The InterContinental Ambassador Experiment

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InterContinental Lyon, May 2022. Experiment codename “Ambassador Prestige Suite.” Results tallied. Details below…

I recently had occasion to book a weekend stay at the InterContinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu.  As I weighed various options for booking the stay, I realized that I finally had a chance to test out a potentially great hack.  InterContinental Ambassador status, which you can buy with points or cash, guarantees a one category room upgrade when you pay with cash.  My goal was to get an out-of-this-world suite upgrade by booking a suite one level below the most outrageous suite offered by the hotel.  Would it work?

Disclosure: Prior to this trip, IHG offered me Diamond elite status. I accepted this gift with the thought that it would be helpful for me to see if the new IHG One Rewards elite program was worth striving for (see this post for more thoughts about accepting gifts like these). The new program didn’t officially roll out until after my trip to Lyon and I’m not aware of having received any perks on this trip other than more bonus points compared to the status I got by buying Ambassador status. So, my assessment of IHG’s new Diamond status perks will have to wait for another day.

Experiments

My primary experiment was to see if I could weasel my way into the equivalent of a presidential suite by booking the next category down.  I would save money by using the Ambassador Free Weekend Night coupon (it’s really a “buy one night, get one free” coupon).  Ambassador status supposedly guarantees a one level upgrade, so this ought to work, right?

In addition that primary experiment, I wanted to test a number of other ideas..

  • Earn 10x paying for Ambassador?  The IHG Premier and Premier Business cards earn 10 points per dollar at IHG properties.  Would they also offer 10x when buying Ambassador status directly from IHG?
  • Extend upgrade to cheaper nights? I booked the first night in a regular King room via Fine Hotels & Resorts, and the next two nights in a suite.  If the suite is upgraded to a top level suite, will the hotel upgrade us to that suite for the first night as well so as to keep us in the same room?
  • $20 food & beverage credit? In the past when I’ve stayed at InterContinental hotels while I had Ambassador status, I had to remind them each time that I was supposed to get $20 credit towards food & beverages during the stay.  Would they apply the credit proactively this time?
  • Guaranteed late checkout?  IHG’s new elite benefits don’t offer guaranteed late checkout, but InterContinental Ambassador status does (but only at InterContinental hotels).  Will they honor it?
  • Portal Credit for the whole weekend?  I had an amazing offer for 18% back in rewards for booking a stay with IHG (See: Digging the Capital One Shopping Browser Extension). When booking an Ambassador Free Weekend Night, the reservations look as if you’ll be charged the entire amount of the two nights (including receiving a confirmation email showing the full price of both nights), but the second night is never charged to your credit card.  If I book the weekend through the portal, will the portal pay out based on the full weekend rate even though I only paid for the first night?
  • IHG points earned for the whole weekend?  This seemed like a long-shot, but it was worth testing.  Would I earn IHG points based on the price shown in my confirmation email (which included the price of Saturday night, even though I never had to pay for Saturday night)?

Background

We wanted to stay 3 nights in Lyon, France.  The InterContinental Hotel Dieu was in a perfect location and housed within Lyon’s iconic and wonderfully restored Hotel Dieu (in the context of Hotel Dieu, the word “hotel” means something like “large estate,” “building,” or “structure”).

I booked the first night of our stay (Thursday) through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts.  Amex charged approximately the same rate as I could find elsewhere (just over $400 all-in), but I earned $200 back by paying with my Platinum card, and that entitled me to the standard Fine Hotel & Resorts perks: $100 property credit, room upgrade, daily free breakfast, etc.  I made sure to add my IHG One Rewards number to the reservation so that I would earn points and elite benefits as well.  See this post for more details: Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts Guide: Your FHR questions answered.

In order to book Friday and Saturday night, I first checked whether the Ambassador Free Weekend Night coupon could be used (always use this link to check for free weekend night prices and availability before joining the Ambassador program).  Once I confirmed that it could, and that prices were nearly the same as without the coupon, I bought Ambassador status for $200.  Note that I got an error every time I tried to purchase status online via credit card or with points.  I had to call to complete the purchase.

