Changes have been announced for the Intercontinental Ambassador program (Flyertalk thread is here), they’re mostly ho-hum (though will wait and see how they function in practice). Still waiting to see what the changes to the Royal Ambassador program bring. We should find out within a few weeks tops.
Plain-old vanilla Ambassador, which is what you can buy for $150 ($100 renewal, or 24,000 Priority Club points last time I checked), comes with late checkout, a one-category room upgrade, a free movie during your stay, and a welcome gift that at some properties is a nice little amentiy and at other places is a bowl of fruit.
The announced changes are:
- 20,000 bonus points for every 15 nights at Intercontinental properties. This helps address the perverse incentive that non-Intercontinental hotels in the program (Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, etc.) earn more points for Ambassador members than their higher-end Intercontinentals do.
- Free water! “You will no longer have to request additional water, bottled water will be replenished daily.” At least I assume it’s free, they don’t actually say so…
- Weekend Night Certificates, which come in the Ambassador membership or renewal package and allow you to get one free night for a paid weekend night (generally a free second night with a paid Friday or Saturday night stay, though some locations such as in the Middle East have different definitions), will be valid for a year from date of issue instead of nine months.
- A new website. Umm, who cares?
- A new look. Great, they spend money on branding and graphic design instead of putting it into the program. Everyone gets new membership cards.
- Training in consistency. They say it means all their staff get trained, and sure there are some who ignore program benefits but consistency also means not delivering above and beyond so as not to set mmeber expectations above what’s guaranteed in the program. Frankly I don’t like it.
There’s nothing abominable here, and nothing all that exciting. Bonus points are good, but only kick in every 15 nights. The program already has lots of bonus points, and I suppose consistency in benefits can’t hurt for Ambassador members who don’t usually get much beyond what program rules require anyway. Upgrades are modest to begin with.
My consternation really stems from what this model means for the coming changes to Royal Ambassador, which does tend to provide ‘wow’ experiences and I’m afraid those will become far more rare. I’ve stayed in the Diplomatic Suite at the Intercontinental Bangkok, a Terrace Suite at the Mark Hopkins, Jimbaran Bay Suite at the Intercontinental Bali, had lovely upgrades in Atlanta, New York, and many many times at the Willard in DC. If amazing upgrades were delivered consistently to all members, sure that would be great, but don’t count on that being the outcome.
Am I just too jaded? Within a few weeks we’ll know. There is a rumor that Royal Ambassadors will consistently be given a choice of a suite upgrade with no club access, or club access with no suite. Again, I’m guessing the suite upgrades will be standardized to a basic suite, rather than the upper-echelon rooms I’ve frequently gotten. But time will tell.