Suites, Pinnacle Suites

South America

o    InterContinental Cartagena: Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Santo Domingo: Presidential Suite

o    InterContinental Medellin: Presidential Suite, Antioquia Suite

Conclusion

The reader has a valid point here. The ever increasing list of “specialty” suites that are excluded from Ambassador and Royal Ambassador upgrades doesn’t make much sense.

Hotels were allowed first to exclude REAL specialty suites but when they were allowed to exclude something as usual as Club InterContinental suite or Sky Studio?

What is an “upgrade” worth when it is basically the same room that you booked that is merely named differently and perhaps comes with slippers?

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