With Ambassador status, I was guaranteed the following:

  • Free Weekend Night coupon (pay for one night, get the next night free)
  • One category room upgrade on paid stays.
  • 4pm late checkout
  • $20 food & beverage credit per stay
  • Complimentary mineral water (woohoo!)

For details about buying Ambassador status, please see this post: InterContinental Ambassador – elite status you can buy.

IHG’s website showed that the Prestige Suite was the best suite available that weekend.  The Prestige Suite was available for “only” 1,522 Euros per night.  One category lower, the King Bed Junior Suite River View suite was available for less than half of the Prestige Suite: 692 Euros per night.  It turned out that both of those prices were based on non-refundable advanced purchase rates (which I wasn’t willing to do), and so the actual price of each was higher.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a screenshot of the final flexible rate for the Prestige Suite.  I think its safe to assume that it would have cost over 1,700 Euros per night (on a future weekend with lower prices than shown above, the total cost for the Prestige suite comes to 1,670 Euros per night).

Prestige Suite patio. Image courtesy of IHG.com

I decided to book the river view junior suite in hope of getting upgraded to the magnificent looking Prestige Suite.  Photos of the Prestige Suite show a huge and opulent living room, a separate bedroom, and a large and beautiful outdoor patio.

This screenshot shows that the refundable rate for the junior suite was 790 Euros per night.  I could have saved 24 Euros by booking the Member Exclusive Rate but then the free night coupon wouldn’t have been eligible.

I booked Friday night for 790 Euros (~$845 USD).  Saturday night was free with the Ambassador Free Weekend coupon.  My cost per night, then, was 395 Euros per night.  Since IHG was charging over 400 Euros per night for base level rooms that weekend, that seemed like a good deal for a guaranteed suite.

Of course, since I paid $200 for Ambassador status, and status comes with only one free weekend night coupon, you can argue that I paid $200 for the second night and so I paid a little over $500 per night altogether.  That’s true, but that $200 spend also gives me Ambassador benefits for a full year (which I do expect to benefit from) and so I think it’s more accurate to say that I bought Ambassador status as an “entry fee” to be able to execute this experiment.

After initially booking the river view junior suite, I received a phenomenal offer from Capital One Shopping: 18% back for IHG stays.  So, I cancelled my original booking and rebooked after activating the Capital One Shopping offer (for details, see my recent post about the Capital One Shopping Browser Extension).

Results

InterContinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu Junior Suite.  We weren’t upgraded to the Prestige Suite, but our bi-level junior suite was fantastic.  The bottom level bedroom and top-level living room overlooked a spectacular two story window with a view of the Rhône river.

The primary experiment failed.  Someone had booked the Prestige Suite for that weekend, and so an upgrade was impossible.  I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that this was likely to happen.  Most hotels only have one or two of the best suites and so of course there’s a chance that it or they will be sold out.  Duh me.

A sharp reader may note that the Ambassador terms & conditions call into question whether this would have worked even if the suite was available:

InterContinental Ambassador and Royal Ambassador guaranteed upgrade excludes Residences, Penthouses, Presidential and Speciality Suites and two bedroom or greater Suites/Villas.

Was the Prestige Suite an exempt penthouse, presidential suite, or “Speciality [sic]” suite?  Nope.  IHG provides a list of suite exceptions here.  The InterContinental Lyon is not on the list.

Ambassador status actually guarantees a one category upgrade.  If the hotel isn’t able to provide the upgrade, you are entitled instead to either a $50 stay credit or 10,000 IHG points.  While I wouldn’t normally bother trying to collect on this, I felt it was worth a try for this post.  I didn’t think to ask during the stay and so I called IHG when I got home.  IHG contacted the hotel to find out why I wasn’t upgraded and was told that I had booked the highest category room.  I explained that this wasn’t exactly right: there was a higher category room at the time of booking but it was sold out when I checked in.  The IHG call center rep then investigated the situation and called me later. The result was that they wouldn’t pay me the 10K IHG points because the guarantee does not apply to stays in which the Free Weekend Night is applied.  Fair enough.

InterContinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu Junior Suite living room.

Even without the 10,000 points, I wasn’t too sad about missing the suite upgrade.  The junior suite was awesome: Two stories of splendor with a knockout view of the Rhône.  The one thing the junior suite was missing compared to the Prestige suite was an outdoor patio, but since a heatwave settled in during our stay, we probably wouldn’t have used the patio much anyway.

Here are the rest of the results…

  • Earn 10x paying for Ambassador? Nope: I earned only 3x with my IHG Premier card.  Boo.
  • Extend upgrade to cheaper nights? Success, but it required a nudge.  I had booked a regular King room for Thursday night via Fine Hotels & Resorts.  I contacted the hotel in advance to ask them to keep us in the same room for both stays.  I received a reply that they would honor that request.  At check-in, I was cheerfully told that they were able to upgrade us to a river-view King for the entire stay.  Nice, but that meant no suite at all.  I had to remind them that I had paid for a suite for Friday and Saturday night.  They quickly realized their error and checked us into the river view junior suite for all 3 nights.
  • Fine Hotels & Resorts credit for entire stay: Success.  This wasn’t actually part of my experiment at all, but it’s worth reporting.  Technically the $100 food & beverage credit from my Fine Hotels & Resorts booking should have been usable only on Thursday night or Friday morning.  And other places where I’ve chained stays together have enforced that.  Here, they explicitly told us that we could use the credit any time throughout the weekend.  The only downside is that they used a customer unfriendly exchange rate for this $100 benefit: 85 Euros (the exchange rate for $100 at the time of writing is 93.43 Euros).
  • $20 food & beverage credit? Success.  This benefit was automatically applied, but with a customer unfriendly exchange rate: I got 15 Euros credit.
  • Guaranteed late checkout?  Success.  When I requested late checkout, I was told (correctly) that my status offers 4pm late checkout for no additional charge.  I was impressed that we didn’t have to get our room key re-keyed after noon (as has been the case many times at other hotels when I’ve been granted late checkout).
  • Portal Credit for the whole weekend?  Success.  After booking the Friday and Saturday night stay, the Capital One Portal showed $300.47 pending.  That’s 18% of the full price as if I didn’t use the free weekend night coupon.  Following the stay, the portal is still tracking the same rebate.
    Update 6/15/22: The rewards have now been fully paid out!
  • IHG points earned for the whole weekend?  No (as expected).  My IHG account activity makes it look like I paid full price for both nights (which is why I think the portal may be working), but only the amount I actually paid was listed as qualifying for point earnings.

Accounting

Total Spend

  • IHG Ambassador status: $200
  • Thursday night: $417.78
  • Friday & Saturday night: $897.82
    (this includes around $50 in food & drinks that were not covered by credits)
  • Total: $1,515.60 (Averages to $505 per night)

Rewards Earned

IHG Points:

  • Credit card rewards from buying Ambassador status: 600 points
  • InterContinental Hotel Dieu welcome bonus: 600 points
  • Fine Hotels & Resorts stay (Thursday): 6,052 points
    (Includes 100% bonus due to my having IHG Diamond status)
  • Weekend stay (Friday & Saturday): 14,882 points
    (Includes 100% bonus due to my having IHG Diamond status)
  • Promo (earn up to 4x, 2x on nights 2-5): 6,746 points
    (I can’t figure out why I was awarded these points. The first night was my first stay during the promo period and so it shouldn’t have received any bonus points. I’m not complaining)
  • Promo (earn up to 4x, 2x on nights 2-5): 7,441 points
    (this was the expected bonus from nights 2 & 3)
  • Promo (3,000 bonus points every 3 nights as a credit cardholder, up to 6,000 bonus points): 3,000 points (expected, but not yet credited)
  • Total: 39,321
  • Estimated value of 39,321 points: $235.93
    (based on our Reasonable Redemption Value of 0.6 cents per point)

Other Rewards:

  • Purchased Thursday night stay through Amex with Amex Platinum card:
    • Fine Hotels & Resorts annual rebate: $200
    • Earn 5x:
      • 2,090 Amex Membership Rewards points
      • Estimated value of 2,090 Amex points: $32.40
  • Portal rebate: $300.47 (pending)

Other Benefits:

  • Awesome suite
  • Daily free breakfast
  • 100 Euros in food and beverage credits (85 Euros from the $100 Fine Hotels & Resorts benefit + 15 Euros from the $20 Ambassador status credit)
  • I will continue to benefit from IHG Ambassador status for the remaining 11-ish months of my membership.  Fortunately, I have at least one very likely InterContinental stay during that period.

Accounting Summary

  • Total spend for 3 nights plus several meals: $1,515.60
  • Total estimated value of rewards earned or pending: $768.80
  • Total cost after rebate: $746.80

Note that the above summary is based on the estimated redemption value of rewards earned.  A more conservative approach is to estimate the amount I’d be willing to pay for the rewards.  For example, I’d be willing pay 0.5 cents per IHG point rather than 0.6 cents.  A conservative estimate of rewards earned is at 80% of face value: 80% of $768.80 = $615.04.  With this, the conservative estimate of total cost after rebate = $1,515.60 – $615.04 = $900.56.

Final Thoughts

This was a fun experiment to see if I could weasel my way into a grand suite for far less than sticker price.  The primary experiment didn’t succeed as expected, but we still stayed 3 nights in an incredible suite.  After rebates, my net cost came to only about $300 per night and included daily free breakfast and 100 Euros food and beverage credit.  While that wasn’t the most amazing deal ever, it was a great result for a great stay.

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SamBam

Greg, was the 790 Euros for Friday and Saturday nights after the 18% discount from capital one shopping? I assume it would have been close to 1000Euros without, non?

SamBam

Yes, I realize it’s not really cash back. Even so, this takes your per diem down another $60-70. Important question: I couldn’t find the book/use before date language of the August 31 Cap One IHG offer. I would presume it’s book and use before August 31. But am not sure….

Askmrlee

Intercontinental Monterey The Clement pulled this shenanigan on me pre pandemic. But they did give me the 10K points and free breakfast as an apology for the failure to upgrade. I later had to call IHG customer service to actually credit and provide the apology letter the hotel manager hand wrote. The guarantee is pretty much worthless because the cost difference between rooms is usually a lot more than $50.

Previous years I had no problem upgrading to a higher suite.

Dana

Glad you had a great stay. This hotel appears very worthy of your excellent report.

HADLEY V. BAXENDALE

Congrats to you Greg! I assume you had some great food while in the culinary capital of France!

Somewhat off topic — Did you have Diamond/Spire status prior to your purchase of Ambassador membership?

Reports have been trickling in on FT that by doing so, the clock is re-set on the expiration of such status from 12/31/22 to 12/31/23 (or longer) and since Diamond status is set to entitle one to a slew of new benefits, I might purchase Ambassador as well, in order to extend my current Diamond status. Please advise if you know anything about this.

Second, currently, Chase might not permit one to earn a bonus if one holds another IHG credit card. I wonder if you know whether if one has either the “old” Select Card or either the IHG Traveler card or the IHG Premier card, whether one is precluded from obtaining/getting the “new” IHG business card with its offering bonus?

Many thanks!

HADLEY V. BAXENDALE

Great about the food and trip!

Greg if you go to FT and the relevant thread, people noted that their new expiration date was I think 12/31/23 for Diamond after enrolling in Ambassador.

At some point refer to your account and let us know if you see it, but not when you are on vacation!

You have more important things to do and enjoy!

Thanx for the information on the Biz card, I had downgraded my premier to the Traveler card to take advantage of the 4th night free benefit, and this was before they noted the top off benefit.

By the way, I downgraded the card after I received the certificate and it shows in my account as being able to be topped off even though I no longer have the card.

But, I think for the future, such a certificate is worth it’s cost, although I must say, I made out like a bandit this year.

The wife and I were able to use our Select cards certs at the Intercontinental Montreal during the upcoming Jazz Fest, and now not only are they not permitting rewards, but they are also selling those rooms for excess of $600 CDN!

Paul

Penha Longa in Sintra, Portugal also extended the FHR $100 credit to be used at any time during my split stay, and they proactively upgraded me to a suite for the the entire stay which was very nice. This was March of this year as a bonvoy titanium.

Mary

Awesome! I love putting deals like this together — gives me quite a high!

It’s great that they upgraded your first night with a little nudging. I know it wouldn’t have worked for this stay, but I usually find that if I add a cheaper room night to the END of a specially discounted suite stay, an automatic upgrade on that last night is much more likely. Not sure why.

firstglobal

Ambassador renewal did count for 10X points on the IHG Premier before this year, disappointing to see that has changed.

Dave Hanson

Not for me, hasn’t counted for several years. I wonder if the purchase method makes a difference?

David

Hey Greg,

Looking to stay next week for just one night via Amex FHR. We are hoping to be upgraded to the 1bd suite. The room class below that would be Premium Room King which accommodates 3 people and we are a party of 4(two adults and two kids 2 and 8).

Would it be safe to say that if the suite is available on day of check in, that we would be upgraded to it? Any thoughts on Amex FHR upgrade rules or IHG Lyon experience?

Mary

If you call FHR they have the upgrade rules for each hotel. Some hotels will only upgrade to the highest level regular room. Some will upgrade to suites. Only way to know is to call and ask.

David

not via Ambassador status, but via FHR.

huey judy

What a fun article to read! And here I think that I am the queen of miles and points … hah! Not even close to you, Greg. Pulling this complex caper off would have made my head hurt.

Pam

Fantastic booking, stack, strategy, & accounting, Greg.

The Ambassador purchase won’t code as an IHG Hotel but as “Office & Shipping,” 3x on Chase Ink Preferred, too, but 3x better RRV.

We stayed at the IC Clement in Monterey (also with the Weekend Cert) over a holiday when suites were booked. I booked 2 levels below a suite but had requested a suite upgrade in my original booking. Though not available, the manager issued me 10,000 IHG points. He pointed out he didn’t have to do that since the upgrades are only good towards a 1-lvl upgrade, but I found it never hurts to ask. I have found that to also be the case at all ICs domestically even when booking initially into a suite. I have also found, however, most ICs are willing to further upgrade for a nominal cash upcharge/night if asked.

Clever how you booked the regular room for your first night then were able to extend the suite upgrade to it as well.

Jason

Is there a way to search Ambassador BOGO prices without being an Ambassador? I let mine expire and trying to decide if it’d be worth it for a future stay. If I remember correctly the rates can be quite a bit higher?

Weather

Great article and quite an inspiration for future travel! However, I am having a hard time finding an example of the “Ambassador Complimentary Night Available” language when going through the special IC IHG link. I tried ICs in several cities, various dates, including Lyon. Would anybody have a concrete location + date example I could piggy back off of?

Weather

I see, I went through the link, but did not switch to the Ambassador night rate. It works fine after that!

LivelyFL

I’m thinking I just read the work of a genius. Great post and I was taking notes.

EricF

Useful, thanks!

I wouldn’t have included the full value of the FHR credits in the Accounting Summary because those credits had to be prepaid separately, as part of the Platinum AF.

I suppose this is true for any card benefit on an AF card, but for some reason using the full value of these particular credits strikes me as giving a calculated total room cost which is lower than the real cost to stay there. I noticed it, I think, because I consider the FHR credits to be a main factor in my my keep/cancel decision in paying the renewal AF for the card.

Usernamechuck

So in retrospect, better to book 2 categories down and hope that they apply their “guarantee” to bump up to either category above you?

JohnB

I have used the Ambassador weekend in the IC Hong Kong. After much research, I figured I should book the nicest “room” which would be upgraded to Jr. suite with a harbor view. They also kept us in that room for next 3 nights, on a cash rate. The room definitely had wow factor. Bathroom was huge. But the view is what it is all about!

Bob

Greg, how was breakfast benefit as an IHG Diamond? Was comparable to Hyatt Globalist? 😉

Pam

Ambassador only gets Platinum status (& those F&B credits). Diamond is the only status that offers free breakfast. You might have Diamond otherwise, but sounds like you mighta also lucked into the extra free breakfast (other than FHR)!

SamBam

Lyon is lovely.

Aloha808

Sorry some parts of it didn’t work out, but cool experiment nonetheless!

Biggie F

That’s what we’ve done at least twice at IC Bordeaux. Works nicely, and also always seems to have “pulled along” days tagged onto the two-for-one stay.